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Suit Alleges Grants For Church Preservation Projects Violate Massachusetts No-Aid Provision

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

A suit was filed yesterday against the town of Acton, Massachusetts by 13 of the town’s residents and taxpayers challenging the town’s approval of three Community Preservation grants to restore core facilities and religious imagery of two active local churches. The complaint (full text) in Caplan v. Town of Acton, Massachusetts, (MA Super. Ct., filed 7/7/2016) alleges that the grants violate Article XVIII, Section 2 of the Massachusetts Constitution that prohibits use of public funds “for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any church, religious denomination or society.” Grants to Acton Congregational Church funded a master plan for historic preservation of the 170-year old church building and for repair of major stained glass window’s in the church’s building. A grant to the South Acton Congregational Church funded roof repairs. Americans United issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit. Boston Globe reports on the lawsuit.

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Court Refuses To Apply Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine

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

In Jackson v. Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church Deacon Board(IL App., June 30, 2016), an Illinois state appeals court refused to apply the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine in a breach of contract suit by a pastor who employment was terminated by his church.  The pastor contended that the church had agreed that his employment would be governed by the church’s bylaws.  The court held:

[P]laintiff alleges that defendants failed to (1) provide a written notice of dissatisfaction; (2) hold a special meeting; (3) provide notice of a vote to the members; and (4) have a proper membership vote. To resolve this dispute, we need only look to the plain text of the church’s bylaws and the relevant facts to determine whether or not defendants breached their oral agreement by failing to comply with its bylaws. Since we need not inquire into any religious doctrines, and can address this issue employing neutral principles of civil law, we have jurisdiction to decide whether defendants breached their oral agreement with plaintiff.

The court went on to agree with the trial court’s finding that defendants were completely compliant with the bylaws in dismissing the pastor.

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DC Circuit In Procedural Reversal Allows Religious Discrimination Suit To Proceed

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

In Al-Saffy v. Vilsack, (DC Cir., July 1, 2016), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed the district court and allowed a religious and national origin discrimination claim against both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of State to proceed.  As stated by the court, “Determining whether Al-Saffy’s lawsuit was properly brought requires us to navigate a quagmire of procedural rules.”  BNA Daily Labor Report summarizes the court’s holding:

Mohamed Tahwid Al-Saffy raised genuine factual issues about whether Agriculture and State were his joint employers when he directed the trade offices in Saudi Arabia and Yemen…. Although Al-Saffy wasn’t “officially employed” by the State Department, he reported directly to the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, who are State employees, the court said…..

The court also rejected arguments that Al-Saffy did not file his lawsuit in a timely manner.  Again BNA summarizes the court’s holding:

An EEOC order that omits that required information can’t trigger the 90-day deadline, the court said. Al-Saffy therefore retained the option to sue at any time after 180 days had elapsed from his filing of the original administrative complaint….

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Denial of Use Permit Did Not Impose “Substantial Burden” Under RLUIPA

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

In Livingston Christian Schools v. Genoa Charter Township(ED MI, June 30, 2016), a Michigan federal district court held that a township’s denial of a special use permit did not impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise rights of a Christian school.  The school sought to move to a building currently owned by a church and recently leased to the school. The court said in part:

The term “substantial burden” is not defined in the RLUIPA. The Sixth Circuit in Living Water Church of God v. Charter Twp. of Meridian articulated a standard which requires LCS to show that, “ . . . the government action place[s] substantial pressure on [it] to violate its religious beliefs or effectively bar[s] [it] from using its property in the exercise of its religion[.]” … While it may be less convenient or more expensive for LCS to operate its school from a different location, the circumstances present here do not constitute a substantial burden…. Because LCS has not “proffered evidence showing that it cannot carry out its church missions and ministries due to the Township’s denial,” it has not established a substantial burden on its free exercise of religion.

The court also rejected the school’s 1st and 14th Amendment challenges.

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In Settlement, Good News Clubs Win Equal Access To After-School Facilities

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

In Cleveland, Ohio, Child Evangelism Fellowship has won equal treatment with non-religious community groups in use of public school facilities for after-school activities.  The consent order (full text) in Child Evangelism Fellowship of Ohio, Inc. v. Cleveland Metropolitan School District, (ND OH, June 28, 2016) provides that the school district will revise its equal access policy for community use of district facilities.  Under the revised policy, the school district will accept the services provided to students by Good News Clubs as in-kind payment of fees for using facilities to the same extent as it accepts services of non-religious groups. The federal court consent order also provides that the school district will pay nominal damages of $100 and attorneys’ fees of $149,900 because its prior unequal treatment of Child Evangelism Fellowship violated the 1st and 14th Amendments. Liberty Counsel issued a press release announcing the consent order.

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India’s Supreme Court May Consider Constitutionality of Muslim Divorce Practices

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

India’s Supreme Court today said it will examine whether it has jurisdiction to invalidate Muslim personal laws if they interfere with constitutional rights.  According to NDTV, the move comes in a suit challenging triple talaq, the practice that allows a Muslim husband to divorce his wife by pronouncing three times the phrase “I divorce you.” (Background.) One of the cases raising the question was brought by a woman whose husband divorced her through triple talaq delivered by mail. The court will hear arguments on the issue on Sept. 6.

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Religious Tracts Cannot Be Distributed On Arena Plaza

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

In Ball v. City of Lincoln, Nebraska, (D NE, June 23, 2016), a Nebraska federal district court dismissed an attempt to enjoin authorities from enforcing a policy that, among other things, bars leafleting on a Plaza Area outside the Pinnacle Bank Arena unless requested by a person renting out the Arena or the artists or productions they represent. (Full text of Use Policy.) The Arena was jointly constructed by the city of Lincoln and the University of Nebraska.  Plaintiff Larry Ball handed out religious tracts in the Plaza Area on several occasions, and was cited for trespass.  The court upheld the Arena’s policy, finding that the Plaza Area is a non-public forum and that the restrictions on its use are reasonable because they are neutral and do not curtail free speech in nearby areas. Lincoln Journal Star reporting on the decision says that an appeal is planned.

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9th Circuit Rejects RFRA Defense Raised By Hawaii Cannabis Ministers

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

In United States v. Christie, (9th Cir., June 14, 2016), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of the founder of the Hawaii Cannabis Ministry and his wife on charges of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana.  The court rejected defendants’ claim that their convictions violate their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  The court held that the government had a compelling interest in mitigating the risk that cannabis from the Ministry would be diverted to recreational users, and that the government achieved that compelling interest in the least restrictive manner. The court said in part:

there is specific evidence that the Ministry’s distribution methods created a realistic possibility that cannabis intended for members of the Ministry would be distributed instead to outsiders who were merely feigning membership in the Ministry and adherence to its religious tenets. Additionally, the government’s interest in this case is all the more compelling given the Ministry’s well-publicized willingness to extend membership in the Ministry (with all that that entails) to minors.

Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.

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Amish Man Wins Exemption From State Building Code

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

A Michigan state trial court judge has held that a member of the Old Order Amish is entitled to an exemption from the Michigan Residential Building Code.  According to the Sault St. Marie News, in a June 6 opinion visiting Judge Harold Johnson sitting in the 50th District Court held that denial of the exemption would violate both the Fair Housing Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Amish defendant William Miller objected on religious grounds to requirements for electric and plumbing systems, indoor bathrooms, modernized kitchens and electronic devices such as smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

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Required Use of Social Security Number Not a Free Exercise Violation

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

In Earl of the Family Cox v. St. Mary’s County Department of Social Services2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74402 (D MD, June 7, 2016), a Maryland federal district court in a brief opinion rejected the argument by a pro se plaintiff that required use of  his Social Security number in the child support program violates his 1st Amendment free exercise rights.

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