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:

Around the Web

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

Around the Web

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

Hamburger on “Equality and Exclusion”

Philip Hamburger has this short piece, which distills arguments that he makes in this very interesting article. I highly recommend both. The abstract of the long piece and a few quick highlights:

Religious Americans are substantially excluded from the political process that produces laws, and this prompts sobering questions about the reality of religious equality. Put simply, political exclusion threatens religious equality.

The exclusion is two-fold. It arises partly from the growth of administrative power, which leaves Americans, including religious Americans, no opportunity to vote for or against their administrative lawmakers. It also arises from section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. As a result of this section, even when law is made in Congress (or an elected state legislature), religious organizations are restricted in their freedom to petition and to campaign for or against their lawmakers. There thus is a broad exclusion of religious Americans and their organizations from the political process that shapes lawmaking, and Americans thereby have lost essential mechanisms for persuading their lawmakers to avoid burdening their religious beliefs.

Religious liberty thus comes with an unexpected slant. Courts blithely assume that America offers a flat or even legal landscape — a broad and equitable surface on which all Americans can participate equally, regardless of their religion. The underlying exclusion, however, tilts the entire game, so that apparently equal laws actually slant against religion. What is assumed to be a flat and natural landscape turns out to be an artificially tilted game.

The conceptual framing of religious liberty therefore needs to expanded. The central conceptual problem for the free exercise of religion is usually understood as the choice between exemption and equality — the choice between a freedom from equal laws, on account of one’s religion, and a freedom under equal laws, regardless of one’s religion. The conceptual problem, however, turns out to be more complicated. In addition to the constitutional choice between exemption and equality, one must also consider the role of exclusion.

Of course the political exclusion of Americans as a result of the growth of the administrative state would not affect only religious Americans, and Philip recognizes this in the paper. But his particular focus is on the political exclusions that the administrative process has worked on those with religious convictions–and particularly on those whose religious convictions run contrary to or are in tension with the commitments of those in political power.  “Those who are sailing with prevailing winds, theological and political, do not suffer much from the exclusion.”

The argument about section 501(c)(3) is particularly interesting. As is well-known, this provision offers a kind of deal to religious, educational, and charitable organizations: so long as you do not campaign and advocate for political persons and causes, the state will not tax you. The common justification for the imposition of these constraints is that they are merely conditions on spending, but Philip argues here (as he has before) that limits on government power cannot be waived by consent–“private consent cannot enlarge constitutional power.” Constitutional rights are not “tradable commodities.” So the government cannot cut the deal it has cut in section 501(c)(3); it has no power to do so. Philip also questions the idea that exemptions are the same as expenditures for purposes of the spending power. “If refraining from taxing amounted to spending, then all Americans continually would be recipients of government largesse, for the government might have taxed them at a higher rate, and the decision not to impose the higher rate would be a tax expenditure.” If that were true, the government could apply 501(c)(3) against all Americans.

The idea here is that the reason not to tax churches and religious organizations is not that they made a deal with the government in exchange for which they are get the privilege of an exemption. The reason not to tax them is that taxes are not proper as against organizations whose principal mission is nonprofit. Exemptions here are merely mechanisms for recognizing that a tax is inappropriate for organizations that ordinarily have no income. Philip then takes aim at the various justifications for the partial political exclusion worked by 501(c)(3)–that the restriction is “not draconian,” that allows other avenues for religious groups to participate in the political process (the Russian Doll analogy to what is permitted by 501(c)(4) was particularly effective), the ‘we need a mechanism to stop tax deductible political contributions’ claim–arguing that none of them is sufficient to counter the constitutional problems.

Here’s a thought experiment in the piece: suppose the government attempted to apply 501(c)(3 restrictions to professors. Professors are supposed to be disinterested observers, so the government decides to make a distinction between academics and politics. Therefore, as professors (as opposed to as private individuals), they cannot engage in any campaigning or substantial petitioning. After all, professors benefit from a whole lot of federal spending on their students and their univerisities, so it’s perfectly ok to condition federal aid to universities on the absence of political participation of various kinds by professors. And, anyway, if they were true academics, they wouldn’t engage in politicking anyway. I suspect many would think this quite absurd. And as Philip says, “[t]he larger constitutional point is that the reasons for suppression are plentiful, but this does not mean that they make the suppression constitutional.”

Panel on Tax Reform and Education (Feb 25)

On February 25, the CUNY Institute for Education Policy in New York will host what looks to be a fascinating discussion on tax credits for primary and secondary education–including education in religious schools. Past CLR Forum Guest Ashley Berner (left), the Institute’s Deputy Director, will be one of the panelists. Here’s a description:

For most Americans, “public education” has meant the traditional neighborhood school. That once-unassailable image is changing, however, as states and districts have begun to sanction a wider array of schools such as magnets and charters, and new school funding mechanisms such as tax credits and vouchers – stirring up controversy in the process.

There are important arguments on each side. To its defenders, the dominant model reflects democratic governance structures, advances citizenship formation, is ideologically neutral, and should be preserved with minor adjustments. Innovators, for their side, believe that the expansion of educational options yields better academic outcomes and more diverse classrooms, extends choice to more families, advances pluralism, and aligns the United States’ school system with those of other democratic nations.

New York is now considering a bill that creates an Education Investment Tax Credit to stimulate up to $300 million in charitable donations for public classrooms and for K-12 scholarships for students to attend Catholic, Jewish and other private schools. Please join us for a lively discussion of the bill’s benefits and limitations in light of international education systems.

For details, please click here.

Crimm & Winer on Tax Laws and Political Speech by Houses of Worship

Our St. John’s colleague, Nina Crimm, has published “Tax Laws’ Ban on Political Campaign Speech by Houses of Worship: Inappropriate Government Censorship and Intrusion on Religion”  (with Laurence Winer (Arizona State)) in a symposium issue of the Bar Ilan University Journal of Law, State and Religion. The abstract follows:

To ensure their legitimacy, western liberal democracies depend on the fullest protection for freedom of political and electoral speech. Governments should not interfere with or chill these fundamental rights of democratic participation without overwhelmingly compelling reasons to do so.  In the US, however, despite the majestic protections of the First Amendment, anomalously there remains a large class of nonprofit entities that are statutorily precluded from this type of crucial political involvement, and this exceptional restriction on speech is incongruously based in the federal tax code. In particular, spiritual leaders who might feel theologically compelled to speak out on critical moral and political issues of the day risk the tax exempt status of their houses of worship if they cross an amorphous line into explicit or implicit political campaign speech. Both freedom of expression and religious freedom are at stake, and the tax system is a particularly inapt and inept mechanism for restricting speech and influencing the political activity of houses of worship.

“A Coat of Many Colors”

In this post, I want to pick up some of the themes I alluded to in my first post and respond to Marc’s observations here and Mark’s observations here. The title of this post is from Justice Harlan’s discussion of neutrality in Bd. of Educ. v. Allen, 392 U.S. 236, 249 (1968)(Harlan, J., concurring).

Marc points out the inherent uncertainty as to the meaning of “neutrality” within each system. Indeed, I agree that there is great indeterminacy in both systems; and there are different judicial and academic interpretations. In fact, one of the premises in my book was that – even though the term is used frequently in constitutional decisions in both countries – we don’t really know enough about what neutrality means in each system. Given this uncertainty, I advocated for a contextual inquiry into the meaning in each system before turning to a comparative perspective.

The German Federal Constitutional Court offered two noteworthy interpretations of neutrality in its landmark Crucifix and Headscarf decisions. In my last post, I quoted the Crucifix decision as saying that “[t]he state, in which adherents of different or even opposing religious and ideological convictions live together, can guarantee peaceful coexistence only if it itself maintains neutrality in matters of faith.” In the Headscarf case, the court offered its most elaborate discussion of state neutrality to date, stating that

the religious and ideological neutrality required of the state is not to be understood as a  distancing attitude in the sense of a strict separation of state and church, but as an open and comprehensive one, encouraging freedom of faith equally for all beliefs. Article 4.1 and 4.2 of the Basic Law also contain a positive requirement to safeguard the space for active exercise of religious conviction and the realisation of autonomous personality in the area of ideology and religion. The state is prohibited only from exercising deliberate influence in the service of a particular political or ideological tendency or expressly or impliedly identifying itself by way of measures originated by it or attributable to it with a particular belief or a particular ideology and in this way itself endangering religious peace in a society. The principle of religious and ideological neutrality also bars the state from evaluating the faith and doctrine of a religious group as such.

So here we have an example of the court itself setting up different interpretations of neutrality. (Professor Markus Thiel – among other insightful observations – recently raised some interesting questions regarding the interpretive role of the Federal Constitutional Court in relation to academic scholarship in our exchange here.)

A quick final point about taxation, an issue raised in the comments to Mark’s post. One of the more striking features of the German system is the concept of “limping separation” that allows for certain benefits of state-recognized religious bodies – perhaps most notably from the U.S. perspective, the collection of church taxes by the state. Mark pointed out correctly that the German church tax may be avoided by resigning church membership. And, as some may remember, the German Federal Administrative Court last year addressed the question of resigning church membership (reported for example here). Moreover, under the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, while nonadherents may be taxed by an established state church for delegated state functions (such as keeping birth and death records, maintaining cemeteries or performing marriages) they may not be taxed for religious activities. I’ve written about some of those funding aspects in comparative perspective in my recent article “Transnational Nonestablishment” published in the George Washington Law Review and available online here.

And with that, I’ll leave Lautsi and symbols for next time.

Neither Belonging Nor Believing?

Reader John McGinnis sends this interesting piece from the International Herald Tribune on an attempt by the Catholic Church in Germany to encourage its faithful to continue paying that country’s so-called “church tax.” Under German law, religious associations can assesses a tax — really, it’s more like membership fee — on members. The state collects the tax, which typically amounts to 8-9% of the taxpayer’s total liability, and then distributes it to the church the taxpayer designates on his tax form. All a taxpayer has to do to avoid paying the tax is to resign his church membership. Traditionally, however, German taxpayers have continued to declare church membership, and pay the church tax, notwithstanding the relatively low rate of religious observance in that country. Sociologists of religion have described this phenomenon as “belonging without believing,” and it reflects a standard European attitude toward religion.

That may be changing. The IHT suggests that an “exodus” is underway both in the Catholic and Lutheran Churches, as taxpayers increasingly end their formal affiliations to avoid paying the church tax. The Catholic hierarchy has come up with a strategy to stop the departures. Starting this week, Catholics who resign their church membership “may no longer qualify for religious ceremonies such as a Christian burial and may not partake in confession or communion; become a godfather at baptism or confirmation; or hold office within the church.” This has led to protests from Catholics who resent being told they have to pay for such things, as well as perhaps predictable references to the pre-Reformation sale of indulgences — notwithstanding the fact that the Lutheran Church participates in the church tax too.

From an American perspective, this is all very interesting. Americans fund our churches through private (though tax-deductible) donations. Early on, we decided that the state could not collect revenue for religious bodies — not even “three pence,” in Madison’s famous phrase. Many European countries, by contrast, have adopted a state-funding model; the level of private donations is comparatively low. Now, it seems, increasing numbers of Europeans want neither model. Yet they insist on the right to receive church services and protest when someone points out that it costs money to keep a church open. Grace droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven, but someone has to pay the electric bills. What these protesters seem to be saying is, give us the services, but don’t ask us for anything. Come to think of it, that does sound a bit American.

Marshall & Nichol on Standing and the Establishment Clause

William P. Marshall (University of North Carolina School of Law) and Gene R. Nichol Jr. (University of North Carolina School of Law) have posted Not a Winn-Win: Misconstruing Standing and the Establishment Clause. The abstract follows.

In Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, held that state taxpayers did not have standing under the Establishment Clause to challenge a state tax program in which taxpayers were given dollar-for-dollar tax credits for their contributions to private, non-profit state tuition organizations (STOs) that had been set up specifically to accept these contributions and then use the donated funds for “scholarships to students attending private schools, including religious schools.” Implicitly rejecting intangible, wisdely-shared, “psychic” harms as a basis for standing, the Winn majority held that though taxpayers might have standing to contest legislative appropriations designed to aid religious enterprises as in Flast v. Cohen, they had no standing to challenge legislative tax credit programs intended for the same purpose because there is no “extract[ion] and spend[ing]” of tax money in aid of religion in the latter program.
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