Around the Web

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

  • The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Haaland v. Brackeen. At issue is the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which attempts to prevent child welfare and adoption agencies from placing Native American children outside their tribe. Issues of religion and religious culture underlie the controversy in the four consolidated cases heard. 
  • An Emergency Application for an Injunction Pending Appellate Review was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in New Yorkers for Religious Liberty v. City of New York. The petition seeks an injunction against enforcing New York City’s Covid vaccine mandate for city workers against those with religious objections to the vaccine. 
  • In Richardson v. Clarke, the Fourth Circuit held that a prison’s former policy requiring inmates to remove head coverings, including religious head coverings, in certain areas of the prison imposed a substantial burden on Plaintiff’s religious exercise. 
  • Suit was filed in a New York federal district court challenging the constitutionality of New York’s ban on carrying firearms in houses of worship. The complaint in His Tabernacle Family Church, Inc. v. Nigrelli alleges that the ban violates the Free Exercise Clause, Establishment Clause, Second Amendment, and the equal protection rights of a church and its pastor. 
  • In Dunbar v. Disney, a California federal district court dismissed an amended complaint filed by actor Rockmond Dunbar in his Title VII disparate-impact religious discrimination claim against Walt Disney Company. His disparate impact claim was initially rejected because Dunbar could not identify other Universal Wisdom Church members who were similarly impacted by a Covid vaccine mandate. 
  • In Loste v. France, the European Court of Human Rights, in a Chamber judgment, held that France’s child welfare service violated Article IX of the European Convention on Human Rights when it failed to assure that a Jehovah’s Witness foster family was respecting the Muslim beliefs of its foster child’s birth family. 

Around the Web

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

  • The U.S. Supreme Court has denied review in Doe v. McKee. The certiorari petition asked the Supreme Court to review a decision made by the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which held that unborn fetuses do not have due process and equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution and do not have standing to challenge Rhode Island’s Reproductive Privacy Act.  
  • In Redlich v. City of St. Louis, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a suit brought by a Christian pastor and his assistant challenging a city ordinance that required a permit to distribute potentially hazardous food. Plaintiffs had previously been cited for distributing bologna sandwiches to hungry people they encountered in St. Louis.
  • In Marte v. Montefiore Medical Center, a New York federal district court dismissed claims by a former Medical Center employee who sued after the Medical Center denied her a reasonable accommodation when she refused to receive the COVID vaccine. Among other things, the court rejected Plaintiff’s Title VII, free exercise, and equal protection claims. 
  • Suit was filed in a Maryland federal district court alleging that Baltimore’s sign permit ordinance violates Plaintiff’s free speech and free exercise rights. The complaint, in Roswell v. City of Baltimore, seeks a preliminary injunction to prevent the city from requiring Plaintiff to obtain permits in order to use A-frame signs when engaging in religiously-motivated sidewalk anti-abortion counseling near a Planned Parenthood facility. 
  • In Kariye v. Mayorkas, three Muslim plaintiffs sued the Department of Homeland Security alleging that border officers routinely and intentionally single out Muslim-American travelers to demand they answer religious questions. Applying the Supreme Court’s test articulated in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the California federal district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ Establishment Clause challenge. The court also rejected, among other things, plaintiffs’ free exercise, freedom of association, and RFRA challenges.
  • Suit was filed in a Michigan federal district court by a woman who had worked as a physician assistant for seventeen years but was then fired for refusing, on religious grounds, to refer patients for gender-transitioning drugs and procedures and to use pronouns that corresponded to a patient’s gender identity rather than their biological sex. The complaint in Kloosterman v. Metropolitan Hospital brings Free Exercise and Equal Protection claims against Defendant. 
  • In Congregation 3401 Prairie Bais Yeshaya D’Kerestir, Inc. v. City of Miami, a Florida federal district court refused to dismiss claims that city officials’ harassment of a rabbi who hosted daily minyans at his home for guests violated the First Amendment. Private groups worshiping at a person’s home are permitted in residential areas under the city’s zoning code. 

Around the Web

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

  • A petition for certiorari was filed with the Supreme Court in Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. At issue is a finding by the state Bureau of Labor and Industries that Sweetcakes bakery violated the state’s public accommodation law when it refused on religious grounds to design and create a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding. 
  • In Yeshiva University v. YU Pride Alliance, the Supreme Court vacated the stay issued on September 9 by Justice Sotomayor of a New York state trial court’s injunction that required Yeshiva University to officially recognize as a student organization an LGBTQ group, YU Pride Alliance. In a 5-4 vote, the Court directed the University to first seek expedited review and interim relief from New York trial courts. 
  • In Doster v. Kendall, the Sixth Circuit refused to grant an emergency stay of a class-wide injunction issued by an Ohio federal district court in a suit by Air Force and Space Force members who object, on religious grounds, to receiving the COVID vaccine. The district court enjoined the military from taking enforcement measures, while litigation is pending, against service members who have submitted confirmed requests for a religious accommodation from the military’s vaccine mandate. 
  • In Bush v. Fantasia, a Massachusetts federal district court dismissed claims that a COVID mask mandate imposed by a town Board of Health and a public library violated plaintiffs’ free exercise rights. Plaintiffs claimed they “have sincerely held religious beliefs that proscribe [their] wearing face masks and/or submitting to coerced medical devices/products such as face masks.” 
  • The New York Board of Regents approved the Final Substantial Equivalency Regulation, which implements NY Education Law §3204(2), requiring instruction in nonpublic schools to be at least “substantially equivalent” to that in public schools in the same city or district. The Regulation provides multiple pathways for private and religious schools to demonstrate compliance. 
  • Faith leaders–including rabbis, Christian ministers, Buddhists, and Quakers–are challenging newly enacted abortion bans, arguing that the restrictions infringe on their religious beliefs. Plaintiffs contend that the bans are preventing them from exercising their own religious views about when abortions are permissible and have made clergy afraid to counsel their parishioners on abortion for fear of legal penalties.  

Around the Web

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

  • In Yeshiva University v. YU Pride Alliance, Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor stayed a New York trial court’s injunction that required Yeshiva University to officially recognize as a student organization an LGBTQ group, YU Pride Alliance. For further details, please see last week’s posting here
  • In Chabad Chayil, Inc. v. School Board of Miami-Dade County, Florida, the 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of free exercise, equal protection, and due process claims brought by a Jewish organization that ran an after-school Hebrew program for more than ten years using public school classrooms. In dismissing the claims, the district court held that plaintiff had not shown the elements necessary to assert liability against either the school board or the Inspector General’s office that investigated complaints against Chabad. 
  • In Chabad Lubavitch of the Beaches, Inc. v. Incorporated Village of Atlantic Beach, a New York federal district court granted a preliminary injunction, concluding that an attempt to acquire the property of a Jewish religious group by eminent domain likely violated the group’s First Amendment free exercise rights. Eminent domain proceedings were initiated shortly after Chabad held a Menorah lighting ceremony on the property. 
  • In Chaaban v. City of Detroit, Michigan Department of Corrections, a Michigan federal district court denied a motion in a RLUIPA case for reconsideration of the denial of qualified immunity to corrections officers who forced a Muslim woman to remove her hijab for a booking photograph. 
  • In Braidwood Management Inc. v. Becerra, a Texas federal district court held that the ACA mandate for health insurance coverage of PrEP drugs violates the rights, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, of a for-profit corporation whose owner believes that providing such coverage for his employees would make him complicit in their same-sex conduct and sexual activity outside of marriage. 
  • In Christian Medical & Dental Association v. Bonta, a California federal district court held a provision in the California End of Life Option Act likely unconstitutional. The provision requires doctors (who refuse on conscience, moral or ethical grounds to participate in procedures set out by the act) to document in a patient’s record the date of the patient’s request for an aid-in-dying drug. This notation serves as one of two required requests by a patient before the patient may obtain the drug. The court rejected the argument that this violates the free exercise rights of medical providers who object on religious grounds and dismissed both equal protection and due process challenges. However, the court did conclude that plaintiffs are likely to succeed in their free speech challenges to the requirement. The court issued a preliminary injunction barring state enforcement of the requirement against objecting health care providers. 

Legal Spirits Episode 043: The New Thoreaus

In this episode, Marc interviews Mark about his new article, “The New Thoreaus,” on the rise of the Nones and its impact on free-exercise law. Fifty years ago, in Wisconsin v. Yoder, the Supreme Court famously dismissed the idea that a solitary seeker–the Court gave the 19th Century Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau as an example–could qualify as a “religion” for constitutional purposes. “Religion,” the Court explained, means a communal activity, not a purely personal quest. Mark argues that recent demographic changes in America have made this question an urgent one. Perhaps 66 million Americans today are unaffiliated believers–people who, like Thoreau, reject organized religion and follow their own, idiosyncratic spiritual paths–and more and more of them seek “religious” exemptions, including in the context of recent vaccine mandates. Mark examines some of these cases and argues that Yoder‘s dicta was basically correct: although religion cannot be an exclusively collective activity, the existence of a religious community is a crucial factor in the definition of religion for legal purposes. Listen in!

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 Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a school district violated the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses when the district disciplined a football coach for visibly praying at midfield following football games. Writing for the majority, Justice Gorsuch found that the coach sought to engage in private, sincerely motivated religious exercise and decided that the district could not bar this activity because of its own Establishment Clause concerns. In reaching this decision, the Court repudiated the Lemon test – which had been relied upon by the lower courts in deciding the case. 
  • In LaCroix v. Town of Fort Myers Beach, Florida, the Eleventh Circuit preliminarily enjoined a town’s ban on all portable signs. The ordinance was challenged by an individual who was cited for carrying a sign on a public sidewalk that conveyed his “religious, political and social message” that Christianity offers hope and salvation. 
  • In Apache Stronghold v. United States, the Ninth Circuit held that a proposed federal government land exchange in Arizona will not substantially burden Apache religious exercise in violation of RFRA. The court also held it will not violate the First Amendment because the Land Exchange Provision is a neutral and generally applicable law. 
  • In Halczenko v. Ascension Health, Inc., the Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction that had been sought by a pediatric critical care specialist. The specialist was fired from his hospital position after he refused, on religious grounds, to comply with the hospital’s COVID vaccine mandate. The court concluded that Plaintiff had shown neither irreparable injury nor inadequate remedies through a Title VII action. 
  • In Mishler v. Mishler, a Texas state appellate court held that there is neither a state nor a federal free exercise issue with a divorce decree, based on the parties’ prior agreement that the husband would deliver certain property to the wife only upon the wife’s acceptance of a “Gett” (a Jewish divorce document that the wife must accept for the divorce to be valid under Jewish religious law). 

Legal Spirits Episode 042: Two Blockbuster Decisions at SCOTUS

The October 2021 term has ended with a bang. In this episode, we discuss the Court’s rulings in two significant church-and-state cases: Carson v. Makin, the Maine school funding case, and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the case of the football coach who prayed at the 50-yard line. We explain how the Court ruled in these cases, why the cases are so significant (goodbye to Lemon!), and what they leave open for future decisions. Listen in!

Movsesian on Religious Exemptions

For those who are interested, the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at BYU has posted a video of my presentation at the 2022 Religious Freedom Annual Review on the Smith case and the future of religious exemptions. I argue that the Court’s decision last term in Fulton greatly limits Smith and that claimants should have an easier time winning religious exemptions as a result. Thanks again to the kind folks at BYU Law for hosting me!

Our Credentialed Court

Earlier this year, Encounter Books published a new history of the membership of the Supreme Court from its first years to today, The Credentialed Court, by University of Tennessee Law Professor Benjamin H. Barton. Barton points out that the current membership is historically narrow in terms of life experience. All justices but one have gone to Ivy League law schools; most have been lower court judges; an increasing number are former law clerks. Nothing wrong with any of that–but perhaps something is lost when the justices’ backgrounds are so circumscribed and similar. For example, do the backgrounds of the justices influence their work in religion clause cases? It’s hard to see why that would not be the case. Would the Court’s jurisprudence over the last 50 years have looked different with the graduate of an evangelical college on the bench–or a yeshiva or madrassa?

Looks very interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Credentialed Court starts by establishing just how different today’s Justices are from their predecessors. The book combines two massive empirical studies of every Justice’s background from John Jay to Amy Coney Barrett with short, readable bios of past greats to demonstrate that today’s Justices arrive on the Court with much narrower experiences than they once did. Today’s Justices have spent more time in elite academic settings (both as students and faculty) than any previous Courts. Every Justice but Barrett attended either Harvard or Yale Law School, and four of the Justices were tenured professors at prestigious law schools. They also spent more time as Federal Appellate Court Judges than any previous Courts. These two jobs (tenured law professor and appellate judge) share two critical components: both jobs are basically lifetime appointments that involve little or no contact with the public at large. The modern Supreme Court Justices have spent their lives in cloistered and elite settings, the polar opposite of past Justices.

The current Supreme Court is packed with a very specific type of person: type-A overachievers who have triumphed in a long tournament measuring academic and technical legal excellence. This Court desperately lacks individuals who reflect a different type of “merit.” The book examines the exceptional and varied lives of past greats from John Marshall to Thurgood Marshall and asks how many, if any, of these giants would be nominated today. The book argues against our current bookish and narrow version of meritocracy. Healthier societies offer multiple different routes to success and onto bodies like our Supreme Court.