The First Amendment and the Supreme Court

I was delighted to appear this week as a guest on Pastor Haig Kherlopian’s podcast to discuss the history of the First Amendment, recent Supreme Court decisions on church and state, and other matters. Listen in!

Around the Web

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

  • The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Groff v. DeJoy, a case examining the extent to which Title VII requires accommodation of employees’ religious practices. In this case, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that accommodating a Christian Sunday sabbath observer by allowing him not to report for work on Sunday would cause an “undue hardship” to the U.S. Postal Service, and that, therefore, failure to grant that accommodation did not violate Title VII. Petitioners asked the Supreme Court to revisit and reject the “more than de minimis” test for “undue hardship” announced in TWA v. Hardison.
  • In Bosarge v. Edney, a Mississippi federal district court issued a preliminary injunction requiring religious exemptions from the state’s mandatory vaccination requirements for school children, arguing that the current statute allowing only medical exemptions is an “unconstitutional value judgment.” The court rejected the Attorney General’s claim that the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act (MRFRA) saves the law, stating it cannot be read to cure all potential Free Exercise Clause violations.
  • In Konchar v. Pins, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of fraud, defamation, and breach of contract claims by a former Catholic school principal. The court stated that “the First Amendment precludes inquiries by ‘a civil court’ into ‘the decision of whether Konchar was suitable for the role of Principal at St. Joseph’s.'” Two justices filed a concurring opinion emphasizing that the majority opinion leaves the door open to formally applying the ministerial exception in Iowa.
  • In Grace United Methodist Church Inc. v. Board of Trustees of FL Annual Conf of UMC Inc., a Florida state trial court dismissed a suit by 71 Methodist congregations seeking to break away from the United Methodist Church over LGBTQ+ issues. The court cited Florida precedent requiring deference to church hierarchical decisions while noting that “merely deferring to the UMC on all matters and denying the Plaintiffs access to the courts to litigate neutral property and trust matters does not meet the strictest scrutiny.”
  • The Washington Post reported that Texas federal district court judge Matthew Kacsmaryk removed his name as author of a pending law review article criticizing Obama-era protections for transgender people and those seeking abortions just prior to his nomination to the federal bench. The article, titled “The Jurisprudence of the Body,” was published in September 2017 under the names of two colleagues from First Liberty Institute, without disclosing Kacsmaryk’s role or listing the article in his Senate confirmation paperwork. A spokesman for First Liberty claimed Kacsmaryk’s name had been a “placeholder” and that he had not provided a “substantive contribution.”
  • The Antisemitism Worldwide Report for 2022, published by the Center for the Study of European Jewry and the ADL, noted an alarming rise in anti-Jewish violence in the U.S. It calls for accurate reporting to avoid sensationalism and highlights that antisemitic defamation can occur even in countries with small Jewish populations, citing examples from Yemen and Japan.

Video of Last Week’s Panel at Cardozo

The Floersheimer Center at Cardozo Law School has posted a video (below) of last week’s panel discussion on “The Supreme Court and New Frontiers in Religious Liberty,” in which I was honored to participate, along with Nelson Tebbe (Cornell), Elizabeth Reiner Platt (Columbia Law), and Giselle Klapper (Sikh Coalition) . Thanks again to Michael Pollak, Hui Yang, and the Floersheimer team for having me–and for hosting a cordial and productive exchange of disparate views in the best tradition of the legal academy.

Around the Web

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

  • The U.S. Supreme Court denied review in City of Ocala, Florida v. Rojas. In the case, the Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded a district court’s Establishment Clause decision that had relied on the now-repudiated Lemon test. The district court had granted summary judgment to plaintiffs who challenged a prayer vigil co-sponsored by the Ocala police department held in response to a shooting spree that injured several children.
  • In Speed Way Transportation, LLC v. City of Gahanna, Ohio, the Sixth Circuit held that a towing company adequately alleged an equal protection claim. Plaintiffs, who are Muslim, claimed religious and national origin discrimination in the city’s rejection of their bid for a three-year towing contract.
  • In Carrier v. Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, Inc., a Georgia federal district court held that claims for unjust enrichment and violation of the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act brought against a Christian apologetics ministry and the estate of its founder cannot proceed as a class action. Plaintiffs must instead proceed only in their individual capacities.
  • The complaint in Arizona Christian University v. Washington Elementary School District No. 6 alleges that a public school district violated the Free Exercise Clause, Free Speech Clause, and other federal constitutional provisions, as well as Arizona law, when it terminated the student-teacher agreement between the university and the school district.
  • In Griggs v. Graham, plaintiffs objected to the design of the default Mississippi license plates that included the state seal, a part of which was the motto “In God We Trust.” Specialty plates with alternative designs are more expensive and unavailable for trailers, RVs, and motorcycles. The court, relying on the Supreme Court’s 1977 decision in Wooley v. Maynard, refused to require the state to issue separate non-religious license plates.
  • In Ossewaarde v. Russia, the European Court of Human Rights held that legal restrictions imposed by Russia in 2016 on religious proselytizing violated the rights of a Baptist pastor who was a U.S. national living in Russia. The court found violations of Articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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 Faith Bible Chapel International v. Tucker. The Tenth Circuit denied an 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 Belya v. Kapral, the Second Circuit denied en banc review of a three-judge panel decision which held that the collateral order doctrine does not allow the appeal of an interlocutory order rejecting a church autonomy defense. The defense was raised in an action in which the plaintiff contended that he was defamed when the defendants publicly accused him of forging a series of letters regarding his appointment as Bishop of Miami in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. 
  • The Second Circuit heard oral arguments in New Yorkers For Religious Liberty, Inc. v. The City of New York. At issue are First and Fourteenth Amendment challenges to New York City’s public employee COVID vaccine mandate by employees with religious objections to the vaccines. 
  • The Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments in U.S. Navy SEALs 1-26 v. Biden. In the case, a Texas federal district court issued preliminary injunctions barring the U.S. Navy from imposing its COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Navy service members who sought religious exemptions from the requirement. 
  • In Lubavitch of Old Westbury, Inc. v. Incorporated Village of Old Westbury, New York, a New York federal magistrate judge recommended that the district court dismiss on various procedural and jurisdictional grounds a number of claims in a long-running suit by an Orthodox Jewish Chabad organization, which has been unable to obtain permission to use its property for religious education, worship, and related activities. The Second Amended Complaint in the case asserted seventeen causes of action under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. It also asserted causes of action under RLUIPA and the state Constitution. 
  • In Collins v. City University of New York, a New York federal district court rejected a student’s claims that his free exercise, equal protection, and procedural due process rights were violated when he was denied a religious exemption from City University’s COVID vaccine mandate. In rejecting the student’s free exercise claim, the court said that the Vaccination Policy is neutral, generally applicable, and easily passes rational basis review. 

Last Week’s Panel on “Law and Religion at the Supreme Court”

Here’s a nice writeup on the law school website of last week’s panel, “Law and Religion at the Supreme Court: New Directions,” with Judges Richard Sullivan (CA2) and Rachel Kovner (EDNY). Thanks to everyone who turned out on a rainy night!

Movsesian on 303 Creative

At First Things today, I report on last week’s oral argument in 303 Creative, the latest wedding vendor case to reach the Supreme Court–this time involving a web designer who does not wish to provide services for same-sex weddings. 303 Creative, like most such cases, presents a conflict between free speech, including religiously-motivated speech, and equality in the marketplace. Based on last week’s argument, I argue, it looks like speech will prevail. Here’s an excerpt:

Resolving [the web designer’s] claim requires the Court to answer a basic, conceptual question under the Court’s precedents: As applied to Smith’s web design business, does CADA regulate speech or conduct? If the former, CADA would have to satisfy a test known as “strict scrutiny.” Colorado would have to show that prosecuting Smith was “necessary” to promote a “compelling” state interest. By contrast, if the law regulates conduct and only incidentally affects speech, Colorado would have to satisfy a more lenient test known as the O’Brien standard. Colorado would have to show only that CADA “furthered” an “important” or “substantial” state interest unrelated to the suppression of speech.

At last week’s argument, Colorado’s lawyer argued that CADA is directed principally at conduct. Were Colorado to prosecute Smith, he explained, it would be because Smith had discriminated against customers based on sexual orientation, not because she expressed an opinion on same-sex marriage. Smith could not be required to praise same-sex marriage expressly—but she would have to design websites for all comers. Appearing on behalf of the Biden Administration as amicus curiae, Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher agreed. Declining categorically to design websites for same-sex weddings, he told the justices, would be “a form of status-based discrimination properly within the scope of public accommodations laws.”

This argument appeared to persuade progressives like Justice Sonia Sotomayor—but not the Court’s conservatives. For example, Justice Neil Gorsuch stressed that Smith had said repeatedly that she would “serve everyone,” straight, gay, or transgender, and would decline to design websites for same-sex weddings no matter who requested them. She objected to expressing a message with which she disagreed, not to serving customers of different sexual identities. When it came to designing wedding websites, Gorsuch emphasized, “the question” for Smith wasn’t “who,” but “what.”

You can read the whole thing here.

American Shtetl

Most of us who teach church and state courses are familiar with the Kiryas Joel case, decided almost 30 years ago, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a public school district drawn on religious lines violated the Establishment Clause. We’re a little late getting to it, but earlier this year Princeton published a book on the history of the Hasidic community that gave rise to the case.: American Shtetl: The Making of Kiryas Joel, A Hasidic Village in Upstate New York, by law professor Nomi Stolzenberg (USC) and historian David Myers (UCLA). Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Settled in the mid-1970s by a small contingent of Hasidic families, Kiryas Joel is an American town with few parallels in Jewish history—but many precedents among religious communities in the United States. This book tells the story of how this group of pious, Yiddish-speaking Jews has grown to become a thriving insular enclave and a powerful local government in upstate New York. While rejecting the norms of mainstream American society, Kiryas Joel has been stunningly successful in creating a world apart by using the very instruments of secular political and legal power that it disavows.

Nomi Stolzenberg and David Myers paint a richly textured portrait of daily life in Kiryas Joel, exploring the community’s guiding religious, social, and economic norms. They delve into the roots of Satmar Hasidism and its charismatic founder, Rebbe Joel Teitelbaum, following his journey from nineteenth-century Hungary to post–World War II Brooklyn, where he dreamed of founding an ideal Jewish town modeled on the shtetls of eastern Europe. Stolzenberg and Myers chart the rise of Kiryas Joel as an official municipality with its own elected local government. They show how constant legal and political battles defined and even bolstered the community, whose very success has coincided with the rise of political conservatism and multiculturalism in American society over the past forty years.

Timely and accessible, American Shtetl unravels the strands of cultural and legal conflict that gave rise to one of the most vibrant religious communities in America, and reveals a way of life shaped by both self-segregation and unwitting assimilation.

Legal Spirits Episode 045: 303 Creative at SCOTUS Next Week

Next week, the Supreme Court will hear argument in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, an important case that pits free speech rights against anti-discrimination laws. A Christian web designer has challenged Colorado’s public accommodations law, arguing that the law will require her to design sites for same-sex weddings and convey messages with which she disagrees. In this episode, Marc and Mark explore several of the issues in the case, from concerns about ripeness and standing to matters of substance: free speech and compelled speech, same-sex marriage, antidiscrimination law, what distinguishes “messages” from “messengers,” and others. Listen in!

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.