Thursday, June 22, 2017

Israeli Court Says El Al May Not Ask Women To Change Seats To Accommodate Religious Concerns of Male Passengers

According to the New York Times, an Israeli court in Jerusalem yesterday ruled that El Al Airline's policy of asking women passengers to move seats in order to accommodate religious beliefs on modesty of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men violates Israel's anti-discrimination laws.  Requests for seating changes by male passengers who are concerned about inadvertent physical contact have delayed flights in recent years.  According to the Times:
In discussions outside the courtroom, the two sides in the case agreed on a judgment proposed by the judge, declaring that it is forbidden for a crew member to ask a passenger to change seats at the request of another passenger based on gender. El Al agreed to tell its cabin staff in writing about the prohibition within 45 days, and to provide training in how to deal with such situations within six months.
The court also awarded plaintiff, 83-year old Renee Rabinowitz, damages equivalent to $1800(US). [Thanks to Steven H. Sholk for the lead.]

New York Governor Signs Legislation To End Child Marriage

On June 20, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed A05524 raising the minimum age at which a person may marry to 17. (Full text and vote history).  Under the bill, parental consent and court approval is required to issue a marriage license to a person between 17 and 18 years of age. Prior to enactment of this legislation, with court approval an individual as young as 14 years could marry. In a press release on signing the bill, Governor Cuomo said: "This is a major step forward in our efforts to protect children and prevent forced marriages, and I am proud to sign this legislation that puts an end to child marriage in New York once and for all." PIX 11 reports on the new legislation.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Suit Fights Deportation Using RFRA

KHOU News reports on a lawsuit filed Monday in a Texas federal district court which argues that deporting an El Salvadoran who has been in the United States illegally for over a decade would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Juan Rodriguez's wife and three daughters are all U.S. citizens.  The lawsuit alleges that Rodriguez's Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs requiring the family to stay together would be violated by his deportation.

DOE Issues New Instructions On Transgender Students' Rights Under Title IX

As previously reported, in February the Trump Administration withdrew controversial Obama Administration's Guidance documents on rights of transgender students under Title IX.  The withdrawn documents called for transgender students to have access to sex-segregated bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.  On June 6 the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights issued a memo (full text) setting out new "Instructions to the Field re Complaints Involving Transgender Students."  The new Memo emphasizes that withdrawal of the Obama Administration guidance documents "does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying or harassment."

The Memo provides that DOE may open an investigation in various situations, including cases in which gender-based harassment has created a hostile environment for a transgender student.  The Memo then sets out examples:
acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex or sex-stereotyping, such as refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred name or pronouns when the school uses preferred names for gender-conforming students or when the refusal is motivated by animus toward people who do not conform to sex stereotypes of a transgender student created a hostile environment....
Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian advocacy organization, this week issued a press release criticizing DOE's new Memo, saying in part:
“Title IX does not require a school district or teacher to call students by false gender pronouns,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “Title IX is silent regarding the use of pronouns, and it cannot be a violation to refer to students by pronouns consistent with their actual sex. Requiring false pronoun usage by teachers is a compelled speech violation for teachers and compelling students to participate in a lie violates their right to free speech. I thought we had seen the last of this nonsense coming out of the Department of Education. I call upon Betsy DeVoss to end this new policy,” said Staver.

Student Has Standing Under Establishment Clause To Challenge School's Christian Fundraising

In American Humanist Association, Inc. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, (10th Cir, June 20, 2017), the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held that one of the plaintiffs challenging a Colorado public school's Christian fundraising efforts has standing to bring an Establishment Clause challenge seeking retrospective relief. However the 10th Circuit agreed with the district court (see prior posting) that the other plaintiffs do not have standing. The appeals court said in part:
Although we have no doubt that plaintiffs are genuinely and fervently committed to righting what they view as an injustice, “a generalized grievance, no matter how sincere, is insufficient to confer standing.”.... Most of the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that they or their children experienced “personal and unwelcome contact with government-sponsored religious” activities.....  Further, they have not made out a case for municipal taxpayer standing because they have not shown an expenditure of municipal funds on the challenged activities.
The sole exception is plaintiff Jane Zoe. She contends that DCSD violated the Establishment Clause when school officials announced they were “partnering” with a Christian student group and solicited her and her son for donations to a “mission trip.” The district court held that because Zoe’s contacts with the challenged actions were not conspicuous or constant, she did not suffer an injury for standing purposes.  We find no support in our jurisprudence for the proposition that an injury must meet some threshold of pervasiveness to satisfy Article III.
American Humanist Association issued a press release announcing the decision.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Suit Challenges Anti-Semitism At San Francisco State University

In a press release yesterday, the Lawfare Project announced the filing of a lawsuit in a California federal district court on behalf of a group of San Francisco State University students and members of the local Jewish community seeking to end rising administration-sanctioned anti-Semitic activity on campus.  The complaint (full text) in Mandel v. Board of Trustees of the California State University, (ND CA, filed 6/19/2017), alleges that since the founding of the College of Ethnic Studies  in 1968 at SFSU, "a consistent pattern of anti-Jewish animus has emerged," culminating in threats, intimidation and disruption of the speech by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in 2016. The suit claims this conduct has violated plaintiffs' free speech and equal protection rights as well as their rights under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

9th Circuit Refuses To Enjoin California's Notice Requirements For Crisis Pregnancy Centers

In Mountain Right To Life, Inc. v. Becerra, (9th Cir., June 19, 2017), in a brief opinion, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a California federal district court's refusal to issue a preliminary injunction against enforcement of California’s Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act. (See prior posting).  The Act requires licensed crisis pregnancy centers to notify clients of programs offering free or low-cost abortions and requires unlicensed centers to notify clients that they are not state-licensed.  The court said:
The district court properly concluded that Plaintiffs cannot demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of their First Amendment free speech or free exercise claims.... The Act regulates licensed covered facilities’ professional speech, and is therefore subject to intermediate scrutiny, which it survives.... The notice requirement for unlicensed covered facilities survives any level of review.... And as to the free exercise claim, the Act is a neutral law of general applicability that survives rational basis review.

Latin Cross In City Park Violates Establishment Clause

In Kondrat'yev v. City of Pensacola, Florida, (ND FL, June 19, 2017), a clearly reluctant Florida federal district court judge held that a 34-foot concrete Latin Cross that has stood in the city's Bayview Park for decades violates the Establishment Clause.  The cross is the site for an annual Easter sunrise service as well as remembrance services on Veterans Day and Memorial Day.  The court laments:
... the historical record indicates that the Founding Fathers did not intend for the Establishment Clause to ban crosses and religious symbols from public property. Indeed, “the enlightened patriots who framed our constitution” ... would have most likely found this lawsuit absurd. And if I were deciding this case on a blank slate, I would agree and grant the plaintiffs no relief. But, alas, that is not what we have here.
The court concluded that  ACLU of Georgia v. Rabun County Chamber of Commerce, a 1983 case from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals involving "this exact issue on virtually identical facts" required it to conclude that the Bayview Cross violates the Establishment clause under the Lemon test. The court concluded:
To be clear: None of this is to say that the cross would have to come down if the City sold or leased the area surrounding it to a private party or non-governmental entity (so long as the transfer was bona fide and not a subterfuge). Nor would there be a constitutional problem with worshipers using a temporary cross for their services in the park.... However, after about 75 years, the Bayview Cross can no longer stand as a permanent fixture on city-owned property.
The American Humanist Association issued a press release on the decision, with links to various pleadings in the case.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Supreme Court Invalidates Lanham Act Bar To Registration of Disparaging Trademarks

In Matal v. Tam, (Sup. Ct., June 19, 2017), the U.S. Supreme Court today held unconstitutional under the 1st Amendment's free speech protection the provision in the Lanham Trademark Act that prohibits registration of any trademark that
consists of ... immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute. (15 U. S. C. §1052(a)). 
The case generated three separate opinions, all ultimately concluding that the refusal to register "The Slants" as the name of an Asian-American rock group amounts to viewpoint discrimination. Five of the justices (Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan, plus Thomas in a separate opinion) held that viewpoint discrimination always triggers heightened scrutiny.  Three others (Alito, Roberts and Breyer) said they need not reach the issue because the restriction does not pass even the lower hurdle for commercial speech. Justice Gorsuch did not participate.  New York Times reports on the decision.

The result of today's decision is that trademarks that disparage religious groups will also be able to be registered.  The rock group had argued that the Lanham Act language only applies to individuals, but in rejecting that, the Court (in a portion of the opinion joined by 7 justices) said:
[The statute] applies to the members of any group whose members share particular “beliefs,” such as political, ideological, and religious groups. It applies to marks that denigrate “institutions,” and on Tam’s reading, it also reaches “juristic” persons such as corporations, unions, and other unincorporated associations. See §1127. Thus, the clause is not limited to marks that disparage a particular natural person. 

Pakistan Court Upholds Reduction In Private Operators' Hajj Quotas

Again this year in Pakistan, Hajj quotas have become the subject of litigation.  In Hajj Organizers Association of Pakistan v. Federation of Pakistan, (High Ct. Sindh, June 16, 2017), the High Court of Sindh at Karachi rejected a challenge to the reduction in the quota of Private Hajj Sector organizers from 50% to 40% of Pakistan‟s allocated quota.  The change was made so that an increased number of government sponsored lower-cost Hajj trips could be provided. The court said in part:
The plaintiffs have no justification to snatch lawful right of common people to perform Hajj at economical Hajj package as compared to expensive Hajj packages introduced and announced by the plaintiffs.
Express Tribune reports on the court's decision.

Utah Imam On No-Fly List Allowed To Return After Suit Filed

A lawsuit was filed on Friday in federal district court in Utah seeking an emergency Temporary Restraining Order or Preliminary Injunction to require authorities to allow Yussuf Awadir Abdi, imam of a Salt Lake City mosque, to return to the United States from Kenya.  According to the motion and brief in support (full text) in Abdi v. McCabe, (D UT, filed 6/16/2017), Abdi had traveled to Kenya to bring his wife and children to the United States. His wife and his 2 non-U.S. citizen children had recetly been approved for visas. When Abdi attempted to board his plane in Kenya, he learned that he had been placed on the "No Fly List" while in Kenya. Previously he had been on the Selectee List-- which still allowed him to fly after special screening. The suit argues that the No Fly List violates Abdi's constitutionally protected right of movement protected by the Due Process Clause. Fox13 News reports on the lawsuit.

Subsequent to the filing of the lawsuit, American authorities relented and allowed Abdi, who has been an American citizen since 2010-- to return to the United States on a Qatar Airlines flight which arrived Saturday. (Salt Lake Tribune).

Canada's Parliament Adds Transgender Protections To Discrimination and Hate Crime Laws

Canada's Parliament last week gave final passage to Bill C-16 (full text). The bill adds "gender identity or expression" to Canada's Human Rights Act and to the Hate Propaganda provision of Canada's Criminal code.  The bill comes into force when it receives Royal Consent.  Christian Post reports on the bill and responses to it.  Canada's Justice Minister says:
The purpose of this legislation is to ensure that everyone can live according to their gender identity and express their gender as they choose. It will protect people from discrimination, hate propaganda and hate crimes.
A spokesman for Canada's Campaign Life Coalition, however, contends:
Mark my words, this law will not be used as some sort of 'shield' to defend vulnerable transsexuals, but rather as a weapon with which to bludgeon people of faith and free-thinking Canadians who refuse to deny truth.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Barner v. Pientka, 2017 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 422 (Commw. Ct. PA, June 12, 2017), a Pennsylvania appeals court affirmed the dismissal of a suit for damages by a Rastafarian inmate who was required to cut his hair.

In Hoffman v. Lassen Adult Detention Facility, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90083 (ED CA, June 12, 2017), a California federal magistrate judge recommended that a Jewish inmate be allowed to proceed with his 1st Amendment complaint that a jail commander denied his request for a kosher diet. On internal review the kosher diet was approved. Various other claims were recommended for dismissal.

In McElroy v. Clarke, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91185 (WD VA, June 14, 2017), a Virginia federal district court dismissed a Nation of Islam inmate's complaint over his suspension from, and refusal of reinstatement to, the Common fare diet.

In Ervin v. Davis, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91433 (SD OH, June 14, 2017), an Ohio federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing a suit by a Messianic Jewish inmate complaining of initial denial of kosher meal accommodation.

In Harris v. Cooper, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91637 (ND CA, June 14, 2017), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed with leave to amend an inmate's claim that he was denied parole because he is a Muslim, and that religious items were confiscated from his cell. Plaintiff's initial parole grant was rescinded by the governor, and after a successful habeas petition his parole was again suspended.

In Cooley v. LeBlanc, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90733 (WD LA, June 13, 2017, a Louisiana federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendation (2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91670, April 24, 2017) and dismissed a Rastafarian inmate's challenge to grooming regulations that require all male inmates to receive a closely cropped haircut.

In Smith v. Goss, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91675 (ED CA, June 14, 2017), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed, with leave to amend, a series of complaints by an inmate, including that he was retaliated against by denial of his religious meals.

In Epp v. Frakes, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92236 (D NE, June 15, 2017), a Nebraska federal district court allowed a Buddhist inmate to move ahead on his claim for prospective relief growing out of his complaint that his religious diet has been suspended as a disciplinary measure at least 4 times and he is not permitted to obtain food items from outside sources.

ICE Roundup of Chaldean Christians Leads To Lawsuit

Last week ACLU of Michigan sued to stop the deportation of 114 Iraqi nationals, many of whom are Chaldean Christians, who were arrested in immigration raids in metropolitan Detroit. Some of the Iraqis arrested were Shiite Muslims and converts to Christianity, while raids in other states arrested Kurdish and Yezidi Iraqis. According to the complaint (full text) in Hamama v. Adducci, (ED MI, filed 6/15/2017):
U.S. law prohibits the removal of individuals to countries where they would face a likelihood of persecution or torture. Yet despite the clear danger that many of these individuals face in Iraq, ICE is attempting to deport them based on outstanding removal orders that do not take account of intervening changed circumstances which should entitle them to protection. For example, many of the Petitioners are Chaldean Christians, who are widely recognized as targets of brutal persecution in Iraq.... Nonetheless, Chaldeans whose order of removal was entered years ago are now facing removal to Iraq as if nothing has changed, and without any inquiry into the dangers they would currently face.
ACLU in a press release  announcing the filing of the lawsuit says:
The arrests come in the wake of a recent deal between Iraq and the US that removes Iraq from the list of Muslim-majority nations whose citizens could be prohibited from coming to the US under an Executive Order signed by President Donald Trump. In exchange for removal from that list, Iraq has agreed to accept Iraqi nationals sent back to the country by US immigration officials, a sudden reversal of a long-standing policy against repatriation.
As reported yesterday by the Washington Post, evangelist Franklin Graham last week urged the President to look further into the issue in light of Trump's promise earlier this year that he would give priority to persecuted Christians.

Nebraska Cuts Back On Religious Accommodation of Inmates

As reported by the Lincoln Journal Star, on June 2, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services issued a Memo (full text) cutting back on its accommodation of religious practices of inmates in a manner that appears to particularly impact Native American practitioners.  According to the Memo, many Native American practitioners also practice Catholicism at the same time, requesting a Native American Bandanna and a Rosary.  Under the Memo, an inmate must declare a single religion in order to receive religious property (or declare he is spiritual but has no religious tradition). As of November 1, inmate purchases of religious items will be limited to the 26 items listed in an Appendix to the Memo. Inmates will be required to store their religious property in a 6 quart plastic storage box that they must purchase for $1.65. The state will end its policy of providing $50 per year to each accommodated religion, and will no longer provide rock and wood for sweat lodge ceremonies. Rock and wood will be available only through outside donations. Last year the state reduced from 2 hours to 1 hour per week the time Native American inmates can spend in sweat lodge ceremonies.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Environmental Impact Challenge To Dakota Access Pipeline Is Partially Successful

While in March a D.C. federal district court rejected a RFRA challenge by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe to the Dakota Access Pipeline project (see prior posting), the same court has now held that the Army Corps of Engineers must reconsider portions of its environmental analysis of the project.  In a 91-page opinion in Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, (D DC, June 14, 2017), court held:
Although the Corps substantially complied with NEPA in many areas, the Court agrees that it did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.
To remedy those violations, the Corps will have to reconsider those sections of its environmental analysis upon remand by the Court. Whether Dakota Access must cease pipeline operations during that remand presents a separate question of the appropriate remedy, which will be the subject of further briefing.
Red Green and Blue reports on the decision.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Air Force JAG Commissions First Hijabi Lawyer

The U.S. Air Force JAG Corps has for the first time selected a Muslim woman who wears a hijab for a commission in the Judge Advocate General Corps. According to yesterday's UT News and an earlier report in The Arab American, recent University of Toledo law graduate Maysaa Ouza believes that she is the first hijabi to apply to the Air Force JAG Corps.  The Air Force issued its latest version of Policy Directive 52-2 on accommodation of religious practices in Feb. 2016.

European Court Finds Bulgaria Violated Convention In Refusing To Recognize Ahmadiyya Group

In Metodiev and Others v. Bulgaria, (ECHR, June 15, 2017), (full text of opinion in French), the European Court of Human Rights in a Chamber Judgment held that Bulgaria had violated the European Convention on Human Rights Art. 9 (freedom of religion) in refusing to register the new Ahmadiyya Muslim Community as a denomination under Bulgaria's Religions Act.  According to the Court's press release summarizing the decision:
the sole reason given by the Supreme Court of Cassation for the refusal was the lack of a sufficiently precise and clear indication of the beliefs and rites of the Ahmadi religion in the association’s constitution. The domestic court had concluded that the constitution did not meet the statutory requirements of the Religions Act, which sought to distinguish between the various religions and to avoid confrontation between religious communities....
The Court took the view that the approach adopted by the Court of Cassation would lead in practice to refusing registration of any new religious association having the same doctrine as an existing religion. That approach could result in allowing the existence of only one religious association for each religious movement and in requiring all followers to adhere to it.
A Chamber Judgment may be appealed to the Grand Chamber.

Staffing Agency Settles EEOC Suit Over Accommodation of Rastafarian

HospitalityStaff, a company that places employees in central Florida's hotel industry, has settled a religious discrimination claim filed against it by the EEOC. According to EEOC's June 14 press release:
The EEOC's lawsuit charged that HospitalityStaff violated religious discrimination law by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation to Courtnay B. Joseph, a Rastafarian, when it required him to cut his dreadlocks to comply with its client's grooming standards in order to keep his position at an Orlando-area hotel. The EEOC said that HospitalityStaff took Joseph off his assignment and never reassigned him.
Under the settlement, the company will pay Joseph $30,000 in damages, will adopt a clear policy on religious and disability accommodation, will provide training to managerial and HR personnel, and will report to the EEOC for 3 years.

Fugitive FLDS Leader Arrested

As reported by KUTV, the FBI in Salt Lake City announced the arrest in South Dakota on Wednesday evening of fugitive FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs. Last June Jeffs fled while under house arrest awaiting trial on charges of conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. (See prior posting.)  Lyle is the brother of Warren Jeffs, the now-jailed former leader of the polygamous FLDS sect.