Around the Web

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

  • The Tenth Circuit, in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, upheld the application of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act to a wedding website design company whose owner refused for religious reasons to create websites that celebrate same-sex marriages.
  • The Ninth Circuit, in Cedar Park Assembly of God of Kirkland v. Kreidler, reversed a Washington federal district court’s dismissal of a challenge to a Washington statute that requires health insurance plans that cover maternity care to cover abortions as well.
  • The Ninth Circuit, in Brach v. Newsom, held that the closure of in-person instruction in private religious schools may have violated parents’ and students’ due process rights.
  • Suit was filed in a Michigan federal district court, in Country Mill Farms v. City of East Lansing, challenging a city policy to ban plaintiff from participating in the city’s farmer’s market due to his religious beliefs surrounding marriage.
  • A Brooklyn federal court ordered Hobby Lobby to forfeit an ancient tablet bearing a portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Hobby Lobby acquired in 2014 for the company’s collections at the Museum of the Bible.
  • Three Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia were charged, convicted, and sentenced to prison for “organizing extremist activities.”
  • The Luxembourg-based E.U. Court of Justice held that companies in the European Union can ban employees from wearing headscarves in the workplace if the employer wishes to present a neutral image towards customers or prevent social disputes.

Around the Web

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

  • The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc in Demkovich v. St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, held by a vote of 7-3 that the ministerial exception doctrine protects religious organizations from hostile work environment claims.
  • The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay pending appeal in Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Mack, allowing a Justice of the Peace to continue opening sessions in his courtroom with prayers from volunteer chaplains while the lawsuit proceeds.
  • The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit against a priest who criticized a teenager’s suicide during his funeral service, holding that the priest was protected by the First Amendment.
  • An Indiana federal district court, in Kluge v. Brownsburg Community School Corporation, dismissed a suit by a former teacher who alleged that the school failed to accommodate his religious beliefs and therefore he was forced to resign or comply with a school policy that violated his religious beliefs.
  • Suit was filed in a California state trial court challenging the change of a public school name from San Diego’s Junipero Serra High School to Canyon Hills High School on Establishment Clause grounds.
  • Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the government must extend surrogacy rights to same-sex couples and single men.

Around the Web

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

  • The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Denton v. City of El Paso, ordered a Texas federal district court to grant a preliminary injunction barring El Paso from prohibiting religious proselytizing at the weekly outdoor El Paso Art and Farmers Market.
  • The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Umphress v. Hall, heard oral arguments in which a Texas federal district court dismissed a suit by a Texas judge who was seeking to prevent future action by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct against judges who refuse to officiate same-sex marriages.
  • A New York federal district court declined to dismiss a plaintiff’s Equal Protection and Establishment Clause claims which allege that she was denied admission to CUNY’s social work program because of her religious beliefs.
  • A federal lawsuit was filed by Downtown Hope Center, a faith-based women’s shelter in Alaska, to stop an ordinance from forcing the shelter to admit trans-identifying individuals, alleging that admitting them will hinder the shelter’s ability to communicate its religious beliefs.
  • Suit was filed in a Florida state court by parents of two Catholic school students who seek to have the court declare their financial contributions to the school null and void, alleging that the school breached its promise to provide a Catholic education.
  • The District of Columbia agreed to pay $220,000 as part of a legal settlement with a local Baptist church that sued the city over COVID-19 restrictions on in-person worship services.
  • Each week since May 2nd, Azerbaijani military forces have blocked Armenian Apostolic Church pilgrims’ access to Sunday worship services at Dadivank Monastery. Bishop Abrahamian stated that “[s]ometimes the Azerbaijanis cite the coronavirus, other times they said the road was still blocked because of a landslip.”

Around the Web

  • The Supreme Court granted review in Federal Bureau of Investigation v. Fagazi, in which a 3-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit held plaintiffs could move forward with their claims that an FBI investigation involved anti-Muslim discrimination.
  • The Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments in Spell v. Edwards, in which a Louisiana federal district court dismissed a suit brought by a pastor challenging the state’s COVID-19 limits on worship services. Justice Alito previously rejected an emergency injunction pending appeal.
  • A Virginia county court ruled that Tanner Cross, a teacher who was suspended for speaking out against the school district’s proposed preferred-pronoun policy based on his religious beliefs, had to be reinstated while his case continues.
  • The EEOC announced that JBS Swift & Co. has settled an EEOC lawsuit and agreed to pay $5.5 million to 300 employees, after employees alleged that the company discriminated against Muslim employees and refused to accommodate their prayer obligations.
  • An Ohio school board fired seven high school coaches who allegedly forced a 17-year-old student athlete to eat a pepperoni pizza despite his religious dietary restrictions.
  • Ireland’s High Court will hear a couple’s case against Merrion Fetal Health and Great Glasgow Health Board. The couple claim they were mistakenly told that their unborn child had a fatal fetal abnormality and based on that incorrect information had an abortion.

Around the Web

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

  • A Maine church filed a motion with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking an injunction to prevent Maine from enforcing its COVID-19 capacity restrictions on worship services while its petition for certiorari is pending.
  • The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Obataiye-Allah v. Steward, vacated an Oregon federal district court’s holding that prison officials were shielded from damages by qualified immunity in an inmate’s suit alleging that he was denied participation in Ramadan.
  • A Texas federal district court held, in Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Mack, that a Justice of the Peace who started his court sessions with an opening prayer from a volunteer chaplain violated the Establishment Clause because the attendees were impermissibly coerced into participating in religious activities.
  • The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed, in Koster v. Harvest Bible Chapel-Quad Cities, the dismissal of a suit against a church and three pastors by a congregant who alleged breach of fiduciary duty, concluding that the claim could not proceed because it would require consideration of the church’s doctrine and religious practices.
  • The University of Florida concluded that the University’s Student Senate violated the First Amendment when it removed Jack Denton, student president, because he privately shared his belief that the ACLU and other activist organizations advocate for causes that oppose Catholic teachings and his religious beliefs.
  • A Michigan high school initially directed a graduating senior, Elizabeth Turner, to alter her valedictory speech to remove all religious references, but after receiving a demand letter from the First Liberty Institute, officials at Hillsdale High School announced that religious students will be able to state their religious beliefs in graduation speeches.

Around the Web

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

  •  The Supreme Court granted review in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center, in which the Fifth Circuit struck down a Mississippi statute that prohibits abortions, with limited exceptions, after 15 weeks’ gestational age.
  • The Supreme Court dismissed, by a vote of 6-3, the certiorari petitions in three related cases challenging a Trump Administration rule that imposed new restrictions on abortion referrals by health care providers receiving Title X family planning funds.
  • The Ninth Circuit affirmed an Arizona federal district court’s dismissal of a religious discrimination suit filed by The Satanic Temple, concluding the group failed to prove that religious beliefs were a factor in the decision to not approve its giving a legislative prayer.
  • A federal district court in Washington denied summary judgment to five current and former high school students who sued the state’s Interscholastic Activities Association for failing to accommodate Seventh Day Adventists’ Sabbath observance in scheduling and administering the high school state tennis championships.
  • Suit was filed in a Massachusetts federal district court by a church challenging the state’s COVID-19 reopening regulations; the suit alleges that Massachusetts’ phased COVID-19 reopening regulations single out places of worship for differential and disfavored treatment.
  • A Texas Appellate Court held that under the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, a civil court lacked jurisdiction over an age discrimination and fraud case brought by a Catholic priest against his diocese.
  • An Indiana trial court ruled in favor of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, in Payne-Elliot v. Archdiocese of Indianapolis, affirming the Archdiocese’s constitutional right to set religious standards for its schools.
  • A Hawaii federal district court rejected a free exercise challenge to Hawaii’s COVID-19 mask requirements, concluding that the complaint failed to allege that the mask mandate imposed a substantial burden on the plaintiff’s practice of religion.

Movsesian Teaches Class at Moscow State University

I had a wonderful time this morning, teaching a (virtual!) class at Lomonosov Moscow State University on the COVID epidemic and religious exemptions under the US Constitution. Thanks to Professor Gayane Davidyan for inviting me and to her students for their wonderful, thoughtful questions. Lomonsov will post the class on YouTube soon, and I’ll link it when it appears.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the class. It was a lot of fun!

Church Closings during COVID: The State of Play

At the Law and Liberty site this morning, I have an essay on current litigation regarding church closings during the coronavirus epidemic. I explain why courts have reached different results, and ask why some churches, rather than others, are bringing the lawsuits. Here’s an excerpt:

So far, the lawsuits have achieved mixed results. Federal district courts in California and New Mexico, for example, have rejected challenges and ruled that the bans in those states are constitutional. Federal district courts in Kansas and Kentucky, by contrast, have ruled that the bans in those states do violate the First Amendment. This past weekend, the Sixth Circuit agreed, holding that Kentucky’s ban on church services violates the Free Exercise Clause.

These cases are very fact-specific and turn on the specific language of the bans in question. But there is another, more important reason for the courts’ division. The law with respect to religious exemptions is quite indeterminate. Under the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), no right to an exemption exists where a law is neutral and generally applicable, that is, where the law does not target religion for disfavored treatment. If a ban on public gatherings qualifies as a neutral and generally applicable law, a church cannot prevail.

If a law targets religion for disfavored treatment, by contrast, a church may have a right to a religious exemption—but not where the state can show that it has a compelling reason for enforcing the law against the church and has chosen the least restrictive means of doing so. As many have noted, this form of “strict scrutiny” essentially operates as a balancing test that requires judges to weigh the seriousness of the burden on religious exercise against the significance of the goal the state is trying to reach. If the goal is sufficiently important, the law will stand, regardless of the burden on religious exercise.

Both these questions—whether a law is generally applicable and whether the burdens of a ban outweigh its benefits—leave much to the discretion of individual judges….

You can read the whole essay here.

Around the Web

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

Legal Spirits Episode 016: The New Wedding Vendor Cases

In this episode, we discuss recent court rulings in favor of wedding vendors who decline, from religious conviction, to provide services for same-sex weddings. After years of losing such cases, vendors like Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski of Phoenix’s Brush & Nib Studio (above) have won notable victories in the lower courts. We ask whether these victories reflect the changing membership of the judiciary–especially given the new Trump appointees to the federal appeals courts–and how the Supreme Court is likely to respond to them. Listen in!