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Archive for the category “Reblog: Religion Clause”

South Carolina Episcopal Parishes All Win Title To Their Property

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina v. The Episcopal Church, (SC Common Pleas, June 19, 2020), a South Carolina trial court was called upon to interpret a confusing decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court in a long-running property dispute that arose after a split in the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.  In a 2017 decision, the 5-member South Carolina Supreme Court in 5 separate opinions spanning 77 pages purported to resolve the factional property dispute. The trial court concluded that, under the state Supreme Court’s decision, 36 parishes are the owners of their parish real estate and accompanying personal property. The court said in part:

This Court must distill the five separate opinions, identify the Court’s intent, and produce a logical directive. It must harmonize these opinions and find common ground among them. The issue is whether the 1979 Dennis Canon or any parish’s alleged accession to that Canon created a legally cognizable trust under South Carolina law….

At issue is ownership of real property, purchased and managed exclusively by the Plaintiff Parishes including land and buildings, considerable funds, and other personal property such as books, silver, and historical archives. The crux of the disagreement rests upon the Dennis Canon and its legal effect on whether this property was ever held in trust for TEC or TECSC….

This Court finds that the Plaintiffs merely promised allegiance to TEC and without more, this promise cannot deprive them of their ownership rights in their property. This Court finds no Parish expressly acceded to the 1979 Dennis Canon. The Dennis Canon was not mentioned by name in any of the evidence, and Defendants admitted that the Dennis Canon is not referenced in any of the deeds of parish property…. As a result, there is no trust created in favor of the Defendants, TEC and TECSC.

Christian Post reports on the decision.

You can learn more about this issue here.

 

Minnesota Amish Must Install Septic Tanks

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Mast v. County of Fillmore, (MN App., June 8, 2020), the Minnesota state Court of Appeals rejected claims by four members of the Amish community that laws requiring them to install septic systems to dispose of their waste water violate their freedom of conscience under the Minnesota Constitution and their rights under RLUIPA. The Court of Appeals said in part:

the district court appropriately concluded that respondents met their burden of demonstrating that appellants’ mulch-basin system does not provide a less-restrictive means of accomplishing the government’s compelling interests of protecting public health and the environment.

Rochester Post Bulletin reports on the decision.

You can learn more about this issue here.

 

 

Court Rejects Claim of Retaliation Because of Foster Parents’ Religious Beliefs

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Lasche v. State of New Jersey, (D NJ, June 4, 2020), a New Jersey federal district court rejected claims by a couple who were formerly foster parents that the state acted unconstitutionally when it removed a foster child from their home and when it suspended their foster care license. Plaintiffs claim that they were retaliated against because of their religious belief that homosexuality is a sin, or because they shared their religious belief with their child. The court found insufficient allegations to support an equal protection claim. As to plaintiffs’ 1st Amendment retaliation claim, the court said in part:

there is no legal support for Plaintiffs’ assertion of a First Amendment right to share their religious beliefs with their foster child, who was neither their biological child nor their adoptive child. In fact, finding that foster parents have an unfettered constitutional right to share their religious beliefs with a foster child would seemingly conflict with the free exercise rights of the foster children and his or her biological parents. Accordingly, I do not find that Plaintiffs can assert a First Amendment retaliation claim based on such a theory.

Rejecting the argument that the state’s actions were in retaliation merely for their religious beliefs, the court said in part:

Plaintiffs’ allegations present a close-question regarding causality, nonetheless, I find that Plaintiffs have failed to allege facts demonstrating “a pattern of antagonism,” or other circumstantial evidence from which retaliatory or discriminatory motives can be inferred.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Court Refuses To Order Vermont To Extend Dual Enrollment Program To Catholic School

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In A.M. v. French, (D VT, May 29, 2020), a Vermont federal district court refused to issue a preliminary injunction to require the state to allow a student enrolled in a Catholic high school to participate in the Dual Enrollment Program (DEP) that pays for high schoolers to take college courses. The court observed that while those administering DEP advised plaintiffs that religious parochial schools are ineligible to participate, this was an inaccurate characterization.  Instead, DEP is open to students enrolled in public schools, in private schools where a district without a public high school pays tuition, or students who are home schooled. In a prior decision, the Vermont Supreme Court held that the program allowing districts without public high schools to pay tuition to private schools violates the Vermont constitution only when the district reimburses tuition for a religious school and does not impose adequate safeguards to prevent the use of the funds for religious worship. In light of this, the federal district court said in part:

The DEP’s plain text does not impose classifications or disparate treatment based on religion. Indeed, the statutory scheme does not even mention religion…. [A] home study student receiving a religious education from his or her parents may take religious education classes at a postsecondary institution with a religious affiliation provided the home study student can satisfy the DEP Eligibility Requirements. A publicly funded high school student at an approved independent school with a religious affiliation may do the same….

Because qualified independent religious schools are not categorically excluded from the DEP and face no additional burdens not imposed on secular approved independent schools, the DEP Eligibility Requirements are neutral as applied to religion. Plaintiffs have therefore not demonstrated a violation of their constitutional rights giving rise to irreparable harm.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Court Strikes Down North Carolina Limits On Worship Services

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Berean Baptist Church v. Cooper, (ED NC, May 16, 2020), a North Carolina federal district court issued a temporary restraining order barring enforcement of the governor’s COVID-19 order that limits indoor worship services to ten people. Saying that “There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution of the United States or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.,” the court continued:

The assembly for religious worship provisions in EO 138 starkly illustrate the extent to which religious entities and individuals are not subject to a neutral or generally applicable law. The record, at this admittedly early stage of the case, reveals that the Governor appears to trust citizens to perform non-religious activities indoors (such as shopping or working or selling merchandise) but does not trust them to do the same when they worship indoors together.

News & Observer reports on the decision.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Court Refuses To Dismiss Catholic School Teacher’s Suit On Church Autonomy Grounds

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Payne-Elliott v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Inc.(IN Super. Ct., May 1, 2020), an Indiana trial court refused to dismiss a lawsuit against the Catholic Archdiocese brought by a teacher who claims that the Archdiocese interfered with his contractual relationship with Cathedral High School, an independent school that had a relationship with the Archdiocese. The teacher was fired pursuant to a directive from the Archdiocese issued after the teacher entered a same-sex marriage. The school feared that if it did not comply, the Archdiocese would no longer recognize it as a Catholic institution. The Archdiocese argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed under the “church autonomy” doctrine. The court said in part:

In civil dispute involving church as party, the court has jurisdiction to resolve the case if it can be done without resolving an ecclesiastical controversy. The court can avoid the religious controversy by deferring to the highest authority within the ecclesiastical body….

… [T]his Court cannot determine that the directive by the Archdiocese to terminate Payne-Elliott was made by the highest authority in the ecclesiastical body of Cathedral or of the Roman Catholic Church.“

The court also questioned whether the case involved an ecclesiastical controversy at all:

… [A] letter from the President and Chairman of the Board of Cathedral elaborates as to ”What is at stake?” Therein, Cathedral states: ”Furthermore, Cathedral would lose its 501(c)(3) status thus rendering Cathedral unable to operate as nonprofit school.” This rational for firing Payne-Elliott is important,… If Payne-Elliott was terminated by Cathedral for an economic benefit to Cathedral at the direction of the Archdiocese, then that is different matter than Catholic doctrine.

The court also refused to accept several other grounds for dismissal put forward by the Archdiocese.  Indiana Lawyer reports on the decision.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Nativity Scene On Indiana County Building Property Held Unconstitutional

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Woodring v. Jackson County, Indiana, (SD IN, April 30, 2020), an Indiana federal district court held that the Establishment Clause is violated by a nativity scene displayed on the lawn of an historical courthouse that now houses county offices. The court first concluded that plaintiff has standing to sue:

Her injury is the direct contact she must endure with a display that she alleges violates the Establishment Clause in the course of exercising her rights as a citizen of Jackson County.

Moving to the merits of the claim, the court said in part:

Here … the Nativity scene is not on its own. It is accompanied by two other arguably secular symbols of Christmas: Santa Claus and a group of Christmas carolers….

Nevertheless, two facts persuade the Court that this Nativity scene would give a reasonable observer the impression that the government is endorsing a religion. The first of those facts is the geography of the display…. Santa and the carolers are placed to the far side of the display, away from the more centralized Nativity display, which straddles the sidewalk subdividing the lawn…. The crèche is the vast majority of the display … making it appear much larger than the solitary Santa figure…. The carolers have been placed in the back of the display, lessening the attention they would draw from an observer….

The second fact that convinces the Court that the Nativity scene would give the impression of a religious endorsement is the scene’s history. For many years, it was only a Nativity scene, with no secular elements at all….But in 2018, in response to a letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation questioning the display’s constitutionality, the President of the County Commissioners …physically moved Santa Claus and his sleigh and reindeer and the carolers to a place nearer the crèche…. The addition of less prominent secular symbols at the fringes of the display is not enough to counteract the impression a reasonable observer would have gotten from seeing the Nativity display placed on the lawn of the Courthouse for nearly 20 years. The Court has no doubt that a sufficient balancing between secular and nonsecular elements could bring this display into harmony with the First Amendment despite its history, but that balancing has not occurred here. Thus, the display fails the endorsement test.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Negligent Violation of Inmate’s Religious Dietary Needs Did Not Violate 1st Amendment

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Mbonyunkiza v. Beasley, (8th Cir., April 24, 2020), the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals held:

absent evidence that an underlying prison regulation or policy violates the Free Exercise Clause, evidence that a correction official negligently failed to comply with an inmate’s sincerely held religious dietary beliefs does not establish a Free Exercise Clause claim under §1983.

In the case, a Muslim inmate claimed that four times in 257 days, prison kitchen staff served him meals containing pork products. In rejecting plaintiff’s claim, the court said in part:

[T]he Supreme Court’s cases, and all the Eighth Circuit Free Exercise decisions our research has uncovered, have involved claims alleging that a statute, or a regulation or policy implementing a statute, unconstitutionally prohibited a sincerely held religious belief or otherwise unduly burdened the free exercise of religion.

By contrast, in this case NCF’s food policies affirmatively accommodate the beliefs of inmates who do not eat pork for religious reasons. Mbonyunkiza does not challenge those policies. Rather, his Supplemental Complaint asserts that defendants are liable in damages because they did not properly implement those policies on certain occasions.

You can learn more about this issue here.

1st Circuit OKs “So Help Me God” In Naturalization Oath

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Perrier-Bilbo v. United States, (1st Cir., April 3, 2020), the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals rejected constitutional challenges to the inclusion of “so help me God” at the end of the oath of allegiance administered at naturalization ceremonies. Plaintiff, a French citizen, was offered the options of just not repeating those words during the ceremony or of having a private ceremony where the oath would be administered without that phrase. She rejected these as inadequate.

The court denied plaintiff’s Establishment Clause challenge, applying the test used by the Supreme Court in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, saying in part:

We follow the Supreme Court’s most recent framework and apply American Legion’s presumption of constitutionality to the phrase “so help me God” in the naturalization oath because we consider the inclusion of similar words to be a ceremonial, longstanding practice as an optional means of completing an oath. And because the record does not demonstrate a discriminatory intent in maintaining those words in the oath or “deliberate disrespect” by the inclusion of the words, Perrier-Bilbo cannot overcome the presumption.

Rejecting Plaintiff’s Free Exercise claim, the court said in part:

We do not second-guess the sincerity of Perrier-Bilbo’s beliefs or her feeling of distress upon hearing the phrase at issue. But even if the phrase offends her, offense “does not equate to coercion,” Town of Greece, 572 U.S. at 589, and the Free Exercise Clause does not entitle her to a change in the oath’s language as it pertains to others….

The court rejected Plaintiff’s argument under RFRA, saying in part:

While she might find the options offered by the Government subjectively burdensome, however, the district court was right to conclude that not every imposition or inconvenience rises to the level of a “substantial burden.”

The court also rejected equal protection and due process challenges.  Judge Barron filed a concurring opinion. Free Thinker blog discussed the decision.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Michigan Will Allow Secular Marriage Celebrants

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In an April 2 press release, the Center for Inquiry reports:

Secular celebrants are now permitted to officiate and solemnize marriages in Michigan, after the state attorney general reversed the government’s opposition to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Inquiry (CFI). Promising that the state considers CFI-trained and certified Secular Celebrants to be covered by existing statutes regarding marriage solemnization, the presiding federal court brought the case to a close.

You can learn more about this issue here.

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