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Archive for the category “Reblog: Religion Clause”

Armed Forces Court of Appeals Interprets RFRA In Military Context

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

In United States v. Sterling, (US Armed Forces Ct. App., Aug. 10, 2016), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces held that a Marine Lance Corporal failed to establish a prima facie case under RFRA in defending against charges growing out of her work space posting of unauthorized signs containing Biblical quotations.  Appellant, in the wake of other personnel issues, posted 3 signs reading “[n]o weapon formed against me shall prosper.”  The signs did not indicate that these were Bible verses. She refused orders to remove them and was court martialed.  The majority held in part:

while the posting of signs was claimed to be religiously motivated at least in part and thus falls within RFRA’s expansive definition of “religious exercise,” Appellant has nonetheless failed to identify the sincerely held religious belief that made placing the signs important to her exercise of religion or how the removal of the signs substantially burdened her exercise of religion in some other way. We decline Appellant’s invitation to conclude that any interference at all with a religiously motivated action constitutes a substantial burden, particularly where the claimant did not bother to either inform the government that the action was religious or seek an available accommodation.

The court spelled out its understanding of what must be shown to establish that the government imposed a substantial burden on appellant’s religious exercise:

[W]hile we will not assess the importance of a religious practice to a practitioner’s exercise of religion or impose any type of centrality test, a claimant must at least demonstrate “an honest belief that the practice is important to [her] free exercise of religion” in order to show that a government action substantially burdens her religious exercise…. A substantial burden is not measured only by the secular costs that government action imposes; the claimant must also establish that she believes there are religious costs as well, and this should be clear from the record….

In contrast, courts have found that a government practice that offends religious sensibilities but does not force the claimant to act contrary to her beliefs does not constitute a substantial burden…. We reject the argument that every interference with a religiously motivated act constitutes a substantial burden on the exercise of religion.

Contrary to Appellant’s assertions before this Court, the trial evidence does not even begin to establish how the orders to take down the signs interfered with any precept of her religion let alone forced her to choose between a practice or principle important to her faith and disciplinary action.

Judge Ohlson dissented, saying in part:

Unfortunately, instead of remanding this case so that it can be properly adjudicated by the court below, the majority instead has chosen to impose a stringent, judicially made legal standard in this and future religious liberty cases that is not supported by the provisions of RFRA. Contrary to the majority’s holding, the plain language of the statute does not empower judges to curtail various manifestations of sincere religious belief simply by arbitrarily deciding that a certain act was not “important” to the believer’s exercise of religion.  Neither does the statute empower judges to require a believer to ask of the government, “Mother, may I?” before engaging in sincere religious conduct. And further, nowhere in the statute are service members required to inform the government of the religious nature of their conduct at the time they engage in it.

You can learn more about this issue here.

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RFRA Does Not Impact Bankruptcy Code’s Denial of Discharge

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

The Bankruptcy Code, Sec. 727(a)(2)(A) provides that a bankruptcy court should deny a discharge if the debtor has within one year of filing for bankruptcy transferred property with the intent to hinder, defraud or delay a creditor.  In In re Crabtree2016 Bankr. LEXIS 2922 (MN Bkr., Aug. 8, 2016), a Minnesota federal bankruptcy judge held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not prevent applying this provision to a family’s donation of a box of 500 silver coins, valued at $12,000.00, to their church, Firestarters Worship Center.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Football Coach Sues Seeking Right To Pray At 50-Yard Line

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

Yesterday Bremerton, Washington, High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy who was placed on paid leave for insisting on praying at mid-field at the end of games (see prior posting) filed suit against the Bremerton school district alleging free exercise, free speech and Title VII violations.  The complaint (full text) in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, (WD WA, filed 8/9/2016), contends that Kennedy is compelled by his sincerely held Christian religious beliefs to engage in brief private religious expression at the conclusion of school football games. He offers a prayer of thanksgiving as part of a covenant he made with God.  The complaint argues that the school district’s directive which bans any “demonstrative religious activity” that is “readily observable” to students or members of the public is unconstitutional. The suit seeks declaratory relief as well as an order reinstating Kennedy and granting him a religious accommodation that allows him to pray at the 50-yard line at the conclusion of games.  Seattle Times reports on the lawsuit.  First Liberty has also created a website with details of the case.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Sikh Center Sues Under RLUIPA After Work On New Temple Is Ordered Stopped

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

NBC News reports on a federal lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of New York last week by the Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center against the Town of Oyster Bay, New York.  In July– almost 17 months after approving the Center’s site plan for its new gurdwara– the town issued a stop work order and ordered an environmental review, saying that the construction departed from the site plan. Claiming that the town’s actions were taken to appease some residents who are hostile to the temple and its worship, the suit alleges violations of RLUIPA as well as the 1st and 14th Amendments. The new building, which replaces an older one that was on the same site, is already 82% complete. The Center has spent over $3 million on construction and on costs subsequent to the stop work order.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Church Meeting Not Totally Immune From Judicial Examination

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

In Barrow v. Living Word Church, (SD OH, July 25, 2016), an Ohio federal magistrate judge refused to apply the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine to dismiss a suit by a former volunteer pastor who was removed from his position and from church membership, saying in part:

The Magistrate Judge agrees that the Free Exercise Clause requires this Court to abstain from judging the legitimacy of any Living Word decision about who is or can be a member or a clergyperson of their church or about whether it is proper to remove a person from either position on the basis of church moral judgment of that person’s behavior. If this were a case about those issues or indeed about interpreting church doctrine in any way, we would be required to abstain.  But the Free Exercise Clause does not shield church people from any secular court consideration of what happens in church meetings just because of where it happened. If a church meeting is used as a place to plan to commit torts involving third parties – which is what is alleged here regarding Living Word interference with Barrow’s book deals – ecclesiastical abstention will not shield the occurrences in the meeting from secular court consideration.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Church Directional Sign On Public Property Did Not Violate Establishment Clause

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

In Tearpock-Martini v. Shickshinny Borough, (MD PA, July 22, 2016), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed an Establishment Clause challenge to the action of a borough council that voted to permit a sign on a public property pointing the way to a local Baptist church.  Plaintiff whose property was near the sign was a member of council as well, but voted against the action. Borough employees helped install the sign which read: “Bible Baptist Church Welcomes You!”.  The sign included a cross and a Bible and a directional arrow with the words “one block”. Finding that the sign is a “religious display,” the court concluded nevertheless:

A reasonable observer familiar with the history and context of the display would not perceive the sign as a government endorsement of religion.

You can learn more about this issue here.

11th Circuit: Florida Prisons Must Offer Kosher Food

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

In United States v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, (11th Cir., July 14, 2016), the US 11th Circuit Court of Appeals held that under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, Florida must provide kosher meals for inmates with a sincere religious basis for demanding such meals. The court wrote in part:

The Secretary argues that denying a kosher diet statewide is the least restrictive means of furthering Florida’s interest in cost containment, but she fails to rebut three arguments to the contrary. First, she fails to explain why the Department cannot offer kosher meals when the Federal Bureau of Prisons and other states do so…. Second, the Secretary fails to explain why the Department cannot offer kosher meals when it offers vegan, medical, and therapeutic diets at similar marginal costs…. Third, the Secretary fails to explain why the less restrictive alternative of enforcing rules that limit access to, and continued participation in, the program would not further her stated interest. The United States produced evidence that the Department is not screening out insincere applicants or enforcing the rules of participation in the program, and the Secretary does not contest that evidence. She instead responds that enforcing the rules would be too time intensive….

AP reports on the decision, pointing out that it was handed down only two days after oral argument in the case.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Anti-Islamic Group Sues Claiming Federal Law Shields Social Media Censorship

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

Yesterday the American Freedom Defense Initiative, its President Pamela Geller, its Vice President and the organization Jihad Watch sued the federal government contending that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields Facebook, Twitter and YouTube when they censor anti-Islamic postings by plaintiffs.  The complaint (full text) in American Freedom Defense Initiative v. Lynch, (D DC, filed 7/13/2016), alleges that censorship and discrimination by social media outlets violate California anti-discrimination laws, but the CDA section on “Protection for ‘Good Samaritan’ blocking and screening of offensive material” allows Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to engage in discriminatory conduct. Among the allegations in the complaint against the social media sites are:

The discriminatory way in which Facebook applies its restrictions is evidenced by the fact that Facebook allows vicious posts and pages against Israel to stand, but when Plaintiff Geller and others expose the truth behind that Islamic hatred, the speech is prohibited.,,,

The Twitter policy, in effect, mirrors Islamic blasphemy standards as applied to censor speech critical of Islam, such as Plaintiffs’ speech.

The Center for Security Policy issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Title VII Is Sole Basis For Claims of Religious Discrimination Against Federal Employee

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

In Holly v. Jewell, (ND CA, July 11, 2016), a California federal magistrate judge held that Title VII is the sole remedy for discrimination in federal employment.  Neither the First Amendment nor RFRA may be used as the basis for a religious discrimination claim by a federal employee.  In the case, plaintiff who was employed as a maintenance worker at the  San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park was also a Baptist minister.  While on a break and out of uniform, he performed a baptism at the seashore adjoining the park.  He was terminated for this– though plaintiff also complained that he was questioned about a Bible that he kept to read on breaks.  The court dismissed plaintiff’s RFRA claim, holding that recent Supreme Court RFRA decisions have not changed the rule that Title VII is the exclusive remedy for discrimination in federal employment.  The court also dismissed plaintiff’s free exercise claim to the extent that it challenges conduct protected by Title VII, but held that plaintiff can file an amended complaint to the extent that he has a First Amendment claim that is separate from his Title VII claim.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Court Rejects Churches’ Challenge To California’s Abortion Coverage Requirement

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

In Foothill Church v. Rouillard, (ED CA, July 11, 2016), a California federal district court rejected challenges brought by three churches to letters issued by the California Department of Managed Health Care to seven health insurance companies informing them that under California law they cannot exclude abortion services from coverage when they cover maternity services.  Initially finding that the churches have standing to challenge the directive, the court dismissed with leave to amend plaintiffs’ free exercise and equal protection challenges.  The court concluded that the directive was a neutral law of general applicability that survives the rational basis test.  The court dismissed without leave to amend the churches’ free speech and establishment clause claims. (See prior related posting.)

You can learn more about this issue here.

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