Friday, November 21, 2014

Neo-Pagan Group Gets NY Property Tax Exemption

In In the Matter of Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, Inc., v. McCoy. (NY Ct. App., Nov. 18, 2014), New York's highest court, in a brief opinion, affirmed the decision of an appellate court that a neo-Pagan group is entitled to a tax exemption for property in the Town of Catskill that includes a 12-bedroom house, a caretaker's cottage, several outbuildings and an outdoor temple. The Court of Appeals said:
The Appellate Division properly granted the petitions. Petitioner adequately established its entitlement to the RPTL 420-a exemption, as the proof at the trial established that petitioner "exclusively" utilized the property in furtherance of its religious and charitable purposes.
(See prior related posting.) Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.

Supreme Court Developments On Same-Sex Marriage

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court issued an Order (full text) in Wilson v. Condon denying a stay of a South Carolina federal district court's decision striking down South Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage. (See prior posting.) Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented from the denial of the stay. SCOTUSblog reports on developments.

Meanwhile, the state of Louisiana filed a petition for certiorari (full text) in Robicheaux v. George, seeking to bypass the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and obtain Supreme Court review of a Louisiana federal district court decision that upheld Louisiana's ban on same-sex marriage. (See prior posting.) SCOTUSblog reports.

High Schooler Sues After He Is Suspended For Proselytizing

The Seattle Post Intelligencer reports on a federal lawsuit filed this week on behalf of an Everett, Washington high school student who was suspended three times for handing out Christian religious tracts at school and preaching to students using an amplifying device at a school-sponsored extracurricular event. Student Michael Leal claims religious discrimination. The school says that it took action because of the disruptive nature of the Leal's activity. Pacific Justice Institute announced the filing of the lawsuit.

9th Circuit Hears Oral Arguments In Conscience Challenge To Pharmacy Board Rules

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday heard oral arguments in Stormans, Inc. v. Weisman. (Audio of full oral arguments). In the case,  a Washington federal district court held unconstitutional the enforcement of rules of the Washington State Pharmacy Board that require pharmacies and pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception even when doing so violates a pharmacist's religious beliefs. (See prior posting.) The Oregonian reports on yesterday's oral arguments.

6th Circuit Hears Oral Arguments In Child Evangelism Fellowship Case

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday heard oral arguments (audio of full arguments) in Child Evangelism Fellowship v. Cleveland Metropolitan School District. At issue is the claim by Child Evangelism Fellowship that they were denied a fee waiver for use of school space, while a waiver (or in-kind arrangement) was granted to others. The federal district court for the Northern District of Ohio held in its Feb. 24, 2014 denial of a preliminary injunction (full text of decision): "Plaintiff cannot demonstrate that Defendant has a fee-waiver policy, and therefore cannot demonstrate Defendant operates such a policy in a discriminatory manner."

Suit Challenges Fort Lauderdale Restrictions On Feeding Homeless In Parks

Daily Business Review reports on a lawsuit filed Wednesday by Episcopal priest Rev. Mark Sims challenging a Fort Lauderdale, Florida ordinance that took effect on Nov. 1 imposing various requirements on organizations feeding the homeless in public parks. The suit claims the new law violates the federal and state constitutions as well as the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Sims and activist Arnold Abbott have been cited for violating the new law. According to the news report:
The highly publicized ordinance has been championed by Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler and ridiculed by cable television political satirist Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report." The most notable alleged violator is 90-year-old homeless activist Arnold Abbott.
The city bars "outdoor food distribution centers" within 500 feet of a residential property or other food distribution center and requires centers to provide restrooms, equipment for the disposal of water and wastewater, written consent of the property owner, food temperature controls and other conditions.
Apparently separately, 90-year old Abbott filed a motion to enforce an injunction issued in 2000 against an earlier Fort Lauderdale ordinance.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

House Holds Hearings On Religious Accommodation In Military

Yesterday, the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on Religious Accommodations in the Armed Services. The full texts of the prepared statements of five witnesses, plus statements submitted for the record by a member of Congress and ten advocacy organizations, are available at the Committee's website.

Ten North Carolina Magistrates Leave Over Performing Same-Sex Marriages

Time Warner News reported yesterday that in North Carolina, at least ten magistrates resigned or took early retirement last month because of their opposition to performing same-sex marriages. On Oct. 14, the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts ruled that magistrates must perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples who present a license in the same way they do for opposite-sex couples. (See prior posting.) There are a total of 672 magistrates in the state.

Court Upholds College's Vaccination Requirement Over Free Exercise Challenge

In George v. Kankakee Community College, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 160737 (CD IL, Nov. 17, 2014), an Illinois federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161379, Oct. 27, 2014) and dismissed a  paramedic student's claim that his free exercise and privacy rights were infringed when he was precluded from taking a clinical class required for his degree. Nicholas George was not permitted to enroll because he refused on religious grounds to comply with the vaccination requirements that were imposed by the hospital conducting the class.  The court held that the hospital's policy was generally applicable  and neutral. The court also remanded to state court plaintiff's state law claims.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Consent Injunction Issued In Church's RLUIPA "Equal Terms" Challenge

A Kansas federal district court last week issued a consent order (full text) granting a preliminary injunction barring Garden City, Kansas from enforcing its zoning code against a church that has been located in the city's central business district for ten years. The order in Mount Zion Church of God In Christ v. City of  Garden City, Kansas, (D KA, Nov. 14, 2014), comes in a RLUIPA challenge to provisions that fail to include churches as permitted uses in the area zoned as Central Business District.  The complaint (full text) in the case invokes RLUIPA's "equal terms" provision as well as the 14th Amendment.  In September the city told Mount Zion that it must stop using its location as a church after the city received a complaint from a citizen about another nearby church. RLUIPA Defense blog today reports on the case.

Monitor's Report Critical of Actions By Orthodox Jewish Majority On East Ramapo NY School Board

The New York Times reported yesterday that a state-appointed monitor has delivered a report to the New York State Board of Regents sharply critical of the East Ramapo (NY) School District board.  A majority of the East Ramapo Board's members are Orthodox Jews. In the district, Jewish yeshivas enroll around 24,000 students while the public schools enroll 9,000 students, predominately Black and Latino. Public school parents complain that the Board gives increasing financial aid to yeshivas, while cutting public school budgets. The special monitor, Hank Greenberg, essentially agreed, saying:
What I have found is that you have a board deeply influenced and informed by the community from which they’ve come — so concerned about the children of that community that it has blinded them to the needs of the entire community,
His report calls for more state funding, accompanied by a new law that would provide for a fiscal monitor with the power to overrule decisions of the school board and superintendent. East Ramapo school board president Yehuda Weismandel issued a statement (full text) responding to the monitor's report.

Air Force Amends Instruction On Religious Freedom and Accommodation

Last week, the U.S. Air Force announced that Air Force Instruction 1-1 on Air Force Culture has been updated as of Nov. 7 to clarify standards on free exercise of religion and religious accommodation. The amended Instruction (full text) strengthens free exercise and religious accommodation rights of military personnel, and weakens restrictions on proselytizing. The new amendments provide in part:
Every Airman also has the right to individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs, to include conscience, moral principles or religious beliefs, unless those expressions would have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety, or mission accomplishment.....
[Leaders] must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief.
Gone from the amended version is previous language providing that leaders "must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates."

The original version of the Instruction allowed religious accommodation requests to be denied on the basis of "military necessity."  The new amendments provide:
If it is necessary to deny free exercise of religion or an accommodation request, the decision must be based on the facts presented, must directly relate to the compelling government interest of military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety, or mission accomplishment, and must be by the least restrictive means necessary to avoid the cited adverse impact.
The amended Instruction also makes it clear that these guidelines on religious expression apply to communications on social media.

Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers has an analysis of the amendments as well as a chart of the changes in language in the 2014 amendments.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Florida School District Proposing To Ban Distribution of All Religious Material

The Orange County, Florida Public Schools are giving up on their passive distribution policy that originally allowed Bibles to be distributed by World Changers in high schools, but then led to litigation over material critical of the Bible that Freedom From Religion Foundation sought to distribute. That was followed by a request from a New York-based Satanic Temple to distribute its materials under the school district's limited public forum policy. According to yesterday's Christian Post, the Florida school district is now proposing a rule change that will prohibit distribution of materials of a denominational, sectarian, religious, political or partisan nature. Pending requests to distribute material will be put on hold while the rule change is under consideration. Commenting on the proposal, school board chairman Bill Sublette said that the situation has gotten out of hand. "I think we've seen a group or groups take advantage of the open forum we've had," he said.

New Lawsuit Challenges Nebraska's Ban On Same-Sex Marriage

A lawsuit was filed yesterday in federal district court in Nebraska by 7 couples challenging the constitutionality of Art. I, Sec. 29 of Nebraska's state constitution.  The provision prohibits same-sex couples from marrying and bars recognition of the marriages of same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions. The complaint (full text) in Waters v. Heineman, (D NE, filed 11/17/2014) contends that the provision violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. ACLU announced the filing of the lawsuit. Sioux City Journal has additional background. In 2006, in Citizens for Equal Protection v. Bruning, the 8th Circuit upheld the Nebraska ban.

Suit Challenges Prayer and Bible Readings At School Board Meetings

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit last week against a California school board challenging the practice of prayer and Bible readings at school board meetings.  The complaint (full text) in Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education, (CD CA, filed 11/13/2014), alleges:
The Chino Valley School Board ... begins each meeting with a prayer. Indeed the meetings resemble a church service more than a school board meeting, complete with Bible readings by the Board members, Bible quotations by Board members, and other statements by Board members promoting the Christian religion.
The suit contends that the school board's practices violate both the federal and California constitutions. Friendly Atheist blog reports on the lawsuit.

Pope Francis Confirms Planned September U.S. Visit

The New York Times, Vatican Radio and other media reported yesterday that Pope Francis has confirmed that he will make his first Papal Visit to the United States in September to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. No other stops in the U.S. have been confirmed, but the Vatican's United Nations representative says the trip will also include a visit to New York. The Pope announced his visit while speaking in Rome at a Colloquium on Complementarity of Man and Woman sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  The U.S. trip is hardly a surprise since, as previously reported, last July Philadelphia Archbishop Chaput confirmed it.

Group Launches Annual "Friend or Foe Christmas" Campaign

Liberty Counsel announced yesterday that it is launching its 12th annual "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign." The campaign treats as a "foe" of Christmas businesses or governmental entities that use terms other than "Christmas" in promoting the holiday season.  Liberty Counsel publishes a "Naughty or Nice List" of retailers that either use the term "Christmas" or refused to do so. The group also has placed on its website a legal memo on religious displays and celebrations in schools and governmental offices. A second legal memo focuses on religious expression rights of employees of private businesses.

Church of Brethren Has No Right To Property of Break-Away Congregation

In Church of the Brethren v. Roann Church of the Brethren, Inc., (IN App., Nov. 17, 2014), an Indiana appeals court held that a break-away Church of the Brethren congregation had not placed its property into an irrevocable trust, express or implied, for the benefit of the Denomination.  Applying the neutral-principles-of-law approach, the court reviewed the Denomination's Organization and Polity Manual, the underlying deeds and the congregational constitution to affirm the trial court's holding that the church property remains with the congregation. [Thanks to Michael E. DiRienzo for the lead.]

Monday, November 17, 2014

Nuns Volunteering For Red Cross Were Not "Employees" Under Title VII

In Marie v. American Red Cross, (6th Cir., Nov. 14, 2014), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Title VII as well as 1st and 14th Amendment claims by two Catholic nuns who were dismissed from their long-time volunteer positions as disaster relief workers for the American Red Cross and the Ross County (Ohio) Emergency Management Agency.  The court rejected plaintiffs' Title VII religious discrimination claims because "their volunteer relationship does not fairly approximate employment and is not covered by Title VII."

The court also concluded that plaintiffs had not produced evidence to support their 1st Amendment claim that they were terminated in retaliation for expressing their traditional Catholic beliefs and wearing traditional habits, rosaries, and crosses. Nor did they show disparate treatment in violation of their equal protection rights. In addition, the court found that neither the American Red Cross nor its district executive director were engaged in "state action."

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SmartCILP:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

In Iraq, Excessive Official Holidays Lead To Educational and Governmental Concerns

Al Monitor reports today that in Iraq, educational achievement and productivity in government, sevices and contruction sectors are being adversely affected by the excessive number of officially recognized religious and ethnic holidays. The political system leads to governmenmt recognition of the holidays of each of the many religious and ethnic group in the country.  Iraq recognizes 150 official vacation days under a law passed by Parliament last year.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Glenn v. Liebel, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 158195 (SD IN, Nov. 10, 2014), an Indiana federal district court allowed an inmate to proceed with his complaint that his Eastern Orthodox religion has not been included in the prison system's Handbook of Religious Belief and Practices, and that he has been denied access to Eastern Orthodox religious services and various religious items.

In Muhammad v. Jenkins, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 158481 (SD NY, Nov. 4, 2014), a New York federal district court rejected claims for injunctive relief but set for trial the damage action by plaintiff who claimed that the denial of a change in his parole curfew restrictions were motivated by religious hostility and prevented him from attending his Nation of Islam mosque.

In Guillory v. Jones County Jail, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 159159 (SD MS, Nov. 12, 2014), a Mississippi federal district court permitted a Muslim pre-trial detainee's claim that he was prevented from performing daily prayers because of cell overcrowding and was not given special Ramadan meals, a prayer rug or religious hat to proceed only against the sheriff in his official capacity.

In Hunter v. Corrections Corporation of America, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 159739 (SD GA, Nov. 13, 2014), a Georgia federal magistrate judge permitted a Muslim inmate to move ahead with his claims under RLUIPA and the Establishment Clause that he enrolled in a faith-based program when a bottom bunk became available and he was told that he could teach Islam there, but instead he was forced to attend group sessions promoting Christianity 13 times per week.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Obama Urges Equality For Religious Minorities In Burma

In Burma yesterday, President Obama held a joint news conference (full text) with opposition politician Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Asked about his discussions with the Burmese President and political leaders on constitutional change, President Obama said in part:
I indicated that we are paying attention to how religious minorities are treated in this country.  Now, I recognize the complexities of the situation in Rakhine state.  On the other hand, consistent with what Daw Suu just said, I am a firm believer that any legitimate government has to be based on rule of law and a recognition that all people are equal under the law.  And discrimination against the Rohingya or any other religious minority I think does not express the kind of country that Burma over the long term wants to be.  And I know of no successful democracy in which sectarian or religious divisions are allowed to fester, or the people of different faiths are treated as second-class citizens.  Ultimately, that is destabilizing to a democracy.

Cert. Petitions Begin To Be Filed In 6th Circuit Same-Sex Marriage Cases

Plaintiffs who lost in the 6th Circuit last week in their challenges to same-sex marriage restrictions in four states (see prior posting) are seeking Supreme Court review rather than an en banc rehearing by the full 6th Circuit. Petitions for certiorari were filed on Friday in:
Detroit Free Press says a petition is expected Monday in DeBoer v. Snyder  (Michigan). A petition will also be filed in the near future in Love v. Beshear (Kentucky). (HRC Blog).