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Archive for the category “Reblog: Religion Clause”

Zoning For “Houses of Worship” Does Not Include Homeless Services Site

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

“The Albany Times-Union reports that a New York state trial court judge last week overruled the Albany Board of Zoning Appeals decision that would have allowed the non-profit group Family Promise of the Capital Region to use a building in an area zoned to include “houses of worship” to provide services to homeless families.  The site– a parsonage of the Bethany Reformed Church– was used to provide daytime child care, access to computers, career and life counseling and a place to pick up mail and make phone calls.  The Board of Zoning Appeals held that the outreach services were part of Bethany’s religious mission.  However the court disagreed, saying that a “house of worship” is a place set aside for for some form of religious devotion, ritual or service showing reverence. Critics of the court’s decision say the ruling could create problems for all sorts of congregations that make their basements and meeting rooms available for social programs they deem part of their missions.  Family Promise can still apply for a zoning variance to allow it to continue its operations. ”

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Denial of Permit For Muslim Cemetery Was Arbitrary and Capricious

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

“The Farmington (MN) Independent reported yesterday on a decision last month by a Dakota County, Minnesota trial court judge holding that the Castle Rock Township board of supervisors’ decision to deny a permit for a Muslim cemetery was arbitrary and capricious. The Al Maghfirah Cemetery Association sued after the township said the cemetery would cause a loss of tax revenue and expressed concern that the cemetery would not be maintained and would not be open to the public.  It is estimated that the 73-acre cemetery site will accommodate 35,000 burials– enough to serve the growing Minnesota Islamic community for 200 years. ”

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Suit Over Religious Themed Donor Plaque Dismissed After School Removes All Plaques

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

Last year, Michael Lucas, an alumnus of the Colorado School of Mines, filed suit against the school after it rejected the text he chose for a donor plaque. The school’s fundraising campaign for a new Athletic Complex allowed donors to purchase a personalized plate to be placed in the new football locker room. However the school rejected Lucas’ proposed inscription “Colossians 3:23 & Micah 5:9.” (See prior posting.) According to an ADF press release, Lucas yesterday moved to voluntarily dismiss the suit because the school has now removed all donor nameplates from the locker room. In a letter to donors (full text), the school’s President said:

The purpose of the football locker fundraising program … was to solicit donations and honor Mines’ student athletes…. Unfortunately, an individual who participated in this fundraising program mistakenly viewed our new football locker room as a public space for free expression.

The letter invited donors to transfer their gifts to a new program that would replace their old plaque with a new one

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Tennessee Appeals Court Invokes Ecclesiastical Abstention In Church Property Dispute

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

In Church of God In Christ, Inc. v. L.M. Haley Ministries, Inc., (TN App, Jan. 27, 2016), a Tennessee state appeals court in a 2-1 decision held that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine prevents civil courts from adjudicating a dispute between a local congregation and its parent body over ownership of assets– including real property and a bank account with a balance of over $150,000.  Sometime after Gospel Center Temple’s founding pastor died, the Jurisdictional Bishop for the Tennessee area of the Church of God In Christ (“COGIC”), David Hall, invoked a provision in COGIC’s Official Manual that vacancies in the pastorate of local churches would be filled by the Jurisdictional Bishop until a new pastor was appointed. When Hall attempted to actively manage the local church and transfer its bank account into his name, some members of the local church threatened him and prevented him from getting access to the church’s liquid assets. The local members also formed a new corporation to take title to the church’s real estate, and voted to remove themselves from Bishop Hall’s jurisdiction. However they remained member of COGIC. This led to a suit by COGIC. The majority rejected jurisdiction, saying that it could not adjudicate the real property dispute as long as the congregation had not withdrawn from the parent body.  And as to the dispute over the church’s bank account, the majority said in part:

Bishop Hall’s alleged authority regarding Gospel Center Church’s personal property, including its bank accounts, derives from Bishop Hall’s alleged place as the lawful leader of the church. This Court, however, has no subject matter jurisdiction to declare that Bishop Hall is the lawful leader of Gospel Center Church….

Judge Goldin filed a dissenting opinion.

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Suit Seeks To Bring Marijuana Under American Indian Religious Freedom Act

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

Courthouse News Service reported this week that Oklevueha Native American Church leaders James “Flaming Eagle” Mooney and Joy Graves filed suit in an Oregon federal district court on January 15 against the federal government and the U.S. Postal Service.  The suit claims that federal authorities illegally seized 5 ounces of sacramental marijuana mailed to a church member in Ohio last December. Plaintiffs claim that their use of marijuana is protected by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.  National leaders of the Native American Church do not recognize the Oklevueha branch, nor do they agree with its claims that marijuana (as opposed to peyote) has sacramental use.  In 2013, a Hawaii federal district court rejected a claim under RFRA by Mooney. (See prior posting.) That decision is on appeal.

You can learn more about this issue here.

African-American Church Files RLUIPA Suit Over Denial of Special Use Permit

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

“A Johnston, Rhode Island predominately African-American congregation has filed a lawsuit against the town and its zoning official who denied the church a special use permit to allow it to use the church building it purchased last year for religious assembly. The complaint (full text) in King’s Tabernacle v. Town of Johnston, Rhode Island, (D RI, filed 1/25/2016) contends that even though the building has been used for worship by other congregations since 1891, city officials required King’s Tabernacle to apply for a special use permit, and then denied the application. The town’s zoning official, who subsequently was recorded making racist remarks about the church, told the church it would now have to pay property taxes. The suit contends that the denial of the special use permit violated RLUIPA and the church’s free exercise rights. Johnston Patch reports on the filing of the lawsuit.”

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Court Says Ark Encounter Cannot Be Excluded From Kentucky Tax Incentives

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

In Ark Encounter, LLC v. Parkinson, (ED KY, Jan. 26, 2016), a Kentucky federal district court, in a 71-page opinion, held that Kentucky improperly excluded a Noah’s Ark complex from participating in tax incentives provided by the state’s Tourism Development Act. The court summarized the facts and its holding as follows:

Rising on what was once farmland near the community of Williamstown, Kentucky, is what purports to be an exact replica of the ark that figures prominently in the Old Testament story of a great flood that covered the earth. The modern-day Noah that is constructing the replica hopes that its almost $100 million investment will produce a successful tourist attraction.  At first, the Kentucky Tourism Cabinet, with the same hope, approved tax incentives for the project. But then, representatives of the Commonwealth, concerned that the project was going to “advance religion,” reversed course; the reason: providing the tax incentives would be contrary to the First Amendment protection from the state establishment of religion.

So, in essence, the question presented here is this: if a tourist attraction, even one that as described here “advances religion,” meets the neutral criteria for tax incentives offered by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, can the Commonwealth still deny the incentive for Establishment Clause reasons? This opinion is long but the answer to that question is short — no.

At the heart of the court’s lengthy opinion was the following:

The Commonwealth has forced  [Ark Encounter] to choose between expressing its religious views on its own property at the theme park and receiving the tax rebate under the KTDA. Although Defendants are correct that “the mere non-funding of private secular and religious . . . programs does not burden a person’s religion or the free exercise thereof,” …, in this case the Commonwealth is funding the private secular programs while discriminating against the religious one because of its religiosity, which is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause.

AP reports on the decision. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]

UPDATE: Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s office said on Jan. 27 that it will not appeal the court’s decision. (Cincinnati Enquirer).

You can learn more about this issue here.

Ministerial Exception Applies To Hospital Chaplain’s Discrimination Lawsuit

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

“In Penn v. New York Methodist Hospital, (SD NY, Jan. 20, 2016), a New York federal district court invoked the ministerial exception doctrine to dismiss a discrimination suit brought by an African-American Methodist pastor employed as a part-time chaplain by a Methodist hospital.  Plaintiff claimed that he was not promoted to a vacant full-time position because of his race and religion. The court held that the hospital is a “religious institution” for purposes of the ministerial exception doctrine even though it had severed its formal ties with the United Methodist Church:

Severing a formal affiliation with the Church does not necessarily imply that the Hospital does not maintain any church-based relationship or have any religious characteristics.

It went on to find:

insofar as Plaintiff is a Methodist and was responsible—at least in part—for preaching the Christian faith, the relationship between Plaintiff and NYMH (specifically, the pastoral care department) was that of a religious employee and a religious institution. This case does not present the Court, nor will the Court venture out to decide, whether this holding would apply to a religious institution’s employment of a minister, pastor, or chaplain of a different faith.”

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Challenge To School Religious Activities Dismissed On Standing Grounds

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

“In American Humanist Association, Inc. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, (D CO, Jan. 20, 2016), a Colorado federal district court dismissed for lack of standing a lawsuit by parents of children in the Douglas County School District, and by the American Humanist Association. The suit challenged as violations of the Establishment Clause and the Equal Access Act various religious activities in the school system, including participation in Operation Christmas Child collections for needy children, a trip by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to Guatemala and faculty participation in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  Some plaintiffs did not show any injury in fact, while others did not show that their injury was traceable to the challenged conduct. The court also found no standing for plaintiffs as municipal taxpayers.”

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Texas Bar Committee Backs Off Refusal To Certify Christian Ethics CLE Course

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

“As reported by Catholic Education Daily, the State Bar of Texas Minimum Continuing Legal Education Committee last week backed off of its controversial refusal last November (see prior posting) to certify a religious-themed continuing legal education program for “Legal Ethics/ Professional Responsibility” credit.  Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had charged the Committee with religious discrimination after it refused to approve a St. Mary’s law school professor’s CLE program on “Christian Ethical Perspectives: Faith and Law Today” for ethics credit.  In its January 12 letter (full text) to the professor, Bill Piatt, the Committee said in part:

It has become clear that the November 4 letter conveyed an unintended and incorrect impression regarding the MCLE Committee’s position regarding the provision of credit for courses containing moral or religious content.  We take responsibility for and regret the miscommunication.”

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