Around the Web

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

  • In Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Abbott, the Fifth Circuit held the FFRF’s lawsuit challenging the exclusion of one of its displays at the state capitol was moot, as the Texas State Preservation Board had repealed the law allowing private displays. The court stated that “the Foundation’s injury is premised on exclusion from expressing its message in a public forum, and because the public forum no longer exists, the permanent injunctive relief ordered by the district court cannot remain.”
  • In Alive Church of the Nazarene, Inc. v. Prince William County, Virginia, the Fourth Circuit rejected a church’s challenges to zoning restrictions that prevented the church from using its property for religious services. The Fourth Circuit rejected the church’s RLUIPA claims, as well as its Equal Protection, Free Exercise, and Peaceable Assembly challenges to the zoning restrictions.
  • In a Mississippi federal district court case, the parties in L.B. v. Simpson County School District have reached a settlement. As part of the settlement, the Simpson County School District has agreed to change its policy that prohibited a 3rd-grade student from wearing a face mask with the phrase “Jesus Loves Me” on it. Additionally, the school district will pay $45,000 and allow the student to wear her mask. 
  • The US Department of Health and Human Services has proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act that would eliminate the current exemption for employers and schools that have moral, as opposed to religious, objections to covering contraceptive services.
  • The chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities sent a letter to House and Senate sponsors of the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act” (H.R.7 and S.62) in support of the legislation. The act would make long-standing prohibitions on federal funding of elective abortion permanent and government-wide, rather than depending on various appropriations.
  • The Australian Law Reform Commission, an independent Australian government agency, has released a Consultation Paper on Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws. The Consultation Paper suggested proposals that would “make discrimination against students on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status, or pregnancy in schools and other religious educational institutions unlawful” while also allowing “religious schools to maintain their religious character by permitting them to . . . give preference to prospective staff on religious grounds where the teaching, observance, or practice of religion is a part of their role.” 
  • At the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C., Beth Van Schaack, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice, spoke regarding the “two contemporary genocides” of Muslims worldwide. Van Shaack voiced her support for the international community’s drafting of a crimes against humanity statute that would enable these crimes to be prosecuted in the International Crimes Court.  

Around the Web

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

  • In Groff v. DeJoy, the United States Supreme Court will review a Christian mail carrier’s lawsuit alleging the United States Postal Service did not accommodate his religious objection request to delivering packages on Sundays. The Third Circuit held in October 2022 that Groff’s accommodation would cause undue hardship to USPS. 
  • In Hunter v. U.S. Dept. of Education, an Oregon federal district court dismissed a class-action suit by more than forty students who claimed that the Department of Education failed to protect LGBTQ+ students from discrimination at religious schools. The court wrote that exempting religious schools from Title IX to avoid interfering with their convictions is “substantially related to the government’s objective of accommodating religious exercise.”
  • In Hammons v. University of Maryland Medical System Corp., a Maryland federal district held that a hospital’s refusal to perform a procedure to treat the plaintiff’s gender dysphoria was sex discrimination in violation of the Affordable Care Act’s discrimination ban. The University of Maryland-owned hospital was originally a Catholic hospital, and its purchase required the University to abide by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
  • In Planned Parenthood South Atlantic v. State of South Carolina, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that the state’s Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act violates a woman’s right to privacy protected by the South Carolina Constitution. The opinion stated that “[the] Act, which severely limits—and in many instances completely forecloses—abortion, is an unreasonable restriction upon a woman’s right to privacy and is therefore unconstitutional.”
  • The Hamtramck, Michigan City Council amended the city’s Animal Ordinance to permit animal sacrifices on residential property subject to certain permits and guidelines. Hamtramck has a large Muslim population, and animal sacrifice is a traditional component of Eid al-Adha.
  • Per a French court order, the town of La Flotte, France, must remove a statue of the Virgin Mary that stands at a crossroads in the small municipality. Citing a 1905 French law that forbids all religious monuments in public spaces, the court noted that, while town officials had not intended any expression of religious support, “the Virgin Mary is an important figure in Christian religion,” which gives the statue “an inherently religious character.”

Around the Web

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

Difficult Questions on Unused Embryos

Photo from the Telegraph

A really fascinating article in the New York Times this morning about the perhaps one million embryos currently in storage in medical facilities across the United States. Most of these embryos have been created through IVF treatments, on which increasing numbers of Americans rely. IVF allows many couples to bring new life into the world and experience the great gift of children. Given the current state of the technology, though, parents who use IVF must typically create several extra embryos in order to increase the odds of conception. This means that many unused embryos remain. The Times  reports that perhaps a million such embryos now exist. What will become of them?

Of course, for many Americans, this question raises important religious issues. The Catholic Church teaches that IVF is immoral in principle, even for married couples, because it violates human dignity and degrades the marital act–though of course children created through IVF are to honored and cherished, just like any others. Evangelical Christians, however, in principle accept the practice for married couples, as do Orthodox Christians. The fate of any unused embryos raises very difficult questions, however. To destroy them seems tantamount to abortion, which both Evangelical and Orthodox Christianity condemn. And all Christians, I think, would have moral concerns about the commodification of embryos that seems the logical outcome of our market society. The Times reports that one California company is already in the business of creating embryos from third parties for would-be parents to purchase, for $12,500, plus a money-back guarantee.

But back to married couples. What should a couple with religious scruples do about extra embryos created by IVF? Some Evangelicals have come up with a good solution. They donate the embryos to other infertile couples. It’s analogous to adoption:

For example, the National Embryo Donation Center in Tennessee, which is endorsed by the Christian Medical Association, places embryos only with heterosexual couples married at least three years — and only after a home study exploring their readiness to be parents, as is required for families adopting a living child.

“We think the embryos deserve the same level of protections as children who are being adopted,” said Stephanie Wood-Moyers, marketing director of the center, where the Watts embryos were stored.

Where does the civil law stand in all this? Unlike many countries, the US does not regulate assisted reproduction technologies, including IVF. And so, as with respect to so many aspects of American life, it becomes a matter of contract law. In my first-year contracts class, in fact, our casebook has two relatively recent cases, one from Massachusetts and one from New York, on the enforceability of parties’ agreements with respect to the disposal of unwanted embryos after IVF. In the Massachusetts case, the court declined to enforce the agreement, in large part because the agreement was ambiguous.

The New York court, by contrast, ruled in favor of enforcement. “Explicit agreements avoid costly litigation in business transactions,” Chief Judge Kaye wrote. She continued:

They are all the more necessary and desirable in personal matters of reproductive choice, where the intangible costs of any litigation are simply incalculable. Advance directives … both minimize misunderstandings and maximize procreative liberty by reserving to the progenitors the authority to make what is in the first instances a quintessentially personal, private decision. Written agreements also provide the certainty needed for effective operation of IVF programs.

Now, you might wonder whether questions as complicated and wrenching for people as these should be handled by contract law, as if they were equivalent to particularly difficult business transactions. (“How do we divide up the inventory if the partnership dissolves?”). Surely there is a more humane way to address these issues. But that seems to be the way our culture is heading. If there’s one thing we still believe in, apparently, it’s liberty of contract–at least when it comes to bearing children.

ECtHR Rules That Ban on Screening IVF Embryos for Genetic Defects Violates European Convention

A chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled yesterday that Italy’s ban on testing IVF-created embryos for genetic defects violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Italian law permits IVF in limited circumstances, but forbids pre-implantation testing of embryos; on the other hand, Italian law allows women to abort fetuses conceived through natural reproduction if the fetuses  have certain diseases, for example, cystic fibrosis. In the case before the chamber, an Italian couple who were healthy carriers of cystic fibrosis wished to conceive through IVF and to have all embryos tested for the disease before implantation. The chamber ruled that the Italian ban violated article 8’s grant of a right to respect for private and family life. The chamber rejected Italy’s argument that the ban was  justified, among other reasons, to avoid the risk of eugenic abuses. This was a legitimate aim, the chamber said, but the ban on pre-implantation testing seemed “disproportionate,” given that Italy allowed women to abort naturally-conceived fetuses that showed signs of the disease. In effect, Italy was requiring parents in the applicants’ position to conceive through natural means but then abort a fetus that showed signs of cystic fibrosis, a choice that would bring the parents only more anxiety and suffering. Italy’s IVF law is one of Europe’s most restrictive, a result, in part, of the influence of the Catholic Church. Italy has three months to appeal the chamber decision. The case is Costa and Pavan v. Italy (ECtHR, Aug. 28, 2012), available here (follow the link for the PDF).

Waters on Hosanna-Tabor’s Potential Impact on Reproductive Rights

Jessica L. Waters (American University School of Public Affairs) has posted Testing Hosanna-Tabor: The Implications for Pregnancy Discrimination Claims and Employees’ Reproductive Rights. The abstract follows.

In April 2009 Jaretta Hamilton, a married elementary school teacher, was fired after her employer school learned that Hamilton became pregnant prior to her wedding. In October 2010 Christa Dias, an unmarried technology coordinator for two schools, was fired after her employer learned Dias was pregnant via artificial insemination. In 2011, Emily Herx, a married Language Arts teacher who was struggling with infertility, was fired after the school where she had been teaching for seven years learned that Herx was undergoing in vitro fertilization treatments. In the fall of 2011, Cathy Samford, an engaged middle school science teacher and volleyball coach, was fired after her employer discovered Samford’s pregnancy.

Can the employer schools of these four women legally fire them for attempting to become pregnant or actually becoming pregnant? Because the schools in question are religiously-affiliated schools, in the wake of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC the answer may be yes.
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