Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- In Hile v. State of Michigan, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Michigan constitutional amendment prohibiting public funds from aiding private or religious schools does not violate the equal protection rights of parents. The amendment restricts the use of the Michigan Educational Savings Program from sending children to religious schools. Plaintiffs argued the amendment was motivated by anti-Catholic bias and restricted their political process rights. The court, however, expressed doubts about the political process doctrine’s applicability to religious discrimination.
- In Snyder v. Chicago Transit Authority, an Illinois federal district court permitted a plaintiff to proceed with claims under Title VII and the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The plaintiff was denied a religious exemption from his former employer’s COVID vaccine mandate.
- In Kelley v. Gupta, a New York state trial court resolved a dispute within the Hare Krishna movement over a Freeport, New York temple. The court recognized the Governing Body Commission of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (GBC) as the highest ecclesiastical authority, validating GBC’s expulsion of a defendant for practicing ritvikism, deemed by GBC a “dangerous philosophical deviation.” The court ruled in favor of GBC’s ecclesiastical authority and decisions, including the entitlement of GBC’s trustees to immediate possession of the temple and associated properties.
- In State of Louisiana v. Neveaux, a Louisiana state appeals court dismissed a free exercise challenge alleging that a provision of a criminal procedure code allowed capital case juror dismissal for anti-capital punishment views. The court found the provision neutral and generally applicable, as it does not target specific religions and applies to anyone regardless of their stance on the death penalty.
- In Craver v. Faith Lutheran Church, a Texas state appeals court ruled that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine necessitated dismissal of a pastor’s lawsuit against his former church employer. The pastor’s breach of contract and fraudulent inducement claims were found to be deeply intertwined with church governance issues, making them unsuitable for secular court adjudication.
- In response to increased antisemitic incidents in educational institutions following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the U.S. Department of Education’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague” letter. The letter reminds schools and colleges receiving federal aid of their legal obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It emphasizes the requirement to create a discrimination-free environment for students “perceived as Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian,” outlining specific scenarios where discrimination must be addressed.