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Church Fails In RLUIPA Challenge To Village’s Zoning Ordinance

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

“In Truth Foundation Ministries, NFP v. Village of Romeoville, (ND IL, Feb. 26, 2016), an Illinois federal district court denied a preliminary injunction to a small congregation serving mainly African immigrants that found itself in violation of the village’s zoning code after it had spent over $50,000 expanding a building it was leasing for use as a church.  The court concluded that the church had failed to show a substantial likelihood of success in its claim that the town’s zoning requirements violate RLUIPA’s complete exclusion, unreasonable exclusion and equal terms provisions.”

You can learn more about this issue here.

Title IX Religious Organization Exemption Does Not Bar Retaliation Claim Against Catholic High School

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

“In Goodman v. Archbishop Curley High School, Inc., (D MD, Feb. 26, 2016), a Maryland federal district court refused to dismiss a former high school librarian’s Title IX retaliation claim against the Catholic high school from which she was fired.  Librarian Annette Goodman reported to the school’s administration evidence that another faculty member was having a sexual affair with one of the school’s students. The school fired Goodman claiming that she delayed too long reporting her concerns to the school. Goodman says the firing was an attempt to deflect attention from the school’s indifference to sexual abuse.  The court rejected the school’s claim that Title IX’s religious organizations exemption requires dismissal of Goodman’s lawsuit, saying in part:

The position of the Defendants … is that Title IX’s religious organizations exemption bars any employment discrimination or retaliation claim against them if they define their actions as tenets of their religion. There is a noticeable lack of case authority supporting such a broad application of the religious exemption.

The court also rejected defendants’ claims that their rights under the First Amendment and RFRA would be violated by allowing the suit to move forward. ”

You can learn more about this issue here.

Prayer At School Board Meetings Governed By School Prayer Criteria

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

In Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education, (CD CA, Feb. 18, 2016), a California federal district court, in a 26-page opinion, held that invocations at school board meetings are governed by case law relating to school prayer, not by the line of cases on legislative prayer. Emphasizing that students regularly attend and make presentations at school board meetings, the court found the invocation policy unconstitutional, saying in part:

Because of the distinct risk of coercing students to participate in, or at least acquiesce to, religious exercises in the public school context, the Court finds the legislative exception does not apply to the policy and practice of prayer in Chino Valley School Board meetings.

The court also invalidated the Board’s practice of praying reading from the Bible and making religious statements at various points in school board meetings. (Court’s order).  FFRF issued a press release announcing the decision.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Former Employee’s Fraud Claim Against Diocese Dismissed

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

In Simon v. Finn, (MO Cir. Ct., Feb. 16, 2016), a Missouri state trial court dismissed a fraud claim against the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City- St. Joseph brought by Colleen Simon, formerly the director for social ministries of a local parish.  Simon was dismissed after a newspaper article disclosed that she was in a same-sex marriage.  While Simon claimed that she was falsely assured by the Diocese that her same-sex marriage would not impact her employment, the court said:

For the Court to inquire into the knowing falsity of the Diocesan agents’ … representations to Plaintiff about her sexual orientation relative to her position in the Diocese would impermissibly entangle the Court in matters and decisions purely canonical, since the Court must necessarily examine the religious views and practices of the Diocese in an attempt to perceive the reasonableness of Plaintiff’s reliance on the Diocese’s representations.

However the court permitted Simon to move ahead with her claim that the Diocese violated Missouri law requiring it to furnish any former employee requesting it a letter describing his or her service. It also permitted Simon to move ahead with her wage and hour claim. ADF issued a press release announcing the court’s decision.

UPDATE: Catholic Culture reported Feb. 23 that the Diocese and Simon have entered an undisclosed settlement of the wage and hour and the severance letter claims.

You can learn more about this issue here.

RFRA Excuses Amish Defendant From Being Photographed During Pre-Release Processing

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

“In United States v. Girod, (ED KY, Dec. 30, 2015), a Kentucky federal magistrate judge, accepting a federal RFRA claim, allowed an Amish criminal defendant to be processed for pre-trial release without his being required to pose for identification photographs by the U.S. Marshals Service.  Samuel Girod, charged with selling misbranded drugs in violation of federal law and with obstruction of justice, objected on religious grounds to knowing participation in photography.  Relying on Supreme Court precedent, the district court said in part:

[RFRA] requires that the Court not evaluate the general legitimacy of a stated governmental interest; rather, the Court must judge whether, as to Samuel Girod, the United States has proven a compelling interest servable only by the manner of USMS photography sought.

The court concluded that neither the interest in identifying a defendant if he were to flee nor the interest in pre-rial supervision were compelling as to this particular defendant because of his history of appearing when summoned and his ties to the community.  It added:

If this case centered on rational basis review, the Court likely would require that Girod submit to the Marshals’ processing like everyone else encountering a neutral, generally applied law or policy. Congress elected to revivify a more searching inquiry when a conflict exists between authentic religious exercise and governmental act. To prevent an exemption, the United States must prove, as to the potentially exempt objector, a compelling interest furtherable only by the offending means. The Government has failed in that burden in this particular case, at this particular stage…”

You can learn more about this issue here.

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. ”

You can learn more about this issue here.

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. ”

You can learn more about this issue here.

Title VII Suit Dismissed Under Ministerial Exception

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

In Moreno v. Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16543 (ED NY, Jan. 20, 2016), a New York federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing a Title VII action brought by an African-American Episcopal pastor who claimed that his dismissal from his position was the result of racial discrimination.  The court held that the ministerial exception doctrine applied, saying:

The Supreme Court clarified that the purpose of this exception is “not to safeguard a church’s decision to fire a minister only when it is made for a religious reason. The exception instead ensures that the authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful — a matter ‘strictly ecclesiastical,’—is the church’s alone.”

 

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

You can learn more about this issue here.

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.

You can learn more about this issue here.

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