Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • In Forter v. Young, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a former prisoner’s complaints about the procedure used to deny his religious meal accommodation request. In seeking access to kosher meals, the former prisoner cited a Bible verse, and a prison official cited an additional verse to express his disagreement. The court found that the official’s response did not constitute an establishment of religion in violation of the establishment clause.
  • In Doe I v. Cisco Systems, Inc.the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that Falun Gong members, who were victims of human rights abuses carried out by China, can move ahead with claims against Cisco Systems and its executives for their assistance that enabled China to carry out monitoring of Internet activity by Falun Gong members. Falun Gong is a religion that originated in China in the 1990’s.
  • In Fitzgerald v. Roncalli High School, Inc., the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a suit based on the ministerial exception doctrine where a Catholic high school guidance counselor’s contract was not renewed because her same-sex marriage was inconsistent with the Catholic school’s religious mission. The court found this to be an easy case because of a recent ministerial exception doctrine decision the court issued last year. 
  • In Must v. County of Fillmore, the Minnesota Court of Appeals found that the County of Fillmore did not meet its burden of showing it had a compelling interest in requiring the appellants to use septic tanks in violation of their religious beliefs. The appellants were three members of the Amish community who brought suit against the county under RLUIPA.
  • In Britain, the House of Commons held a 90-minute debate on a current law which gives 26 bishops of the Church of England the right to automatically have seats in the House of Lords.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • In Palmer v. Liberty University, Inc., a divided 4th Circuit declined to apply the ministerial exception to a former art professor at Liberty University. One judge argued the professor was indeed a religious “messenger” due to her integration of faith into teaching.
  • In The Satanic Temple, Inc. v. Young, a federal district court in Texas dismissed the Satanic Temple’s challenge to a Texas requirement for a sonogram prior to an abortion on lack of standing and on sovereign immunity grounds. The court refused to grant the group leave to replead its claims, given its lawyer’s increasingly “conclusory, reductive, and intemperate” filings.
  • In Willey v. Sweetwater County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees, a federal district court in Wyoming upheld most of a school district’s policy mandating the use of a student’s chosen name or pronoun by school personnel, despite objections from parents.
  • In Gackenheimer v. Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ, Inc., a Connecticut trial court examined a lawsuit brought by a minister who was dismissed from his role at a church’s conference center. The court applied the ministerial exception doctrine to dismiss the minister’s defamation and emotional distress claims, but allowed his contract-related claims to proceed.
  • In State of Ohio v. Sobel, an Ohio appellate court rejected the defendant’s argument that his drug possession sentence was based on his religious use of mushrooms. The court noted, “Sobel failed to establish that he uses psilocybin mushrooms in connection with a sincerely held religious belief,” deeming his beliefs more personal preference than deeply held religious conviction.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in two cases (Faith Bible Chapel International v. Tucker and Synod of Bishops v. Belya) holding that interlocutory appeals from denials of a ministerial exception defense are not allowed.
  • In Donovan v. Vance, the 9th Circuit held that Department of Energy employees who objected to the government’s Covid vaccine mandate on religious grounds could not seek damages because the Executive Orders at issue had been revoked. Plaintiffs had sued federal officials in their official capacity, but the court held further that the United States has not waived sovereign immunity for damages under RFRA.
  • In United States v. Grenon, the Southern District of Florida ruled that the government could not preclude defendants from offering evidence of free exercise and RFRA defenses in their trial for manufacturing, marketing and distributing an unlicensed drug. The defendants are members of a church called Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, and they “promoted MMS [the drug] as a miracle cure to various illnesses and ailments,” which, when ingested, becomes chlorine dioxide.
  •  In McMahon v. World Vision Inc.the Western District of Washington dismissed a Title VII sex discrimination suit as barred by the Church Autonomy Doctrine.  A Christian ministry offered a job to the plaintiff, but rescinded the offer when the defendant learned that plaintiff was in a same-sex marriage. The court concluded that the Church Autonomy Doctrine may be invoked when a non-ministerial employee brings a Title VII action.
  •  In Micah’s Way v. City of Santa Ana, the Central District of California refused to dismiss a suit by a center that aids impoverished and disabled individuals in which it claimed that the city had violated its rights under RLUIPA and the First Amendment by refusing to issue it a Certificate of Occupancy unless it agrees to stop providing food and beverages to its clients. The court held that Micah’s Way plausibly alleged that its food distribution activities are a “religious exercise” and that the city substantially burdened that religious exercise.
  •  In The Catholic Bookstore, Inc. v. City of Jacksonville, the Middle District of Florida found that a Catholic bookstore has standing to challenge Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance, which provides that it is unlawful to publish, circulate or display any communication indicating that service will be denied, or that patronage is unwelcome from a person, because of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bookstore wants to publicize its policy requiring its staff to address co-workers and customers only by “pronouns and titles that align with the biologically originating sex of the person being referenced . . . .”

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  •  In Lowe v. Mills, the 1st Circuit reversed in part a Maine district court’s dismissal of a suit byhealth care facility workers who were denied religious exemptions from the state’s COVID vaccine mandate. The court affirmed dismissal of the Title VII claims, but allowed plaintiffs’ Free Exercise and Equal Protection claims to go forward.
  • In Ratlliff v. Wycliffe Associates, Inc., the Middle District of Florida refused to dismiss a Title VII employment discrimination suit brought by a software developer who was fired from a Bible translation company after the company learned that he had entered a same-sex marriage. The court rejected the company’s RFRA and ministerial exception defenses.
  • In Tatel v. Mt. Lebanon School District (II)the Western District of Pennsylvania held that parents of first-grade students asserted plausible claims that their due process and free exercise rights were violated by a teacher who discussed gender identity with young students. The court found that the teacher’s discussion “conflicts with [the Plaintiffs’] sincerely held religious and moral beliefs.”
  • In Rolovich v. Washington State University, the Eastern District of Washington refused to dismiss a Title VII failure-to-accommodate claim by the head football coach of Washington State University. The coach was terminated after he refused to comply with the state’s Covid vaccine mandate on religious grounds, and the court found that he had done enough at the pleading stage to show a sincerely held religious belief.
  • The EEOC announced that it has filed a Title VII suit against Triple Canopy, Inc., for failing to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. The employee maintained that he “did not belong to a formal religious denomination but nonetheless held a Christian belief that men must wear beards.” The employer discharged him because he could not obtain a supporting statement from a religious leader.
  • The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota challenging a Minnesota law that excludes religious universities from a program that allows high school students to obtain no-cost college credit. 

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • In Kluge v. Brownsburg Community School Corp., the Seventh Circuit rejected a school teacher’s Title VII challenge after she was fired because she refused, on religious grounds, to comply with the school’s policy of calling transgender students by their names registered in the school’s official database.
  • An Arizona federal district court held a hearing in Arizona Christian University v. Washington Elementary School District. The university alleges that by terminating a student-teaching partnership between the university and the school district because of the university’s asserted religious beliefs, the school district violated the university students’ free exercise rights.
  • In Bolonchuk v. Cherry Creek Nursing Center/ Nexion Health, a federal magistrate judge in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado recommended dismissal of a suit brought by a former nursing home healthcare employee who was terminated after she refused on religious grounds to comply with her employer’s Covid vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. The court found that the employer did not violate the employee’s First Amendment rights because it was not a state actor
  • In Hilo Bay Marina, LLC v. State of Hawaii, a Hawaii trial court found that a deed restriction requiring land to be used solely for church purposes did not violate the Establishment Clause, applying the Supreme Court’s “historical practices and understandings” test from Kennedy v. Bremerton School District.
  • In Montgomery v. St. John’s United Church of Christ, the plaintiffs’ claims that they were sexually harassed by the lay leader of the church and subsequently terminated because they resisted the conduct was dismissed by an Ohio state appellate court. The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ hostile work environment claims because of the ministerial exception, which exempts religious institutions from federal employment discrimination laws.
  • in Carrollton First United Methodist Church, Inc. v. Trustees of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, Inc., 185 Methodist churches filed suit in a Georgia state trial court against their parent body in an attempt to expedite their disaffiliation process amid an intra-faith dispute over same-sex marriage. The lawsuit alleges that the parent body is attempting to slow disaffiliation procedures so as to prevent disaffiliating congregations from keeping their real and personal property.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • In Adams v. School Board of St. John’s County, Florida, the Eleventh Circuit held that separating the use of male and female bathrooms in public schools based on students’ biological sex does not violate either the Equal Protection Clause or Title IX. 
  • In Spivack v. City of Philadelphia, a Pennsylvania federal district court held that Philadelphia’s District Attorney Lawrence Krasner did not violate the religious rights of an Orthodox Jewish Assistant District Attorney when he refused to grant her an exemption from the Office’s COVID vaccine mandate. The final mandate offered no religious exemptions and only limited medical exemptions. 
  • In Edgewood High School of the Sacred Heart, Inc. v. City of Madison, Wisconsin, a Wisconsin federal district court rejected RLUIPA, free speech, and other challenges by a Catholic high school to the city’s denial of a permit for outdoor lighting at its athletic fields. The surrounding residential neighborhood association objected to the proposal. 
  • In Markel v. Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, a California federal district court held that the “ministerial exception” doctrine bars claims rooted in the California Labor Code brought against a synagogue organization by a mashgiach formerly employed by it. The court found that the Orthodox Union meets the requirements for a religious organization and that the mashgiach, whose responsibilities involve supervising and inspecting the preparation of kosher food, should be categorized as a “minister.” 
  • In In re Moscatelli v. New York City Police Department, a New York trial court annulled an administrative determination that denied a New York City Detective a religious exemption from the city’s COVID vaccine mandate. The court held that the administrative determination was arbitrary and capricious, saying that “the NYPD EEOD’s determination is a prime example of a determination that sets forth only the most perfunctory discussion of reasons for administrative action.” 
  • On December 23, 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul vetoed New York Senate Bill 7313A which would have required courts, in imposing alcohol or substance abuse treatment on a defendant, to inquire if the defendant has religious objections to the program, and if the defendant does, to identify an alternative nonreligious treatment program for the defendant. 
  • In two recent Chamber Judgments, the European Court of Human Rights reaffirmed its prior holding in a 2021 case that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whose adherents are known as Pastafarians, does not qualify as a “religion” or “belief” protected by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In Sager v. Austria, Austria’s Office for Religious Affairs refused to recognize the Church as a religious community. In ALM v. Austria, Austrian authorities refused to issue the petitioner an identity card with a photograph showing him wearing a crown made of pasta. 

A New Work on the Ministerial Exception

Ten years ago, in Hosanna-Tabor, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses prohibit the state from interfering with the decisions of religious organizations with respect to the employment of “ministers.” In two more recent cases, Our Lady of Guadalupe School and Biel, the Court returned to the question of which employees, exactly, qualify as ministers, but did not announce a clear test. The debate about how far the exception extends thus seems certain to continue. A forthcoming book from Routledge, The Church and Employment Law, by John Duddington (Cardiff), considers the question and takes a comparative approach to the subject. The book is the latest in the valuable ICLARS Series on Law and Religion. Here is the description from Routledge:

This book examines the current law on the employment status of ministers of religion and suggests reforms in this area of the law to meet the need for ministers to be given a degree of employment protection. The work considers the constant theme in Christian history that the clergy should not be subject to the ordinary courts and asks whether this is justified with the growth of areas such as employment law. The work questions whether it is possible to arrive at a satisfactory definition of who is a minister of religion and, along with this, who would be the employer of the minister if there was a contract of employment. Taking a comparative perspective, it evaluates the case law on the employment status of Christian and non-Christian clergy and assesses whether this shows any coherent theme or line of development. The work also considers the issue of ministerial employment status against the background of the autonomy of churches and other religious bodies from the State, together with their ecclesiology.  The book will be of interest to academics and researchers working in the areas of law and religion, employment law and religious studies, together with both legal practitioners and human resources practitioners in these areas.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • In Starkey v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Inc., the Seventh Circuit held that the Co-Director of Guidance at a Catholic high school was a “minister” for purposes of the ministerial exception doctrine. The court also held that the ministerial exception doctrine applies to state tort claims for interference with contractual relationships and intentional interference with employment relationships. 
  • In The School of the Ozarks, Inc. v. Biden, the Eighth Circuit held that a Christian college lacks standing to challenge a memorandum issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The memorandum directs the HUD office that enforces the Fair Housing Act to investigate all discrimination complaints, including discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. At issue is the school’s religiously-inspired Code of Conduct, which specifies that biological sex determines a person’s gender and therefore requires single-sex residence halls. 
  • In Rojas v. City of Ocala, Florida, the Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded a district court’s Establishment Clause decision that had relied on the now-repudiated Lemon test. In the case, plaintiffs challenged a prayer vigil that was co-sponsored by the Ocala police department and held in response to a shooting spree that had injured several children. 
  • In Buettner-Hartsoe v. Baltimore Lutheran High School Association, a Maryland federal district court held that a §501(c)(3) tax exemption for a religiously-affiliated high school constitutes federal financial assistance so that the school is subject to Title IX. The court also stated that schools that discriminate on the basis of sex are not entitled to federal tax exemptions. 
  • In Chris v. Kang, an Oregon federal district court dismissed a claim of race and national origin discrimination brought by a plaintiff who was not hired as the Worship Pastor of a Baptist Church. The court held that the ministerial exception doctrine applies to both Title VII and state employment discrimination claims, insulating from judicial review the church’s decisions on who should be its ministers. 
  • A petition for certiorari was filed in Church of Scientology International v. Bixler. In the case, a California state appellate court held that former Church of Scientology members were not bound by their agreement to submit disputes to the church’s Religious Arbitration system when the dispute involves conduct that occurred after plaintiffs left the church. 

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court denied review in Gordon College v. DeWeese-Boyd, in which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the ministerial exception does not apply in a suit by a professor at a private Christian college who alleges her promotion was denied because of her public criticism of the school’s policies on LGBTQ students.
  • In U.S. Navy Seals 1-26 v. Biden, the Fifth Circuit refused to grant the Navy a partial stay of an injunction protecting a group of personnel who refuse to comply with the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for religious reasons.
  • In Miller v. Acosta, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court properly found that the defendant was entitled to qualified immunity on an inmate’s free exercise claim.
  • In Poffenbarger v. Kendall, an Ohio federal district court issued a preliminary injunction barring the Air Force from penalizing an Air Force reservist who refuses to comply with COVID-19 vaccine mandates due to religious objections.
  • In Sandoval v. Madison Equal Opportunities Commission, a Wisconsin state appellate court upheld the finding that Capitoland Christian Center Church did not engage in employment discrimination after an employee left her job over a policy barring unmarried employees from cohabitating.
  • Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, a Democrat in Oakland, introduced a piece of legislation that would reduce residential parking requirements for newly built religious institutions to allow for the construction of housing.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • A petition for certiorari was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission v. Woods, in which the Washington Supreme Court held that, as applied, the religious and non-profit exemption to the state’s anti-discrimination law may be unconstitutional.
  • A petition for certiorari was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in Gordon College v. DeWeese-Boyd, in which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the ministerial exception does not apply in a suit by an associate professor at a private Christian liberal arts college who claims her promotion to full professor was denied because of her public opposition to the school’s policies on LGBTQ individuals.
  • U.S Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, in Calvary Chapel of Bangor v. Mills, denied an application by a Maine church for injunctive relief, which sought to prevent Maine’s governor from reinstating COVID-related restrictions on worship services, pending disposition of its petition for certiorari.
  • U.S. Army sergeant, Jacob DiPietro, became one of the first Christian service members to receive an exemption to grow out his hair and beard for religious purposes.
  • A Pennsylvania appellate court, in Kaur v. Singh, upheld an order of protection that excludes plaintiff’s ex-husband from attending the Nazareth Temple on Sundays, finding that the order does not violate his Free Exercise rights.
  • A Scotland court ruled in favor of Kenneth Ferguson, a Christian CEO, who was unjustly fired by The Robertson Trust, the country’s biggest grant-making trust, because of his religious views on marriage.