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Parents’ Suit Against Christian High School Dismissed On Ecclesiastical Abstention Grounds

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

In In re Prince of Peace School(TX App., Sept. 23, 2020), a Texas state appellate court dismissed on ecclesiastical abstention grounds a suit by parents whose children were expelled from a Lutheran high school after the parents accused school personnel of harassing and bullying their children in connection with disciplinary issues. The court said in part:

Parents’ claims are premised on allegations that Prince of Peace failed to hire qualified staff and appropriately supervise its staff’s interactions with Students, including by failing to report suspected abuse of Students by its staff. Defense of these claims rests on Prince of Peace’s internal and religiously-informed policies and code of conduct. Judicial resolution of the claims would thus require impermissible intrusion in Prince of Peace’s management of these matters.

You can learn more about this issue here.

California Christian School Must Abide By COVID-19 Restrictions

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

In County of Fresno v. Immanuel Schools, (CA Super. Ct., Sept. 15, 2020), a California state trial court judge issued a preliminary injunction ordering a 600-student Christian school near Fresno, CA to cease holding in-person classes as required by state and local COVID-19 orders. The court said in part:

United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has observed in a recent consequential concurring opinion that “[t]he precise question of when restrictions on particular’social activities should be lifted during the pandemic is a dynamic and fact-intensive matter subject to reasonable disagreement. Our Constitution principally entrusts ‘[t]he safety and the health of the people’ to the politically accountable officials of the States ‘to guard and protect.’ When those officials ‘undertake[] to act in areas fraught with medical and scientific uncertainties,’ their latitude ’must be especially broad.’” (South Bay United Pentacostal Church V. Newsom (2020)….

Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.

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Order To Stay Away From Basilica Did Not Violate RFRA

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

In De Bèarn v. United States, (DC Ct. App., Sept. 10, 2020), the District of Columbia’s highest local appellate court held that a stay-away order barring appellant from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception did not violate his rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Gaston DeBéarn was arrested on charges of destruction property after he entered the Basilica yelling about the need to restore the traditional mass and ran to the altar knocking over candle sticks. A court issued the stay-away order as a condition of releasing DeBéarn before trial.  DeBéarn twice violated the order and was also charged with two counts of contempt. In rejecting DeBéarn’s RFRA defense, the court said in part:

“Not just any imposition on religious exercise creates a substantial burden; a burden must have some degree of severity to be considered substantial.”…

At trial, appellant noted that the Shrine was his “favorite” place to attend mass and that he did not “go to other churches” because they are “just not as beautiful as that one.” He acknowledged, however, that he could go to other churches. “With so many alternative places to practice [his religion],” we are satisfied that the stay-away order imposed on appellant as to a single Catholic church “d[id] not force [appellant] to choose between abandoning [his] faith and facing criminal prosecution.”…

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Ministerial Exception Doctrine Does Not Apply To Hostile Work Environment Claim

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

In Middleton v. United Church of Christ(ND OH, Aug. 26, 2020), an Ohio federal district court held that the ministerial exception doctrine does not preclude a minister bringing a hostile work environment claim, at least where the claim does not involve the court in excessive entanglement with religious matters. The court said in part:

[A]fter examining Middleton’s first cause of action, the court concludes that it does not implicate “any matters of church doctrine or practice.” … Middleton’s hostile workplace claim involves allegations of racial and gender harassment that are wholly unrelated to Defendants’ religious teachings. ….

Nevertheless the court went on to dismiss the hostile work environment claim, saying in part:

While Middleton describes interactions that are unprofessional and unpleasant, none of the alleged conduct was physically threatening or humiliating. At most, these sporadic comments constituted “offensive utterances,” which “do not rise to the level required by the Supreme Court’s definition of a hostile work environment.”

The court held that plaintiff’s breach of contract and promissory estoppel claims were barred by the ministerial exception doctrine.

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Summary Judgment Denied In Rastafarian’s Title VII “Failure To Accommodate” Claim

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

In EEOC v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc., (MD TN, Aug. 20, 2020), a Tennessee federal district court refused to grant summary judgment to the EEOC which claims that Publix Supermarkets refused to accommodate Guy Usher’s Rastafarian religious beliefs that require him to wear his hair in dreadlocks. The court held that disputed issues of fact remain as to whether the Usher informed Publix that its grooming policy conflicts with his religious beliefs, and that factual questions remain as to whether Usher holds sincere religious beliefs on the matter. The court also allowed the EEOC to move ahead with its failure-to-hire claim, but not with its constructive discharge claim.

You can learn more about this issue here.

2nd Circuit Enjoins Pending Appeal Vermont’s Exclusion of Catholic High School Students From Dual Enrollment Program

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

As previously reported, earlier this year 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 that pays for high schoolers to take college courses. This week, in E.M. v. French, (2d Cir., Aug. 5, 2020), the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in a brief order granted an emergency injunction pending appeal, saying:

In light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, 140 S. Ct. 2246 (2020), Appellants have a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their claims.
ADF issued a press release  announcing the 2nd Circuit’s action.
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Satanic Temple Has Promissory Estoppel Claim After Its Permit To Erect Memorial Was Voided

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

In The Satanic Temple v. City of Belle Plaine, Minnesota(D MN, July 31, 2020), a Minnesota federal district court dismissed free exercise, free speech and equal protection claims by the Satanic Temple which objected to the city’s Resolution 17-090 which rescinded a prior resolution that created a limited public forum in Veterans Memorial Park. The earlier resolution allowed individuals and organizations to erect and maintain privately owned displays to honor local veterans and veterans’ organizations. The Satanic Temple had received a permit to erect a display, and spent substantial amounts for its design and construction, before the rescission. It argues that the rescission came about because of the controversial nature of its display.  The court said in part:

[A]lthough TST identifies the core tenants of its religion, TST fails to explain or allege facts that identify any central tenet of its religious beliefs that TST cannot exercise because of Resolution 17-090. Second, TST alleges no facts demonstrating that Resolution 17-090 prevents TST from expressing adherence to its faith. And third, TST fails to allege whether and how any activity that Resolution 17-090 prohibits is fundamental to TST’s religion.

The court however allowed Satanic Temple to move ahead with its promissory estoppel claim, saying in part:

TST sufficiently alleges that Belle Plaine should have reasonably expected that TST would expend time and resources to construct a display after receiving approval and that TST in fact expended such time and resources.

Finally, TST alleges sufficient facts that enforcement of Belle Plaine’s promise may be necessary to avoid injustice.

You can learn more about this issue here.

2nd Circuit: Free Speech and Free Exercise Claims of Christian Adoption Agency Can Move Forward

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

In New Hope Family Services, Inc. v. Poole, (2d Cir., July 21, 2020), the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, in an 84-page opinion, reversed the dismissal of free exercise and free speech claims brought by a Christian adoption agency.  The court summarized the issues:

New Hope Family Services, Inc., is a voluntary, privately funded Christian ministry devoted to providing adoption services and authorized to do so in the State of New York for more than 50 years. New Hope professes that, consistent with its religious beliefs, it cannot recommend adoptions by unmarried or same-sex couples. It does not itself disapprove such couples; rather, it refers them to other adoption agencies. In 2018, the State’s Office of Children and Family Services (“OCFS”) informed New Hope that its policy respecting unmarried and same-sex couples violates the antidiscrimination mandate of N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 18, § 421.3(d). OCFS advised New Hope that it either had to change its policy or close its operation.

In reversing and remanding the case to the district court, the 2nd Circuit said in part as to plaintiff’s free exercise claim:

[W]e conclude that the pleadings give rise to a sufficient “suspicion” of religious animosity to warrant “pause” for discovery before dismissing New Hope’s claim as implausible.

In connection with plaintiff’s free speech claim, the court said:

New Hope asserts that, based on its religious beliefs about marriage and family, it does not believe and, therefore, cannot state, that adoption by unmarried or same-sex couples would ever be in the best interests of a child. It charges OCFS with requiring it to say just that—or to close down its voluntary, privately funded adoption ministry….

AP reports on the decision.

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5th Circuit Says Fired Employee’s Suit Does Not Necessarily Require Deciding Ecclesiastical Questions

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

In McRaney v. North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Inc., (5th Cir., July 16, 2020), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a suit by the former executive director of the General Mission Board of the Baptist Convention for Maryland/Delaware (“BCMD”).  He alleged that the North American Mission Board (“NAMB”) intentionally made false statements about him that led to his termination. He also claimed that NAMB posted his picture at their headquarters to tell people that he was not to be trusted.  The district court relied on the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine to dismiss the case.  The 5th Circuit, reversing, said in part:

In order to resolve McRaney’s claims, the court will need to determine (1) whether NAMB intentionally and maliciously damaged McRaney’s business relationships by falsely claiming that he refused to meet with Ezell,… (2) whether NAMB’s statements about McRaney were false, defamatory, and at least negligently made …; and (3) whether NAMB intentionally caused McRaney to suffer foreseeable and severe emotional distress by displaying his picture at its headquarters…. At this early stage of the litigation, it is not clear that any of these determinations will require the court to address purely ecclesiastical questions.

You can learn more about this issue here.

6th Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Rastafarian Inmate’s Diet and Fasting Claims

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

In Koger v. Mohr, (6th Cir., July 7, 2020), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an Ohio federal district court’s dismissal of two religious accommodation claims brought by a Rastafarian inmate. The court concluded that officials had not offered adequate justification for refusing to provide an Ital diet (organic food, vegetarian no soy).  The court also concluded that plaintiff had asserted a valid equal protection claim as to refusal to accommodate Rastafarian fasting days:

Koger stated that he “fasted during Ramadan in the past because it occasionally aligns with the fasting days observed by Rastafarianism” and because ODRC did not allow him “to fast as a Rastafarian . . . without being subject to discipline.”

The court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s claims as to dreadlocks and inability to commune with other Rastafarians.

You can learn more about this issue here.

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