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Sikhs Sue Over Army Accommodation of Religious Practices

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

“A lawsuit was filed yesterday by three observant Sikhs who have enlisted in the Army, but who are encountering difficulties in obtaining accommodation to allow them to continue to wear beards, uncut hair, and turbans.  The 54 page complaint (full text) in Singh v. McConville, (D DC, filed 3/29/2016), alleges in part:

[T]he Army has a long pattern and practice of discriminating against Sikhs…. The Army’s regulations promise that soldiers whose religious exercise poses no significant obstacle to the military’s mission will be generously accommodated…. [H]owever, the regulations themselves are defective and foster religious discrimination on a number of levels…. [T]hey force soldiers who need religious accommodations to violate their religious beliefs before they can apply for an accommodation, even if their religious exercises would clearly have no impact on the military’s compelling interests.

The regulations are also … require soldiers to reapply for a religious accommodation every time they have a “transfer of duty stations, or other significant change in circumstances”….. The ambiguity in the regulations also creates an environment where the Army feels free to delay resolving requests for accommodation for long periods of time, leaving future soldiers in limbo and potentially forcing them to forgo other education and career opportunities while they wait for the Army’s decision.

Becket Fund issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.”

You can learn more about this issue here.

Supreme Court In Unusual Order Floats Alternative Compromise In Contraceptive Mandate Cases

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

The U.S. Supreme Court today issued an unusual Order (full text) in Zubik v. Burwell and the six other cases consolidated with it, less than a week after the Court heard oral arguments in the case.  In what is apparently an attempt to avoid a 4-4 split in the case, the Court has essentially drafted its own version of a compromise on provision of contraceptive coverage in health insurance policies for employees of religious non-profits, and is asking the parties whether they will buy into it. The Order reads in part:

The parties are directed to file supplemental briefs that address whether and how contraceptive coverage may be obtained by petitioners’ employees through petitioners’ insurance companies, but in a way that does not require any involvement of petitioners beyond their own decision to provide health insurance without contraceptive coverage to their employees.  Petitioners with insured plans are currently required to submit a form either to their insurer or to the Federal Government (naming petitioners’ insurance company), stating that petitioners object on religious grounds to providing contraceptive coverage. The parties are directed to address whether contraceptive coverage could be provided to petitioners’ employees, through petitioners’ insurance companies, without any such notice from petitioners.

For example, the parties should consider a situation in which petitioners would contract to provide health insurance for their employees, and in the course of obtaining such insurance, inform their insurance company that they do not want their health plan to include contraceptive coverage of the type to which they object on religious grounds. Petitioners would have no legal obligation to provide such contraceptive coverage, would not pay for such coverage, and would not be required to submit any separate notice to their insurer, to the Federal Government, or to their employees. At the same time, petitioners’ insurance company—aware that petitioners are not providing certain contraceptive coverage on religious grounds—would separately notify petitioners’ employees that the insurance company will provide cost-free contraceptive coverage, and that such coverage is not paid for by petitioners and is not provided through petitioners’ health plan.

The parties may address other proposals along similar lines, avoiding repetition of discussion in prior briefing…..

Initial reactions from the non-profits suggest that they may be willing to accept this version of the compromise. A press release from the Becket Fund, counsel for Little Sisters of The Poor, petitioners in one of the cases, describes the Court’s Order as an “excellent development.”

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Suit Challenges Pennsylvania City’s Abortion Clinic Buffer Zone

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

“Last week, three women who regularly act as pro-life “sidewalk counselors” outside two abortion clinics filed suit in a Pennsylvania federal district court challenging the constitutionality of Harrisburg’s “Interference With Access To Health Care Facilities” Ordinance.  The ordinance bars congregating, patrolling, picketing or demonstrating within 20 feet of any health care facility entrance, exit or driveway.  The complaint (full text) in Reilly v. City of Harrisburg, (MD PA, filed 3/24/2016) contends that the ordinance violates freedom of expression, free exercise of religion, freedom of assembly, equal protection and due process rights. Liberty Counsel announced the filing of the lawsuit. ”

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Court Enjoins Army From Requiring Special Testing of Sikh Officer

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

“In Singh v. Carter, (D DC, March 3, 2016), the D.C. federal district court, invoking RFRA, granted a preliminary injunction protecting religious rights of an Army officer.  The Army had ordered a decorated Sikh Army captain to undergo costly specialized testing with his helmet and protective mask to assure that his religiously required head covering, beard and uncut hair will not interfere with the functions of the helmet and mask. The court said:

At first blush, the challenged order appears to reflect a reasonably thorough and even benevolent decision by the Army to fulfill its duty of protecting the health and safety of this particular Sikh officer.

Yet, that is far from the complete picture. Thousands of other soldiers are permitted to wear long hair and beards for medical or other reasons, without being subjected to such specialized and costly expert testing of their helmets and gas masks. Moreover, other Sikh soldiers have been permitted to maintain their articles of faith without such specialized testing.

See prior related posting.”

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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.”

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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. ”

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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…”

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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.

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