Saturday, February 24, 2018

State Appeals Court Rejects Religious Defense By B&B That Rejected Lesbian Couple

In Cervelli v. Aloha Bed & Breakfast, (HI App., Feb. 23, 2018), a Hawaii sate appeals court held that a 3-room bed & breakfast violated the state's public accommodation law when the B&B owner refused on religious grounds to accept a room reservation from a lesbian couple.  The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The court held that an exemption in a separate housing discrimination statute for small rooming houses does not apply to the public accommodation law.  The court also rejected defendant's state and federal constitutional privacy and free exercise defenses, finding that the state has a compelling interest in prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations.  Hawaii News Now reports on the decision.

Court Says Enforcing Contraceptive Mandate Against Christian College Violates RFRA

Last October, the Trump Administration issued Interim Final Rules that expanded exemptions from the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate for organizations, colleges and businesses that have religious or moral objections to furnishing coverage for employees (or enrolled students), as well as for employees who object to having such coverage. (See prior posting.)  Shortly thereafter, the government entered settlement agreements in at least 13 cases conceding that the mandate imposes a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ exercise of religion and, thus, cannot be legally enforced against them under RFRA. (See prior posting).  In December, two separate federal district courts issued nationwide preliminary injunctions against enforcement of the Trump Administration's expanded exemptions. (See prior postings 1, 2).

Now this week in Wheaton College v. Azar, (ND IL, Feb. 22, 2018),  an Illinois federal district court granted Wheaton College a permanent injunction barring enforcement against it of the contraceptive coverage mandate to the extent that the mandate violates Wheaton College's conscience.  Wheaton is a Christian liberal arts college.  The court's decision came after the government conceded that enforcement of the mandate against the college would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Becket issued a press release announcing the decision.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Christian Group Challenges College's Speech Zone Policy

A lawsuit was filed this week in a Georgia federal district court by a Christian apologetics club against administrators of Kennesaw State University challenging the school's speech zone policy.  The complaint (full text) in Ratio Christi of Kennesaw State University v. Olens, (ND GA, filed 2/20/2018) complains that the school would not allow the group to set up a pro-life display on the Campus Green.  Instead it limited the display to a small area set aside as a "speech zone." The suit alleges in part:
Defendants prohibit individual students from reserving space on campus and require registered student organizations (“RSO”) to submit reservation requests between three and thirty days in advance.... These policies give KSU officials unbridled discretion, both over whether to grant, deny, or modify an RSO’s reservation request and over whether and how much to charge in security fees, and they quarantine any expressive activities KSU officials deem “controversial” to the small, less accessible “speech zone.”
ADF issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

College Coach Sues Alleging He Was Not Hired Because of His Jewish Heritage

A Title VII lawsuit was filed in Louisiana federal district court this week by a former assistant football coach at the Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College.  Plaintiff Joshua Bonadona, whose mother is Jewish, was raised in the Jewish religion.  He converted to Christianity while a student at Louisiana College, and was employed as an assistant football coach there for two years after he graduated.  He then went to Southeast Missouri State University for graduate work combined with a coaching position.  Two years after that he applied for an Assistant Coach opening that had arisen back at Louisiana College.  The complaint (full text) in Bonadona v. Louisiana College,  (WD LA, filed 2/21/2018), alleges that Bonadona received assurances from Louisiana College's head coach that he would be hired for the position.  In reliance on that he resigned his Southeast Missouri position.  However Louisiana College president, Dr. Rick Brewer, vetoed the hiring because of Bonadona's "Jewish blood." The lawsuit contends:
People of Jewish heritage are protected as a distinct race under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Sharre Tefila Congregation v. Cobb, 481 U.S. 615 (1987).  As such, employment discrimination against an individual based upon his Jewish ethnic heritage is prohibited under 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2.
Yahoo Sports and the Bayou Brief report on the lawsuit.

UPDATE: Louisiana College issued a statement denying allegations in the lawsuit.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Americans United Names New Executive Director

Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced yesterday that  Rachel K. Laser has been appointed its new Executive Director.  Laser has had extensive experience in non-profit advocacy, having worked for Planned Parenthood, the National Women’s Law Center, Third Way and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.  She succeeds Rev. Barry W. Lynn who retired last year after 25 years as AU's leader. Washington Post carries an extensive article on Laser's appointment. [Thanks to Michael Lieberman for the lead.]

Supreme Court Defines Prisoner Contributions To Attorney Fee Awards

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday in Murphy v. Smith, (Sup. Ct., Feb. 21, 2018), in a 5-4 decision, decided on the proper interpretation of a statutory provision relating to award of attorneys' fees in damage actions by prisoners, including actions alleging a violation of an inmate's First Amendment free exercise rights.  At issue is the provision in 42 USC § 1997e(d) relating to the amount an inmate must contribute out of his or her recovery toward attorneys' fees when the inmate has been awarded such fees.  The majority, in an opinion by Justice Gorsuch, held that the statutory reference to the inmate's contribution of up to 25% of the monetary judgment toward satisfying the award does not give the trial court discretion to require less than 25%.  Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ginsberg, Breyer and Kagan, dissented arguing that the statute permits the exercise of discretion in determining the percentage (up to 25%) of a judgment that must be applied toward an attorneys' fee award.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Rev. Billy Graham Dies At Age 99

The New York Times chronicling his life, reports this morning:
The Rev. Billy Graham, a North Carolina farmer’s son who preached to millions in stadium events he called crusades, becoming a pastor to presidents and the nation’s best-known Christian evangelist for more than 60 years, died on Wednesday at his home. He was 99.

Suit Challenges Ban On Lesbian Foster Parents In Federally Funded Refugee Program

A lawsuit was filed yesterday against the federal government and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops challenging discrimination against same-sex couples in administration of the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program and the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program. The complaint (full text) in Marouf v. Azar, (D DC, filed 2/20/2018), alleges that various federal agencies use taxpayer funds to finance grants to the USCCB to implement these programs based on impermissible religious criteria.  Plaintiffs, a lesbian couple, were told by Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, a sub-grantee of USCCB, that they did not qualify to become foster parents of an unaccompanied refugee child. An official of the organization told them that foster parents must "mirror the holy family."  The complaint alleges in part:
By working to ensure that none of the children for which they are responsible are placed in homes of same-sex spouses based on USCCB’s religious beliefs, USCCB and its sub-grantees not only discriminate against same-sex spouses, but also effectively erase the non-Catholic identities and beliefs of many of the unaccompanied refugee children for which they are responsible. This conduct potentially increases those children’s alienation and vulnerability, while denying them access to loving homes that could serve them best—all at federal taxpayers’ expense.
Lambda Legal issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit. Washington Post reports on the filing of the suit.

Injunction Against Serving As Temple Director Upheld

In Sikh Temple Turlock, California v. Chahal, (CA App, Feb 20, 2018), a California state appeals court upheld the trial court's resolution of a governance dispute between two factions in a Sikh Temple.  As described by the court:
Following a bench trial, the [trial] court found the election of the First Board was valid. The court further concluded the April 2013 election did not occur and that appellants took control of the Temple by usurpation. Accordingly, the trial court reinstated the First Board and ordered that a judicially supervised election take place. The court also enjoined five of the appellants from serving as officers or directors of the Temple for five years.
The appeals court rejected challenges to the trial court's decision, including a a free exercise challenge to the 5-year injunction.  The court said in part:
 Appellants submitted evidence that a Sikh has a general obligation to perform selfless service. However, there was no testimony that serving on the board is itself a religious act, constitutes a religious practice, or is required to satisfy the seva obligation. In fact, the evidence suggests otherwise.... Thus, appellants’ claim that the ban infringes on the free exercise of their religion has no support in the record.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Christmas As Legal Holiday Does Not Violate County Employee's Rights

In Edelstein v. Stephens, (SD OH, Feb. 16, 2018), a Ohio federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing many of the claims of a state court staff attorney/magistrate who was fired after she requested eight days off for Jewish holidays. One of plaintiff's claims was that the county violated her free exercise and equal protection rights by designating Christmas as a legal holiday without similarly protecting the rights of non-Christians to celebrate their holidays.  The court said in part:
Butler County's policy establishing Christmas as a paid legal holiday for county employees is a neutral law that does not discriminate against a particular religion or set of religious beliefs or prohibit any conduct because it is undertaken for religious reasons.... The Sixth Circuit has acknowledged that because there are "legitimate secular purposes for establishing Christmas as a legal public holiday," it follows that the establishment of Christmas day as a legal public holiday neither violates an individual's fundamental rights nor discriminates against her based on her religion.
The Butler County Journal-News reports on the decision.

"Parody Marriage" Bills Are Newest Attempt To Challenge To Same-Sex Marriage

A bill titled Marriage and Constitution Restoration Act (H 4949) was introduced into the South Carolina legislature last week (Feb. 15). A similar bill with the same title (HB 0167) was received for introduction in the Wyoming legislature on Feb. 14.  Taking a new approach to challenging same-sex marriage, the bills define marriage that does not involve one man and one woman as "parody marriage."  The bills then declare that parody marriages, as well as treating sexual orientation as a suspect class, violate the Establishment Clause because they are part of the religion of Secular Humanism.  They declare, on the other hand, that marriages between one man and one woman are secular because they arise "out of the nature of things" and are "natural, neutral and noncontroversial."   According to the Charleston City Paper, the bills in both states were written with the advice of Chris Sevier. Sevier has gained notice by filing lawsuits seeking to have his marriage to his computer recognized--- suits filed in an attempt to discredit non-traditional marriages. (See prior posting.)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Recent Articles and Book of Interest

From SSRN:
From SSRN (Law of charities):
From SSRN (European law):
From SSRN (Islam and Islamic Law):
From SmartCILP:
Recent Book:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Mother Held In Contempt For Ignoring Custody Order Giving Father Control of Religious Decisions

The Charlotte Observer last week reported that a North Carolina state Superior Court judge has upheld a contempt conviction of 36-year old Kendra Stocks for disobeying a court order regarding custody of her daughter. One day after a district court judge gave full custody, specifically including decisions concerning religion, of Stocks' 3-year old daughter to the child's father, Stocks went ahead with a previously-planned baptism of the child. She did not inform the father of the planned ceremony; he learned of it through Stocks' Facebook postings. The Superior Court reduced Stocks contempt sentence from ten to seven days. [Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Mikell v. Folino, (3d Cir., Feb. 13, 2018), the 3rd Circuit affirmed the dismissal of an inmate's complaint that he did not receive Ramadan meals.

In Corbett v. Annucci, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24291 (SD NY, Feb. 13, 2018), a New York federal district court allowed an inmate to move ahead with claims for injunctive relief alleging that he did not receive Halal meals.

In Jones v. Annucci, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24359 (SD NY, Feb. 13, 2018), a New York federal district court dismissed an inmate's complaint that he was required to change his religious registration from Islam to Shia before he could participate in Shia religious events.

In Thomas v. Slusher, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25916 (ND OH, Feb. 16, 2018), an Ohio federal district court dismissed an inmate's complaint that he was transferred out of the faith-based prison unit.

In Woods v. Paramo, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25989 (SD CA, Feb. 15, 2018), a California federal court allowed an inmate to move ahead with his suit challenging delays in providing a kosher diet when he is transferred for extensive periods.