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. 

Around the Web

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

  • In Dykes-Bey v. Schroeder, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a suit brought under the First Amendment and RLUIPA by a Michigan inmate, concluding that the Michigan prison system had not imposed a “substantial burden” on the inmate’s free exercise of religion. 
  • In Sisters for Life, Inc. v. Louisville-Jefferson County, KY Metro Government, the Sixth Circuit held that an ordinance imposing a 10-foot buffer zone around the entrance of any healthcare facility abridges the free speech rights of pro-life groups who wish to hand out leaflets and speak with women entering abortion clinics. 
  • An English teacher filed suit in an Arizona federal district court after he was fired for urging the school’s principal to show acceptance and understanding of a student who identifies as pansexual. The complaint in McDorman v. Valley Christian Schools alleges that McDorman’s firing amounted to religious discrimination and retaliation for opposing discriminatory practices in violation of Title VII and Title IX. 
  • In Kingston v. Kingston, the plaintiff is challenging a trial court’s order in a divorce proceeding that barred him from encouraging his children to adopt the teachings of any religion without the consent of his former wife. In a 3-2 decision, the Court remanded the case to the trial court for it to “craft a more narrowly tailored remedy.” 
  • The EEOC has announced that it filed a Title VII religious discrimination suit against a Williamsburg, Kentucky IGA grocery store. The suit, filed in a Kentucky federal district court, alleges that the grocery refused to hire Spiritualist Rastafarian Matthew Barnett as an assistant manager after he refused to cut his dreadlocks which he wears for religious reasons. The EEOC says that employers must consider reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs. 
  • In Hordyk v. Wansiea Family Services, Inc., the State Administrative Tribunal of Western Australia held that a non-profit family services agency that contracts with the state to arrange foster care for children placed in the custody of the state violated Section 62 of the Western Australia Equal Opportunity Act 1984 when it rejected a couple who are members of the Free Reformed Church of Australia as foster parents.

Around the Web

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

  • In Jones v. Shinn, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court should not have dismissed an inmate’s claim that his rights under RLUIPA were violated when prison authorities denied him access to four texts by Elijah Muhammad. However, the court affirmed the dismissal of Plaintiff’s First Amendment free exercise claim because the defendants showed the exclusion was reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest. 
  • A federal class action lawsuit has been filed in Phillips v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, alleging that the University of Virginia Health System violated free exercise and establishment clause provisions of the federal and state constitutions, as well as equal protection rights, in the manner in which it administered applications from employees for religious exemptions from its COVID vaccine mandate. 
  • In YU Pride Alliance v. Yeshiva University, a New York state appellate court affirmed a trial court’s decision that New York City’s public accommodation law requires Yeshiva University to officially recognize as a student organization an LGBTQ group, YU Pride Alliance.
  • In Beaudoin v. Attorney General of British Columbia, the highest court in the Canadian province of British Columbia upheld 2020 and 2021 COVID orders of BC’s Provincial Health Officer that prohibited in-person worship services. The court concluded that the Gathering and Events Order did not violate §15 of the Charter of Rights of Freedoms, which protects the equality rights of the churches that were plaintiffs in the suit. The court also concluded that Plaintiffs’ religious freedom rights under §2 of the Charter were not infringed. 
  • In Tonchev v. Bulgaria, the European Court of Human Rights, in a Chamber Judgment, held that municipal officials in Bulgaria violated Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights when they circulated materials to schools containing hostile information about Christian evangelical churches. 
  • In Zemmour v. France, the European Court of Human Rights upheld France’s conviction of a journalist for inciting discrimination and religious hatred against the French Muslim community through anti-Muslim remarks he made on a 2016 television talk show. The Court found no violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protecting freedom of expression. 

Around the Web

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

  • In Keene v. City and County of San Francisco, a California federal district court dismissed a suit by two city employees who objected on religious grounds to the city’s COVID vaccine mandate. The court held that neither Plaintiff has demonstrated that their religious beliefs are sincere or that those beliefs conflict with receiving the vaccine. 
  • Suit was filed in a New Jersey federal district court by seven police officers and firefighters who were denied a religious accommodation to excuse them from a COVID vaccine mandate. The complaint in Aliano v. Township of Maplewood contends that the denial violates Title VII and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. 
  • Suit was filed in an Ohio federal district court by a University Heights, Ohio homeowner who was told by the city that he needed to obtain a special use permit in order to hold Jewish prayer services with ten friends in his home. The complaint in Grand v. City of University Heights, Ohio challenges, among other things, certain provisions of the city ordinances under the United States Constitution, RLUIPA, the Ohio Constitution, and Ohio common law. 
  • Suit was filed in an Indiana federal district court by The Satanic Temple challenging Indiana’s recently enacted law regulating access to abortion with limited exceptions. The complaint in The Satanic Temple v. Holcomb not only alleges that the ban violates Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it outlaws the Satanic Abortion Ritual, but also alleges other constitutional defects. 
  • In Adam Community Center v. City of Troy, a Michigan federal district court refused to dismiss RLUIPA and constitutional claims against the city of Troy, Michigan. Plaintiff alleged wrongful denial of necessary zoning variances so plaintiff could use its property for Muslim religious services and classes. The court previously concluded that the city had violated the equal terms and substantial burden provisions of RLUIPA, and now ordered a hearing on damages for those violations. 
  • In In re Ayad, the Texas Supreme Court held that the trial court should determine the validity and enforceability of an Islamic Pre-Nuptial Agreement before, rather than after, ordering the parties to arbitration by a Fiqh Panel pursuant to the agreement. In a divorce proceeding, the wife challenged the agreement’s enforceability on various grounds, including that the term “Islamic Law” is too indefinite and that the agreement is void as violating public policy. 

Around the Web

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

  • In West v. Radtke, the Seventh Circuit held that a Muslim inmate’s rights under RLUIPA were violated when prison authorities refused to exempt him from strip searches conducted by transgender men. The court rejected the prison’s Title VII and equal protection defenses and remanded the case for further development of the inmate’s Fourth Amendment claims.
  • In Maisonet v. Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a suit by a Muslim volunteer chaplain who claimed that his free exercise rights were infringed when he was prevented from being in the execution chamber when two inmates to whom he ministered were executed. 
  • A Christian rescue mission filed suit in a Wyoming federal district court by a challenging interpretations by the EEOC and the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services (“WDWS”) of the employment discrimination provisions of state and federal law. The complaint in Rescue Mission v. EEOC contends that the Rescue Mission’s free exercise and free expression rights were violated when the EEOC and WDWS found probable cause that the Mission engaged in religious discrimination in refusing to hire non-Christians as associates in its Thrift Stores. 
  • Four former employees of a continuing care retirement community filed suit in an Alabama federal district court alleging that they were wrongly fired for refusing the COVID vaccine on religious grounds. The complaint in Hamil v. Acts Retirement-Life Communities, Inc. contends that plaintiffs were subjected to a hostile work environment, harassment, and wrongful termination based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. 
  • Suit was filed in a South Carolina state trial court contending that a state budget appropriation to Christian Learning Centers of Greenville County violates the provision in South Carolina’s constitution that bars the use of public funds “for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” The complaint in Parker v. McMaster asserts that the appropriation also contravenes the state constitution’s Establishment Clause.
  • The Hindu American Foundation (“HAF”) has sued the California Department of Civil Rights for alleged misrepresentation of Hindu beliefs and practices. HAF’s lawsuit claims that the Department of Civil Rights wrongly asserts that the caste system and caste-based system are integral parts of Hindu teaching and practices, and that in doing so, the California Department of Civil Rights violated the First Amendment rights of Hindus. 

Around the Web

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

  • A petition for certiorari has been filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in Groff v. DeJoy. In the case, the Third Circuit held that accommodating a Sunday sabbath observer by allowing him not to report for work on Sunday would cause an “undue hardship” to the U.S. Postal Service. Therefore, the court held that failure to grant the requested accommodation did not violate Title VII. 
  • In In the Interest of C.C., the Georgia Supreme Court gave guidance to a juvenile court on how to determine whether parents’ objections to vaccinating their children are based on a sincerely held religious belief. The court said in part: “Ultimately, the juvenile court must determine whether the Chandlers’ religious objection to the vaccination of their children is ‘truly held.’ The court should ‘sh[y] away from attempting to gauge how central a sincerely held belief is to the believer’s religion.’ And it must bear in mind that ‘a belief can be both secular and religious. The categories are not mutually exclusive.’ “
  • In Toor v. Berger, the D.C. federal district court refused to grant a preliminary injunction to three Sikh Marine recruits who wanted to prevent enforcement of the Marine’s uniform and grooming policies during recruit training while their case continues to be litigated. Plaintiffs argue that denying accommodation of their religious practices violates RFRA, the Free Exercise Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause. The court held that even if plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on the merits and irreparable injury, the balance of equities and the overall public interest favors the military at this preliminary stage of proceedings. 
  • In Bey v. Sirius-El, a New York federal district court dismissed a suit seeking damages, injunctive relief, and criminal prosecution of defendants for barring plaintiff from attending the Brooklyn Moorish Science Temple in person. Plaintiff was barred because of the potential for a conflict between her and a “competing love interest” who has also been attending services. The court dismissed plaintiff’s free exercise claims because she did not allege that any state action was involved. 
  • In Chabad of Prospect, Inc. v. Louisville Metro Board of Zoning Adjustment, a Kentucky federal district court dismissed a suit brought against zoning officials by a synagogue that was denied a conditional use permit to use a home it purchased for religious services. When the property was put up for sale, zoning rules allowed its use for religious purposes. However, before plaintiff purchased the property, the city removed that provision and required a conditional use permit. The court held that plaintiff’s § 1983 claim alleging First Amendment violations was barred by the statute of limitations. Additionally, the court held that plaintiff failed to state a claim under RLUIPA. 
  • In Miller v. Austin, a Wyoming federal district court dismissed on standing and ripeness grounds a suit by two Air Force sergeants who face discharge because of their refusal on religious grounds to receive the COVID vaccine. 

Around the Web

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

  • In Tucker v. Gaddis, the Fifth Circuit held that a suit by Texas prison inmates seeking to hold religious gatherings for adherents of Nation of Gods and Earths is not moot. The court stated that any such requests remain subject to “time, space, and safety concerns,” and to date, Texas has never permitted the Nation’s adherents to congregate.
  • In Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy of Rockland v. Town of Clarkstown, a New York federal district court dismissed for lack of standing a suit under RLUIPA and federal civil rights laws brought by an Orthodox Jewish school against a New York town and citizens group. The suit alleged that the defendants, motivated by discrimination against Orthodox Jews, prevented the school from closing the purchase of a building owned by a Baptist Church.
  • In Ferguson v. Owen, a D.C. federal district court dismissed, with leave to amend, a suit for damages against the head of the National Park Service Division of Permits Management for refusing Plaintiff a permit for a 4-month long demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial. Plaintiff, a street musician, wanted to convey a religious/political message; however, the court rejected Plaintiff’s RFRA claim, finding that the denial had not imposed a substantial burden on his religious exercise.
  • In Doster v. Kendall, an Ohio federal district court certified a national class action on behalf of all active duty and active reserve members of the Air Force and Space Force who have submitted a request for a religious accommodation from the military’s COVID vaccine requirement.
  • In Amin v. Subway Restaurants, Inc., a California federal district court refused to dismiss a suit alleging that Subway’s tuna sandwiches contain non-tuna products after DNA analyses indicated the tuna contains other fish species, chicken, pork, and cattle. The case is particularly important for those whose religious beliefs prohibit the consumption of meat or pork products. 

Around the Web

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

  • The U.S. Supreme Court denied review in St. Augustine School v. Underly, in which the Seventh Circuit remanded a suit challenging Wisconsin’s refusal to provide bus transportation to students at St. Augustine School.
  • In Al Saud v. Days, the Ninth Circuit rejected claims under RLUIPA and the First Amendment brought by a Muslim inmate who sought to be housed only with other Muslim inmates. Plaintiff contends he is currently unable to pray as required by his religion because inmates he is housed with harass him while he prays. 
  • In Tucker v. Faith Bible Chapel International, the Tenth Circuit held that interlocutory appeals from the denial of a ministerial exception defense are not permitted. In the case, a former high school teacher and chaplain contends that he was fired for opposing alleged racial discrimination by a Christian school. 
  • In In the Matter of United Jewish Community of Blooming Grove, Inc. v. Washingtonville Central School District, a New York state appellate court held that under New York statutory law, school districts are not required to provide bus transportation to private school students on days when private schools are in session, but public schools are closed. 
  • In McKinley v. Grisham, a New Mexico district court allowed plaintiffs to move forward with their Free Exercise challenge to restrictions on in-person gatherings at houses of worship. 
  • The EEOC announced that it has filed suit against Del Frisco’s of Georgia, an Atlanta restaurant, for refusing to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs.

Around the Web

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

  • By a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant an injunction pending appeal in Dunn v. Austin. At issue was a suit by an Air Force Reserve officer who was denied a religious exemption from the military’s vaccine mandate.
  • In Gallo v. Washington Nationals Baseball Club, LLC, suit was filed in a D.C. federal district court by a scout for the Washington Nationals baseball team who was denied an accommodation for his religious objections to the baseball club’s COVID vaccine mandate.
  • In Smith v. Li, an inmate on death row brought a RLUIPA suit in a Tennessee federal district court seeking to stop the medical examiner from performing an autopsy after his death because it would violate his religious beliefs. The court enjoined the autopsy and held that the government could not show that conducting an autopsy in this case is necessary to fulfill a compelling government interest.
  • In Ciraci v. J.M. Smucker Co., an Ohio federal district court dismissed a suit by employees of a food manufacturer who claimed that their First Amendment free exercise rights were infringed when their employer denied them religious exemptions and required them to comply with the Presidential Executive Order mandating COVID vaccinations for employees of federal contractors. The court found the company is not a “state actor” when it complies with a federal vaccine mandate.
  • The Arizona legislature has passed HB 2507, a bill primarily aimed at preventing state and local governments from closing religious organizations in future states of emergency.
  • In Ali v. Heathrow Express Operating Company Ltd., the United Kingdom Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld an Employment Tribunal’s dismissal of an Equality Act religious harassment complaint. The complaint was brought by a Muslim employee of the Heathrow Express train service after a paper with a religious phrase in Arabic was placed in a test bag, by another employee, during a suspicious-objects training test.

Tradition and Strict Scrutiny

Over at the Volokh site, I have a post on last week’s decision in Ramirez v. Collier, in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a death-row inmate who argued that prison officials violated RLUIPA by refusing to allow him to have a clergy present at his execution. RLUIPA requires prison restrictions to meet strict scrutiny: the state must justify restrictions on religion by showing that it has chosen the least restrictive means of satisfying a compelling interest.

Strict scrutiny, which applies in many areas of constitutional law, in practice operates as a balancing test. Critics (including me) have pointed out that the test is inherently indeterminate, depending largely on the intuitions of the particular judges hearing a case. In a separate concurrence in Ramirez, Justice Kavanaugh argues that tradition can help make the test less subjective:

In Ramirez, for example, prison officials had concluded that the marginal benefit of excluding pastors from the execution chamber outweighed the burden on inmates’ RLUIPA rights. Chief Justice Roberts and the majority evidently disagreed. But how were they to know? “It is difficult for a court applying” strict scrutiny, Kavanaugh wrote, “to know where to draw the line—that is, how much additional risk of great harm is too much for a court to order the State to bear.” If the justices’ intuitive judgments are all that make the difference, that hardly seems legitimate.

Here, according to Kavanaugh, is where tradition can help. For centuries in American practice, clergy have been present at executions. And that practice continues today. The presence of clergy, in other words, is a living tradition. “Although the compelling interest and least restrictive means standards are necessarily imprecise,” Kavanaugh wrote, “history and state practice can at least help structure the inquiry and focus the Court’s assessment of the State’s arguments.” Kavanaugh wrote separately to emphasize this aspect of the Court’s reasoning.

Here’s a link to my post.