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Archive for the category “Reblog: Religion Clause”

Court Rejects Christian Adoption Agency’s Challenge To Anti-Discrimination Regulation

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In New Hope Family Services v. Poole, (ND NY, May 16, 2019), a New York federal district court rejected a constitutional challenge by a Christian adoption agency to New York’s anti-discrimination provisions. Regulations of New York’s Office of Children & Family Services prohibit adoption agencies from discriminating, among other things, on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. New Hope Family Services will not place children with same-sex couples or with unmarried couples. Inquiries from such couples are referred to other agencies. The court rejected New Hope’s contention that the regulation violates its free exercise rights because it was adopted to target faith-based agencies.  Instead, the court found that the regulation “is facially neutral and generally applicable, and that it has been neutrally and generally applied in this case….” The court also rejected New Hope’s free speech and equal protection challenges to New York’s regulation. In a press release, ADF said that the decision is likely to be appealed.

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Court Properly Applied Neutral Principles In Dealing With Factional Dispute In Church

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Nelson v. Brewer(IL App., May 10, 2019), involved a dispute between two factions of a congregational church over control of the church, identity of its pastor and control of its property. The appellate court upheld the trial court’s action under Sec. 112.55 of the Illinois Non-Profit Corporation Act appointing a custodian to secure the church’s property and bring the church’s corporate governance documents in to compliance with law. The court also, through a series of orders, provided for selection of a 5-person board for the church. The appellate court said in part:

We find the circuit court in this case properly applied the neutral principles of law as it found both parties have an equal right to PTC property and carefully applied section 112.55 of the Act to remediate the church’s corporate governance. The court specifically refused to issue an opinion as to who is the rightful pastor because that question is religious in nature. Instead the court limited its findings to corporate reorganization by examining PTC’s articles of incorporation, bylaws, other corporate governing documents, the land trust, and pertinent state statutes to resolve the matter.

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Defamation Suit Dismissed Under Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine

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In In re Alief Vietnamese Alliance Church and Phan Phung Hung, (TX App., April 30, 2019), a Texas state appellate court held that a defamation claim by a church’s former interim pastor, Paul Nguyen, against the Church and its senior pastor Phan Phung Hung should be dismissed under the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine.  At issue were statements by Hung that Nguyen had committed adultery with a female church member. In a 2-1 decision, the majority said in part:

We conclude that Hung’s allegedly defamatory statements are … “inextricably intertwined” with matters relating to an internal struggle between a current and former leader of the Church over Church governance, the standard of morals required of leaders of the Church, and the reason for Nguyen’s leaving or being expelled from the Church….

Even if there is a dispute over Hung’s motivation in making the statements—either as part of a disciplinary procedure due to the alleged adultery or merely out of vindictiveness towards Nguyen, who had criticized Hung’s pastoring decisions—these statements were made in the context of expelling a member and former leader of the Church, or, alternatively, the Church member’s voluntarily quitting his leadership positions and quitting the Church—and then refusing to meet with Church leadership to resolve the dispute—either version of which is inherently an ecclesiastical concern as a matter of law.

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Texas “No Boycott of Israel” Law Held Unconstitutional

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A Texas federal district court last week held unconstitutional the Texas statute requiring all state contracts for goods or services to include a written verification from the contracting company that it is not, and during the contract will not, boycott Israel. In Amawi v. Pflugerville Independent School District(WD TX, April 25, 2019), a Texas federal district court granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the anti-BDS statute or enforcement of any clause in state contracts barring boycott of Israel.  The court, in a 56-page opinion, said in part:

Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claims that H.B. 89 is unconstitutional under the First Amendment because it (1) is an impermissible content- and viewpoint-based restriction on protected expression; (2) imposes unconstitutional conditions on public employment; (3) compels speech for an impermissible purpose; and (4) is void for vagueness.

The suit was brought by five individuals who wished to contract, or had contracted, to provide services such as speech therapy and early childhood evaluations for a school district; translation of an art essay for a state University museum; judging high school debate tournaments; and providing podcasts for a public radio station. The court concluded that all of these were contracts with sole proprietorships, and were thus covered by the statute. Washington Post reports on the decision.

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Enforcement of Mahr Provision In Islamic Marriage Contract Upheld

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In Seifeddine v. Jaber(MI App., April 16, 2019), a Michigan state appellate court rejected a challenge to a trial court’s enforcement in a divorce action of the mahr provisions of an Islamic marriage certificate. The provision required the husband to pay $50,000 to his wife. According to the court:

[T]he trial court expressly and repeatedly stated that it was not applying religious principles or doctrines but was instead applying Michigan common law regarding contracts…. Plaintiff makes no argument challenging any particular element for establishing the existence of a contract. Nor does plaintiff cite any authority for his contention that a neutral principle of law must be derived from a statute rather than from Michigan common law when examining a religious document.

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Judge Overrules Jury Saying No Religious Discrimination By Homeowners Association Was Shown

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In Morris v. West Hayden Estates First Addition Homeowners Association, Inc., (D ID, April 4, 2019), an Idaho federal district judge enjoined a Christian couple from hosting an elaborate Christmas display that violates Homeowner Association Rules. As described by the Spokane Spokesman-Review’s report on the decision:

On one side, a devoutly Christian couple throwing extravagant celebrations for thousands at a home decked to the halls with 200,000 light bulbs. At times, even featuring a camel and donkey to re-create the Nativity scene.

On the opposite side, a Hayden homeowners association with specific rules that prohibited such excessive celebrations – and the noise that follows – in favor of a more modest showing of holiday spirit.

Despite a jury verdict in favor of plaintiffs, the court ruled as a matter of law that plaintiffs had not shown that the Homeowners Association discriminated against them on the basis of religion in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act.  Plaintiff had pointed to a letter from the Homeowners Association which described rule violations that would be involved in the Christmas display.  The letter added that some of the subdivision residents are non-Christians.  The court said in part:

While January 2015 Letter was not drafted with lawyerly precision and contained a boorish reference to “undesireables,” it cannot be read as evidence that the Homeowners Association intended to discriminate against Plaintiffs because they were Christian. On this score, the Court notes that several members of the Board were practicing Christians. Furthermore, Board President Jennifer Scott is both a practicing Christian and married to a Christian minister. The Court is not suggesting that Christians cannot, per se, discriminate against other Christians. But, the fact that the Board was at least partially composed of practicing Christians significantly decreases the probability that the Board intended to discriminate against Plaintiffs based on a faith shared by both Plaintiffs and several Board members.

The court concluded that the jury was likely prejudiced by testimony which they were instructed to ignore relating to threats received by plaintiffs from other homeowners who were not Association board members.  Because the decision is likely to be appealed, the court held that if its conclusion of law was reversed, defendants should be granted a new trial or alternatively the jury’s award of $75,000 in damages should be reduced to $4.

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Court Says RLUIPA Claims By Mosque May Proceed

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In Adam Community Center v. City of Troy, (ED MI, April 3, 2019), a Michigan federal district court refused to dismiss RLUIPA substantial burden, discrimination and unequal treatment claims brought against the city of Troy, Michigan and various of its zoning officials.  At issue was the city’s denial of a zoning variance for setback requirements that would have allowed Adam Community Center to use an existing commercial building as a mosque. The court said in part:

Here, Plaintiff’s complaint sufficiently states a substantial burden claim. Plaintiff alleges that it cannot conduct prayer services in its current facility, that there are no Muslim places of worship within the City for Plaintiff and its community members to practice their religion, that there are no other properties available in the City that satisfy the City’s zoning requirements for places of worship, and that not having a place of worship within the City poses a substantial burden on its ability to engage in religious exercise. Plaintiff also alleges facts, which if true, would support its theory that the City acted with discriminatory intent and treated Plaintiff differently from other faith based organizations. Plaintiff specifically alleges that the zoning laws have not been applied neutrally to it and that commercial businesses and Christian churches are treated more favorably.

Detroit News reports on the decision.

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Firefighter Not Entitled To Religious Exemption From Grooming Policy

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In Smith v. City of Atlantic City, (D NJ, March 22, 2019), a New Jersey federal district court upheld the refusal by the Atlantic City Fire Department to grant a long-time employee a religious exemption from the Department’s grooming policy.  Plaintiff is an African American male and a Christian who has recently decided to grow a 3-inch beard as an expression of his religious faith. Rejecting plaintiff’s application for a temporary restraining order, the court concluded that he was unlikely to succeed on the merits of his free exercise, equal protection or Title VII claim.

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Ministerial Exception Defense Rejected In Suit To Apply Labor Code To Preschool Teachers

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In Su v. Stephen S. Wise Temple, (CA App., March 8, 2019), a California state appellate court held that teachers in a Reform Jewish Temple’s preschool are not covered by the ministerial exception rule.  In the case, California’s Labor Commissioner sued on behalf of 40 teachers alleging that the school violated the state’s Labor Code by failing to provide rest breaks, uninterrupted meal breaks, and overtime pay.In rejecting the Temple’s ministerial exception defense, the majority said in part:

Although the Temple’s preschool curriculum has both secular and religious content, its teachers are not required to have any formal Jewish education, to be knowledgeable about Jewish belief and practice, or to adhere to the Temple’s theology.  Further, the Temple does not refer to its teachers as “ministers” or the equivalent, nor do the teachers refer to themselves as such. Accordingly, we conclude the teachers are not “ministers” for purposes of the ministerial exception.

Presiding Judge Edmon filed a concurring opinion contending that the court need not reach the question of whether the teachers held “ministerial” positions, saying in part:

I would conclude that the Temple has not demonstrated that the ministerial exception has any application to the present dispute, which does not touch on the Temple’s freedom to choose its ministers or to practice its beliefs….

[T]he constitutional imperative against encroaching on a church’s selection of its ministers does not, as a logical matter, suggest that churches must be exempted from all laws that would regulate the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers. Given the number and variety of federal and state employment laws, it stands to reason that some laws will impose a greater burden on religious interests than will others. Accordingly, courts can, without doctrinal inconsistency, exempt churches from the application of some employment laws without exempting churches from all such laws.

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City Settles Firefighter’s Religious Discrimination Suit

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The city of Utica, New York has settled a religious accommodation lawsuit that was filed against it by a firefighter who refuses to cut his hair after taking a Nazirite vow.  Under the settlement announced Friday, firefighter John Brooks has been granted a religious accommodation from the fire department’s grooming policy. A press release from First Liberty announced the settlement. First Liberty’s website has more on the case.

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