Around the Web

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

  • In M.A. v. Rockland County Department of Health, the Second Circuit sent back to the trial court a free exercise challenge to Rockland County, New York’s, Emergency Declaration barring children who were not vaccinated against measles from places of public assembly. Children with medical exceptions were exempt from the ban. In remanding the case, the Second Circuit stated there were factual issues relevant to whether the Emergency Declaration was neutral and generally applicable and held the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants. 
  • In Barbee v. Collier, the Fifth Circuit vacated and remanded for further proceedings an injunction issued by a Texas federal district court that barred the execution of a convicted murderer, Stephen Barbee, until the Texas Department of Criminal Justice publishes a clear policy on inmates’ religious rights in the execution chamber. Barbee wants his spiritual advisor to pray aloud with him and hold his hand. 
  • In Horizon Christian School v. Brown, the Ninth Circuit held that the free exercise and parental rights challenges to Oregon’s previous Covid restrictions on in-person school classes are moot.
  • In Tucker v. Faith Bible Chapel International, the Tenth Circuit denied en banc review of a panel decision that held that interlocutory appeals from the denial of a ministerial exception defense are not permitted. In the case, a former high school teacher and administrator/chaplain contends that he was fired for opposing alleged racial discrimination by a Christian school. 
  • In Eris Evolution, LLC v. Bradley, a New York federal district court rejected an Establishment Clause challenge to a provision in New York’s liquor laws that allows bars to apply for permits to stay open all night on New Year’s, except for when New Year’s falls on a Sunday. The court concluded that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1961 decision in McGowan v. Maryland upholding Sunday closing laws forecloses Plaintiff’s claim. 
  • In Khan v. Station House Officer, a Pakistani appellate court held that Pakistan Criminal Code Sec. 295A, which prohibits deliberate and malicious insulting of religious beliefs, was not violated by the petitioner when he told the public that he could fly and that he saw Allah in his dreams. 
  • The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a report titled Implications of Laws Promoting State-Favored Religions. The report identified seventy-eight countries with official or favored religions, fifty-seven of which maintain laws or policies that lead to religious discrimination or repression, or that have the potential to do so. 

Barclay on Religious Exemptions and Hate Speech

This past July, the Center co-hosted a conference in Rome, “Liberalism’s Limits: Religious Exemptions and Hate Speech.” The conference, which addressed the challenges that religious exemptions and hate-speech regulations pose for liberalism, was divided into three workshops, for which participants submitted short reflection papers. Professor Stephanie Barclay (Notre Dame) submitted the following paper for Workshop 2, on religious exemptions, which we are delighted to publish here:

One enduring question of liberal democracies is how to reconcile the tension between claims to authority by the rulers and claims to liberty by the governed. [1] Debates about the validity of religious exemptions often play out as a microcosm of this larger discussion. Some, such as the late Justice Antonin Scalia, have argued that a country would be “courting anarchy” if it too generously provided exemptions to legal rules based on religious objections.[2] At the other end of the spectrum, the United States Supreme Court has also recognized that “[t]hose who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”[3] I have argued elsewhere that a legal regime which never provides religious exemptions is primed to increase human suffering and decrease human dignity by penalizing (or making impossible) actions individuals feel they must (or must not) take to comply with higher divine mandates.[4]

One standard answer to the broader dilemma of reconciling authority and liberty is what some scholars term the consent proposition,[5] also reflected in social contract theory that pervades thinking by luminaries such as Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, and Rawls. This proposition is embodied in the American Declaration of Independence as a “self-evident truth”—that “Governments . . . deriv[e] their just powers from the consent of the governed.” On this account, consent is often emphasized as the sole source of political legitimacy of a legal regime.  Steven Smith has surveyed problems with the consent proposition as an unpersuasive fiction if we are looking for consent on the level of an autonomous individual born into a legal community.[6] But that might be looking to the wrong unit of the populace (just one lone individual) to give consent. As Richard Ekins has explained in his work on joint action theory, groups can act in purposeful ways where a body like “the people” can consent to certain frameworks—like a constitution—for self-governance. To be a free people, the people in the singular is the ruler and agent, and the people in the plural are the ruled and the principals.[7] And for the consent of the group action to be legitimate, the people must have meaningful opportunities to change the legal rules they’ve put in place in the future.

Assuming consent by the people can resolve the tension between authority and liberty generally, how can religious exemptions be provided in a way that is consistent with this type of self-governance? One obvious answer is the use of legislative religious exemptions. Through this method, the people can act jointly in a deliberative manner to protect space for religious exercise where frequent conflicts (and often high-stakes conflicts) can arise between authority and the liberty of a religious objector. In Early American history, the United States offered exemptions from the draft to Quakers who objected on religious grounds to military service.[8] Religious exemptions can be offered in more mundane contexts, like tax exemptions for churches, when the people may judge that excluding some religious institutions from some obligations provides relevant goods to society in other important ways.

While critically important, legislative religious exemptions present some shortcomings. One is that they are usually more attuned to the needs of majoritarian religious groups (or at least large and well-known religious groups) than minority religious groups. For the conflict between authority and religious liberty to have been significant enough to have garnered legislative attention, it’s reasonable to assume that those sorts of conflicts are most obvious when a significant portion of the population shares the belief that gave rise to that conflict. For example, many prisons recognize religious exemptions for kosher dietary requirements. But few recognize exemptions for a Kemetic diet required by adherents of Shetaut Neter.[9] A second limitation is that some types of religious objections result from unexpected applications of a law. These conflicts are thus unlikely to involve a legislative compromise in advance that includes a religious exemption. Third, many government policies are promulgated by agencies, rather than legislatures. Scholars like Philip Hamburger have noted that these less politically accountable institutions are often less sympathetic to the need to craft religious exemptions that would apply to new policies.[10]

Read more

Movsesian at BYU Next Month

I’m looking forward to participating and catching up with friends next month at the 2022 Religious Freedom Annual Review, sponsored by the international Center for law and religion studies at BYU law. I’ll be speaking about the future of religious exemptions after Fulton. Details are available here: https://religiousfreedom.byu.edu/presenters. CLR friends, stop by and say hello!

Around the Web

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

  • In Gasparoff v. Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society of Pennsylvania, an Arizona federal district court dismissed a pro se complaint that challenged Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs regarding blood transfusions.
  • Suit was filed in a New York federal district court by five Orthodox Jews and one Catholic man challenging New York City’s “Key to NYC” program, which mandates COVID vaccination in a variety of social contexts. Plaintiffs contend that they have religious objections to the COVID vaccine, and some of the Plaintiffs raise unique religious objections not commonly raised in past litigation.
  • A Christian nurse practitioner formerly employed at a CVS Pharmacy in Texas has filed a religious discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint alleges the company illegally discriminated against her on the basis of her religious beliefs about contraception.
  • A new Chinese law, Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information, is set to take effect on March 1, 2022. The law will impose new restrictions on online religious content and will essentially outlaw evangelistic Scripture.
  • The Southern Indian state of Karnataka’s top court has stepped in to hear petitions filed by Muslim students after several government-run educational institutions have banned Muslim female students from wearing hijabs.

On the Recent Vaccine Mandate Cases

In Public Discourse today, I have an essay that explains why the Court has declined to address claims that Covid vaccine mandates in places like Maine and New York violate the First Amendment. Here’s an excerpt:

The Court has not explained its reasons in these cases. But the justices’ caution is not surprising, for a few reasons. First, religious exemption claims generally pose hard questions, which are particularly troublesome in this context. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified divisions about the value of religion and religious freedom in our country, and the justices might wish to avoid doing something to provoke further conflict. Second, the Maine and New York lawsuits are currently at the preliminary injunction stage, and the factual records in the cases are still unclear. The Court might reasonably think that it should allow the lower courts an opportunity to consider the claims further before it issues any rulings. Finally, the Court might think that state and local governments will themselves see the prudence of offering religious exemptions, as many already have done, considering the difficulties vaccine mandates have created for healthcare and other services.

You can read the whole essay here.

Video of Webinar on Religious Exemptions

The SNF Agora Institute at The Johns Hopkins University has posted a video of the webinar I participated in this week, on religious freedom in the US. The panel was moderated by The Atlantic’s Rachel Donadio; other participants included K. Healon Gaston (Harvard), Daniel Mach (ACLU) and Asma Uddin (Independent). I greatly enjoyed the panel and am grateful to the organizers for inviting me. Video below:

Interviewed in the Deseret News

Religion journalist Kelsey Dallas, a past guest on Legal Spirits, interviews me in the Deseret News about my forthcoming essay in the Journal of Law and Religion on courts’ responses to Covid restrictions on public worship. Here’s a sample:

The COVID-19 pandemic has created all sorts of religious freedom conflict, as people of faith fight gathering restrictions, mask requirements and, more recently, vaccine mandates.

Your view on these legal battles likely depends on your professional, spiritual and political interests. Mark L. Movsesian, co-director of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s University in New York, saw them as opportunities to study the limits of the United States’ approach to religious liberty protections. . . .

When there are no easy, obvious answers, judicial bias can creep in. That’s always problematic, but it’s especially so at a time when liberal and conservative judges often have very different views on the value of faith and what should win out when religious freedom is in conflict with other rights.

“As long as we don’t have a common baseline for how important religion is compared to other things, we’re going to have inconsistent opinions” from the legal system, Movsesian said. And with inconsistent opinions comes political and social strife.

You can read the whole interview here.

Law, Religion, and the Covid Crisis

I have a new draft on SSRN, “Law, Religion, and the Covid Crisis,” comparing how courts across the globe have approached restrictions on public worship and exploring what the cases reveal about social divisions, especially in the United States. Here’s the abstract:

This essay explores judicial responses to legal restrictions on worship during the COVID pandemic and draws two lessons, one comparative and one relating specifically to US law. As a comparative matter, courts across the globe have approached the problem in essentially the same way, through intuition and balancing. This has been the case regardless of what formal test applies, the proportionality test outside the US, which expressly calls for judges to weigh the relative costs and benefits of a restriction, or the Employment Division v. Smith test inside the US, which rejects judicial line-drawing and balancing in favor of predictable results. Judges have reached different conclusions about the legality of restrictions, of course, but doctrinal nuances have made little apparent difference. With respect to the US, specifically, the pandemic has revealed deep divisions about religion and religious freedom, among other things—divisions that have inevitably influenced judicial attitudes toward restrictions on worship. The COVID crisis has revealed a cultural and political rift that makes consensual resolution of conflicts over religious freedom problematic, and perhaps impossible, even during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

The essay will appear in the forthcoming volume of the Journal of Law and Religion. Comments welcome!

Webinar Next Week: Cultural Property in Law and Diplomacy

Next week, along with the Fletcher Initiative on Religion, Law, and Diplomacy at Tufts, the Centre for Religion and Culture at Oxford, and the Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State, the Center will co-sponsor a webinar on cultural property in law and diplomacy. The event will bring together a cross-disciplinary group of scholar-practitioners to discuss the challenges of and opportunities for preserving the rights of access to places of worship for religious groups in cases of contested spaces and in diverse conditions of active and non-active conflict. Speakers will include Narine Ghazaryan (Nottingham), Evanghelos Kyriakides (Kent), Peter Petkoff (Oxford), and Michalyn Steele (BYU). Center Co-Director Mark Movsesian will moderate, along with Sergio La Porta (Cal State-Fresno) and Elizabeth Prodromou (Tufts).

The webinar will take place on Thursday, October 14 at 12 pm EST. Posts from the participants will appear subsequently here on the Forum. Hope you can join us! For further information and a link to join the event, please see below:

Around the Web

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

  • North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoed HB 453, which banned abortions unless the physician previously determined that the procedure was not being sought because of the race or sex of the fetus or because the fetus has Down Syndrome.
  • Members of the clergy and others engaged in religious-oriented work may now qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, after religious-oriented work was specifically excluded for over a decade.
  • Ohio Governor Mike DeWine approved vital conscience protections for doctors, nurses, and other medical providers, ensuring that medical professionals cannot be forced to participate in healthcare services that violate their consciences.
  • Kentucky Right to Life and Louisville nonprofit Sisters for Life filed for a temporary injunction against the city of Louisville Metro Council’s 10-foot “buffer zone” ordinance, which prevents sidewalk counseling within 10 feet of health care facilities.
  • Britain’s Methodist Church announced that it will now allow same-sex couples to get married on its premises. Ministers who oppose the change will not be forced to carry out same-sex marriages.
  • Hilton’s plan to build a new hotel upon the site of a demolished Uyghur mosque has sparked outrage and condemnation from various Muslim groups.