Wednesday, January 28, 2015

More Companies Win On Basis of Hobby Lobby Decision

In a brief opinion in Briscoe v. Burwell, (D CO, Jan. 27, 2015), a Colorado federal district court, applying the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, enjoined enforcement of:
those provisions of federal law in existence on June 30, 2014, when the Supreme Court decided Hobby Lobby, that require plaintiffs Continuum Health Partnerships, Inc.; Continuum Health Management, LLC; and Mountain States Health Properties, LLC to provide their employees with health coverage for “[a]ll Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity,” ...to which plaintiffs object on religious grounds.
AP reports on the decision.

Mormon Church Leaders Call For Legislation Protecting LGBT Rights and Religious Liberty

In a News Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah yesterday, leaders of the Mormon Church called for legislation protecting LGBT rights but also protecting religious freedom. (Full text of news conference.) (Summary of key points.) (Press release.)  Speaking at the news conference were Elders Dallin H. Oaks and Jeffrey R. Holland of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Neill F. Marriott of the Church’s Young Women general presidency. Introducing the news conference, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said:
To those who follow the Church closely and who are familiar with its teachings and positions on various social issues, it will be apparent that we are announcing no change in doctrine or Church teachings today. But we are suggesting a way forward in which those with different views on these complex issues can together seek for solutions that will be fair to everyone.
Oakes said in part:
Accusations of bigotry toward people simply because they are motivated by their religious faith and conscience have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and public debate. When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser....
Today, state legislatures across the nation are being asked to strengthen laws related to LGBT issues in the interest of ensuring fair access to housing and employment. The leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on record as favoring such measures. At the same time, we urgently need laws that protect faith communities and individuals against discrimination and retaliation for claiming the core rights of free expression and religious practice that are at the heart of our identity as a nation and our legacy as citizens.
The Salt Lake Tribune has more on the press conference.

Alabama Same-Sex Marriage Developments: A Second Decision and Defiance

As previously reported, on Jan. 23 an Alabama federal district court invalidated Alabama statutory and constitutional provisions that bar recognition of same-sex marriages. The court however imposed a 14-day stay on its order to allow an appeal. (See prior posting),  Three days later, the same judge decided a second case, Strawser v. Strange, (SD AL, Jan. 26, 2015), reaching the same result, this time in a suit by plaintiffs seeking to marry in Alabama, rather than have their out-of-state marriage recognized in the state. The court again granted a 14-day stay to give an opportunity for an appeal.

Meanwhile, on Jan. 27 Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore sent a letter to the state's governor urging defiance of the federal court's decisions. In his letter (full text) to Gov. Robert Bentley, Moore said in part:
I am dismayed by those judges in our state who have stated they will recognize and unilaterally enforce a federal court decision which does not bind them.  I would advise them that the issuance of such licenses would be in defiance of the laws and Constitution of Alabama.  Moreover, I note that "United States district court decisions are not controlling authority in this Court."...  As Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, I will continue to recognize the Alabama Constitution and the will of the people overwhelmingly expressed in the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment.
... Be advised that I stand with you to stop judicial tyranny and any unlawful opinions issued without constitutional authority.
According to AL.com, the governor issued a statement after the release of Moore's letter, saying in part:
The people of Alabama voted in a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between man and woman. As governor, I must uphold the Constitution. I am disappointed in Friday's ruling, and I will continue to oppose this ruling. The Federal government must not infringe on the rights of states.
In 2003, Roy Moore ,in his first term as Alabama Chief Justice, gained national attention by his fight against removal of a large Ten Commandments monument that he had place in the Alabama Judicial Building.

Suit Challenges Dismissal For Praying At Work By Speaking In Tongues

The New York Daily News reports on a federal lawsuit filed in Brooklyn yesterday by a former New York Department of Environmental Protection police officer.  Plaintiff Jerome Boswell was taken in handcuffs to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation and dismissed from his position after he began to pray by "speaking in tongues."  Boswell, a Pentecostal Christian, was discussing with a fellow employee their lack of a labor contract.  Boswell said he was leaving the issue to God, and his co-worker responded that they had no contract because God is not powerful.  Boswell took this as blasphemy, told his co-worker to repent and began the prayer in question. Boswell's lawsuit asks for back pay and $2 million in punitive damages for religious and perceived mental illness discrimination.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Facebook Complies With Turkish Court Order To Block Pages Insulting To Prophet

Jurist reports that on Sunday, a court in Turkey ordered a ban on Facebook pages containing material insulting to the Prophet Muhammad. The Golbasi Duty Magistrate Court sent to the Presidency of Telecommunication and Communication and to the Access Provider Association its order calling for Facebook to be totally blocked in the country if the offending pages are not removed. The New York Times reported yesterday that Facebook has complied with the court order and blocked Turkish users' access to the pages authorities specified as offensive.

Female GITMO Guards File Discrimination Complaints After Judges Grant Prisoners' Accommodation Requests

Muslim defendants in two cases before military commissions at Guantanamo Bay have been objecting to the military's assigning female guards to transfer them to meetings with their attorneys and to hearings.  The transfers result in physical contact between guards and the prisoners.  Military judges have issued at least interim orders barring the practice which violates defendants' religious beliefs. (See prior related postings 1, 2). Now AP reports that female guards at Guantanamo have filed complaints with the Defense Department's Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity claiming that the orders amount to gender discrimination.

Today Is International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust as designated by a United Nations Resolution (full text) adopted five years ago. The date-- Jan. 27-- is the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp by the Soviet army. (Background.) This year is the 70th anniversary of that liberation. The ceremony scheduled at United Nations headquarters for today has been postponed until Wednesday because of the snow storm forecast for New York.

Sundance Film Festival Features Documentaries on Controversial Religious Groups

This year's Sundance Film Festival began on Jan. 22 and runs until Feb. 1 in Park City, Utah.  Among the Documentary Premieres are two films that deal with controversial religious groups:

Monday, January 26, 2015

Supreme Court Remands Native American Prisoner Free Exercise Case

In the wake of its decision on allowing prisoners to wear beards for religious reasons, the U.S. Supreme Court today sent a prisoner religious free exercise case back to the 11th Circuit for reconsideration.  In Knight v. Thompson, (Docket No. 13-955, vac. and remanded 1/26/2015) (Order List) the Court held:
The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted. The judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit for further consideration in light of Holt v. Hobbs, 574 U. S. ___ (2015).
In the case the 11th Circuit rejected several Native American inmates' RLUIPA challenges to Alabama prison system grooming rules that prohibit them from wearing long hair as required by their religion. (See prior posting.)

British Court Says Male Circumcision Cannot Be Equated With Female Genital Mutilation

A decision by a Family Court judge in Britain earlier this month tackled directly the argument that male circumcision should be equated with female genital mutilation and be banned just as female genital mutilation is.  In Matter of B and G (Children), (Family Ct., Jan. 14, 2015), the court found significant differences between the two procedures, saying:
in 2015 the law generally, and family law in particular, is still prepared to tolerate non-therapeutic male circumcision performed for religious or even for purely cultural or conventional reasons, while no longer being willing to tolerate FGM in any of its form....
FGM has no basis in any religion; male circumcision is often performed for religious reasons. FGM has no medical justification and confers no health benefits; male circumcision is seen by some (although opinions are divided) as providing hygienic or prophylactic benefits. Be that as it may, "reasonable" parenting is treated as permitting male circumcision.
UK Human Rights Blog has more on the decision. [Thanks to Law & Religion UK for the lead.]

Israeli Court Orders City To Remove Signs Telling Women To Dress Modestly

In Israel yesterday, the Magistrate's Court in the city of Beit Shemesh ordered the  municipality to remove signs that had been put up by haredi (ultra-Orthodox) synagogues and organizations instructing women to dress modestly in the areas of the city where the signs are posted, and not to stand outside certain synagogues. According to the Jerusalem Post, the ruling came in a lawsuit brought by four modern Orthodox women after women suffered repeated harassment and attacks by haredi youths.  Judge David Gidoni wrote:
The signs were designed to restrict women from using public spaces simply because they were women... and constitute a severe injury to the rights of women to equality and respect....  The signs create the expectation that they should be adhered and are likely to create the expectation or understanding that the area where the sign is placed belongs, in effect, to one specific population group in which its norms are applicable.
The court also awarded each plaintiff damages equivalent to $3700 (US). Responding to the court order, the city said that it had repeatedly taken down the signs, only to see them replaced, and that taking them down had led to riots.  The city added that the court did not understand the "complicated reality" of relations between different population groups in the city. [Thanks to Vos iz Neias for the lead.]

Recent Articles and Book of Interest

From SSRN:
From SSRN (Christianity and Law):
From SSRN (Islamic Law and Society):

From SmartCILP and elsewhere:

Recent Book:

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Davila v. Marshall, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6167 (SD GA, Jan. 20, 2014), a Georgia federal magistrate judge dismissed on mootness and qualified immunity grounds an inmate's complaint that he was denied a Santeria bead necklace and his bible.

In Greybuffalo v. Wall, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6566 (WD WI, Jan. 21, 2015), a Wisconsin federal district court dismissed, with leave to amend, an inmate's complaint that prison authorities refused to recognize the Native American Church as an umbrella religious group.

In Sims v. Biter, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6779 (ED CA, Jan. 21, 2015), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed on qualified immunity grounds a warden's denial of a legal religious name change to an inmate where the change could interfere with sex offender registration requirements.

In Planker v. Christie, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6804 (D NJ, Jan. 20, 2014), a New Jersey federal district court dismissed without prejudice an "Organic Odian" inmate's complaints about scheduling and access to religious services and ritual items, about a required TB test, and about racist and pro-Islamic comments made to him.

In Furnace v. Gipson, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6879 (ED CA, Jan. 20, 2015), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed with leave to amend claims by an inmate that authorities restricted his ability to practice Shetaut Neter in the prison's Special Housing Unit by preventing a name change and ordering of spiritual items, and by denying communal worship, observance of Neterian holidays and access to a Neterian chaplain.

In Gee v. Sabol, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6891 (MD PA, Jan. 21, 2015), a Pennsylvania federal district court denied a temporary restraining order to an inmate who was refused kosher meals because. while claiming he is Jewish, at other times had stated that he was Muslim or had no faith.

In Dennison v. Ryan, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7334 (D AZ, Jan. 16, 2015), an Arizona federal magistrate judge passed on a number of discovery requests by an inmate suing to obtain a diet consistent with his Seventh Day Adventist faith.

In Muhammad v. Mathena, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7330 (WD VA, Jan. 22, 2015), a Virginia federal district court held that the prison's Common Fare diet substantially accommodates the religious dietary needs a Nation of Islam inmate.

In Thompson v. Boldt, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7349 (CD CA, Jan. 21, 2015), on remand from the 9th Circuit, a California federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 180795, Aug. 22, 2014) and dismissed a complaint by a pre-trial detainee who had become and adherent of Assemblies of Yahweh that he was denied a religious diet, access to a religious leader, service and other religious items, as well as the ability to observe holy days and feasts.

In Hammond v. Department of Corrections, 2015 Mich. App. LEXIS 105 (MI App., Jan, 22, 2015), a Michigan state appellate court dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies an inmate's objections to a policy change that called for prisoners seeking a kosher diet to receive vegan meals.

New Report On Antisemitism Presented To Israeli Government

Jerusalem Post reports that the Coordination Forum For Countering Antisemitism today presented to the Israeli government its 2014 Report on antisemitism. (Full text of report.) Here is an excerpt from the Report's Overview:
2014 was marked by an alarming rise in antisemitic incidents, acts of terrorism and attempted attacks against Jewish targets, primarily by parties identifying with extremist Islamic movements or with the radical right. At the same time, there was worsening trend in street harassment toward Jews, and verbal and physical violence, a phenomena which increased mainly in Western Europe, in proximity to synagogues and Jewish schools. An increase of 400% in the number of antisemitic incidents of was recorded in July-August 2014, compared to the previous year, following the Israel–Gaza conflict in Operation Protective Edge.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

District Court Invalidates Alabama Same-Sex Marriage Bans

In Searcy v. Strange, (SD AL, Jan. 23, 2015), an Alabama federal district court invalidated Alabama statutory and constitutonal provisions that bar same-sex marriage.  The court found that the provisions are unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.  This makes Alabama the 37th state in which same-sex marriage is legal.  According to the Christian Science Monitor, Alabama's Attorney General has filed a motion asking the court to stay its ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court decides cases it has agreed to review on same-sex marraige.

UPDATE: In an opinion (full text) issued on Jan. 25, the district court denied an indefinate stay of its ruling, but granted a 14-day stay so the 11th Circuit can decide if a further stay is warranted. The court also said that before the expiration of its 14-day stay, it will issue an additional order addressing plaintiffs' request for a clarification of its injunction order.

California Judicial Ethics Code Changed To Bar Judges From Membership In Boy Scouts

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, on Wednesday, the California Supreme Court approved a recommendation of an ethics advisory committee to strengthen the prohibition in California Code of Judicial Ethics, Sec. 2.C. that prohibits judges from holding membership in any organization that discriminates on the basis of race, sex, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Previous exceptions for membership in military organizations or nonprofit youth organizations (such as the Boy Scouts) were eliminated in the recently approved change. However an exception for membership in discriminatory religious organizations remains in the Code. Here is the full text of the ethics code as amended.

Police Sued For Requiring Muslim Woman To Remove Hijab While Being Booked

The Detroit News reports on a lawsuit filed Thursday in a Michigan federal district court by a Muslim woman who was required by Dearborn Heights (MI) police to remove her hijab while she was being booked on a traffic misdemeanor charge.  Malak Kazan was charged with driving with an expired license.  Her Muslim religion requires her to have her head covered when she is in public and when she is in the presence of men outside her immediate family.  Police officers also denied Kazan's request for assistance from a female police officer.  The suit seeks an injunction and damages.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Judge Pressures Husband To Give Jewish Divorce Document

A New York trial court judge has again raised the issue of how far a civil court may go in pressuring parties in a divorce action to perform a religious act.  Yesterday's New York Post reports that Brooklyn judge  Esther Morgenstern, in divorce proceedings of a Jewish couple, has told the husband that unless he gives his wife a get (Jewish religious divorce document), she will order him to pay alimony for life.  The wife's attorney says this is justified because without a get it will be almost impossible for the wife to remarry and receive financial support.  Adding complexity to the case is the fact that Judge Morgenstern herself some 25 years ago was involved in a divorce where her husband resisted giving her a get.

USCIRF Criticizes Pending Legislation In Burma

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in a press release yesterday strongly condemned a package of race and religion bills being considered by Burma's Parliament. USCIRF argued that the bills restrict religious freedom and discriminate against non-Buddhists, saying:
The Religious Conversion Bill would force those seeking to convert to give to the newly created Registration Boards an extensive list of personal information, answer intrusive questions, and wait 90 days for approval.
The Interfaith Marriage Bill imposes restrictions on marriages between non-Buddhist men and Buddhist women, including a 14-day waiting period during which time anyone can object to the marriage, and the court reviewing the objections has the power to deny the marriage.  Non-Buddhist men are denied numerous rights in the case of divorce and face criminal penalties if they ask their Buddhist wife to convert.  Under the bill, non-Buddhist men also bear most of the financial and/or criminal penalties, including prison sentences.  

Legal Documents In Eruv Litigation Now Available Online

Beginning in 2011, individuals and groups opposed to Jewish organizations placing eruvs in three Long Island, New York towns have been involved in litigation attempting to prevent their creation.  Now O'Dwyers has created a page with links to all the legal documents and related media coverage of the lawsuits.

Proposed Oklahoma Bill Would Eliminate Marriage Licenses

Oklahoma State Representative Todd Russ has introduced a bill into the Oklahoma legislature that would create a unique response to federal decisions requiring the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  As reported by KSWO News, his bill would do away with marriage licenses.  Instead, under HB 1125 couples may be married in a religious ceremony, after which the member of the clergy performing the ceremony would file a "certificate of marriage" with the clerk of court.  Individuals who do not want to be married in a religious ceremony could file an "affidavit of common law marriage" with the clerk of court. Under the bill, judges would no longer be able to perform marriage ceremonies. The bill retains current language limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples, even though the 10th Circuit has invalidated that limitation. (See prior posting.)  Rep. Russ sees the bill as restoring marriage "to what it was supposed to be and was originally a holy matrimony and a very solemn and spiritual vow."  Any progress of the bill through the legislature may be followed here.

Suit Seeks To Require Foreign Terrorist Designation For Hindu Nationalist Group

The Hindu reports that Sikhs for Justice filed a declaratory judgment action in a New York federal district court last week seeking to require Secretary of State John Kerry to designate an Indian Hindu nationalist group as a "foreign terrorist organization."  The lawsuit claims that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has targeted Muslim, Sikh and Christian minorities in an attempt to turn India into a homogeneous Hindu nation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party has ties to RSS. Last week a New York federal district court dismissed on immunity grounds a suit brought directly against Modi for his alleged role in Gujarat anti-Muslim rioting in 2002. (See prior posting.)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Civil Rights Complaint With A Twist-- Baker Refuses To Add Anti-Gay Message To Cake

AP today reports on a complaint filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Division against bakery owner Marjorie Silva by a customer who wanted her to create a cake with an anti-gay marriage message on it.  Silva agreed to bake a Bible-shaped cake for customer Bill Jack, but refused his request to put hateful anti-gay words on the cake along with two men holding hands with an X over them. Silva told Jack that she would give him icing and a pastry bag so he could write the words himself.  This did not satisfy Jack, and he filed a complaint alleging that he was discriminated against based on his creed. The complaint comes as Republicans in the Colorado legislature are looking at legislative changes to protect business owners who refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]

Company Settles EEOC Suit; Rejected Rastafarian Applicant Gets $50K In Damages

The EEOC announced Tuesday that Mims Distributing Co., a Colorado-based beer distributor, has agreed to settle an EEOC suit filed against it on behalf of a Rastafarian applicant for employment.  Mims refused to hire Christopher Alston as a delivery driver unless he would cut his hair.  Under a consent decree, Mims will pay $50,000 in damages, adopt a formal religious accommodation policy and conduct annual anti-discrimination training.

Custody Provisions Did Not Violate Father's Free Exercise Rights

In Roderick v. Lynn, (WA App., Jan 20, 2015), a Washington state appeals court rejected a father's contention that provisions of a parenting plan ordered in a child custody suit violated his free exercise rights. The mother was given sole decision-making authority as to the child's religious upbringing, and the father was prohibited from moving with the child to Israel.  The appeals court said that no free exercise problem arises so long as the father is not prohibited from sharing his faith with the child. It added that the trial court's order limiting the father's contact with the child was not an attempt to abridge the father's religious freedom, but was based on the trial court's finding that he had an untreated mental health condition that endangered the child.

FLDS Members Continue To Resist DOL Subpoenas On Religious Grounds

Since 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor has been investigating whether federal child labor and wage and hour laws were violated in the 2012 harvest at the  Southern Utah Pecan Ranch. According to a Salt Lake Tribune report last September, Paragon Contractors was paid to furnish labor for the harvest, and the Labor Department suspects that FLDS Church members-- schoolchildren and their parents-- were deployed to take part in the harvest without pay.  Instead they merely got to keep half of the pecans they harvested. Paragon is owned by Brian Jessop, an FLDS Church leader, and apparently he turned over amounts the company was paid for the harvest to the Church.  In an opinion last September (see prior posting), a Utah federal district court ruled that under RFRA, church member Vergel Steed did not have to respond to a Department of Labor subpoena seeking information about the internal affairs and organization of the Church. Steed claimed that he believes the identity of Church leaders, the Church's organization and its internal affairs are sacred matters and he has vowed not to discuss them.

The Labor Department has also subpoenaed other FLDS Church members.  AP and the Salt Lake Tribune report that yesterday the same Utah federal judge handed down a ruling that may be the first step toward excusing two brothers of former FLDS Church leader Warren Jeffs from responding to subpoenas seeking information about working conditions on the farm as well as FLDS Church structure and leadership.  Judge David Sam ruled that Lyle and Nephi Jeffs have sincere religious beliefs that prevent them from answering questions by outsiders about the FLDS Church's labor practices, but they must answer questions about phone calls allegedly telling children to take off from school to work and telling parents to work without pay. The judge however heard arguments later yesterday on whether the government has a compelling interest in obtaining the Jeffs' testimony beyond this.  All of this came only a day after the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Holt v. Hobbs giving a broad reading to religious liberty protections in federal law. (See prior posting.)