Tag Archives: Free Exercise Clause

Rogers, “The Child Cases: How America’s Religious Exemption Laws Harm Children”

Next month, the University of Massachusetts Press will publish The Child Cases: How America’s Religious Exemption Laws Harm Children by Alan Rogers (Boston College). The publisher’s description follows.

When a four-year-old California girl died on March 9, 1984, the state charged her mother with involuntary man-slaughter because she failed to provide her daughter with medical care, choosing instead to rely on spiritual healing. During the next few years, a half dozen other children of Christian Science parents died under similar circumstances. The children s deaths and the parents trials drew national attention, highlighting a deeply rooted, legal/political struggle to define religious freedom.

Through close analysis of these seven cases, legal historian Alan Rogers explores the conflict between religious principles and secular laws that seek to protect children from abuse and neglect. Christian Scientists argued often with the support of mainline religious groups that the First Amendment s free exercise clause protected religious belief and behavior. Insisting that their spiritual care was at least as effective as medical treatment, they thus maintained that parents of seriously ill children had a constitutional right to reject medical care.

Congress and state legislatures confirmed this interpretation by inserting religious exemption provisos into child abuse laws. Yet when parental prayer failed and a child died, prosecutors were able to win manslaughter convictions by arguing as the U.S. Supreme Court had held for more than a century that religious belief could not trump a neutral, generally applicable law. Children s advocates then carried this message to state legislatures, eventually winning repeal of religious exemption provisions in a handful of states.

Contraception Mandate “Accommodation”: The State of Play

Both because of the fast pace of the developments (lots of action before the new year) and because of the holidays, I am behind on reporting the state of play with respect to the contraception mandate litigation concerning non-profit entities that have not been exempted by the government. Such entities, as I noted here, have received the government’s so-called “accommodation,” which requires that they certify to the government their religious objections to the mandate. There are special rules for “accommodated” self-insured non-profits who self-certify, which details are discussed in full here. Note finally that these suits are distinct from the question of for-profit challenges to the contraception mandate, which the Supreme Court will take up shortly in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood litigation.

The Becket Fund reports that the tally now stands at 19-1 in favor of the challengers and against the government. Here’s a breakdown which elaborates a little bit on the present procedural posture of the cases (of course with the caveat that the situation is fluid and that I may well have missed additional cases or changes to the cases I list).

I. Number of cases in which an injunction has been issued at the district court level, or where denial of an injunction at the district court level has been overturned by an appellate court (Court of Appeals or United States Supreme Court), barring enforcement of the contraception mandate against “accommodated” entities: 19.

1. E.D.N.Y. (RC Archdiocese v. Sebelius)

2. W.D. Pa. (Zubik v. Sebelius)

3. W.D. Pa. (Persico v. Sebelius)

4. W.D. Pa. (Geneva College v. Sebelius)

5. D.D.C. (as to Thomas Aquinas College in Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Sebelius)

6. N.D. Indiana (Diocese of Fort Wayne v. Sebelius)

7. N.D. Indiana (Grace Schools v. Sebelius)

8. S.D. Texas (East Texas Baptist University v. Sebelius)

9. W.D. Oklahoma (Southern Nazarene University v. Sebelius)

10. W.D. Oklahoma (Reaching Souls International, Inc. v. Sebelius)

11. E.D. Mich. (Legatus v. Sebelius)

12. E.D. Mich. (Ave Maria Foundation v. Sebelius)

13. E.D. Missouri (CNS Int’l Ministries v. Dept. of HHS)

14. E.D. Tex. (Catholic Diocese of Beaumont v. Sebelius)

15. N.D. Tex. (Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth v. Sebelius)

In an additional three lawsuits, district courts had ruled against the religious claimants. But circuit court decisions have reversed those findings and granted emergency motions for injunctions pending appeal (which requires a finding of likelihood of success on the merits as well). Those are:

16. D.C. Circuit (Priests for Life v. US Department of Health and Human Services)

17. Sixth Circuit (Catholic Diocese of Nashville v. Sebelius)

18. Sixth Circuit (Michigan Catholic Conference v. Sebelius)

Finally, in one law suit, both the district court and the Tenth Circuit had denied injunctive relief. But Justice Sotomayor granted emergency injunctive relief on December 31, 2013. The government has now filed its brief and the religious claimant (the Little Sisters of the Poor) has filed its reply:

19. United States Supreme Court (Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Sebelius)

II. Number of cases in which an injunction has been denied at both the federal district and circuit court levels: 1.

1. N.D. Indiana and Seventh Circuit (University of Notre Dame v. Sebelius)

The Polygamy (aka “Religious Cohabitation”) Decision

Just a few words about the decision a few days ago in Brown v. Buhman, in which a federal district court judge in the District of Utah struck down a portion of Utah’s bigamy statute.

The Utah statute provides that:

A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.

At its core, this statute, like all bigamy statutes, criminalizes knowing efforts by a married person to enter into another state-licensed, state-sanctioned, marriage.  Such marriages are both criminally punishable and void.  (This might seem like a paradox, but it’s not.  Many illegal contracts are both punishable and void).  But in the light of Utah’s distinct history with polygamy, both the language of the statute and its interpretation by courts go a step further than most other states:  They also seek to punish persons who “purport to marry” even by entering into purely “private” or religious marriages. without trying to get a license, and without demanding any legal benefits or rights from the state.  On the other hand, the Utah courts have also held that the statute only covers relationships that hold themselves out to be “marriages” of one sort or another.  Thus, despite the “cohabitation” language, the statute does not cover simple adultery, even when the adulterers live together.  Nor does it cover someone like Hugh Hefner, who often lived with several women in one household, but was never married (or held himself out to be married) to more than one at a time.

The district court upheld what I’m calling the core application of the statute.  It really had no choice given Reynolds v. United Statesthe famous 1879 United States Supreme Court decision that denied Mormon polygamists religion-based exemptions from territorial bigamy laws.  But the district court struck down the extended application of the statute.  It held that (1) the state had no legitimate interest trying to regulate purely “religious cohabitation” and (2) that the law unconstitutionally discriminated between such “religious cohabitation” (in which the parties held themselves out to be in some sense “married”) and other extra-marital or multiple-partner arrangements.

I don’t want to discuss the opinion at length here.  I don’t want to discuss whether the district court played fast and loose with the precedents.  Nor do I want to discuss whether there should be a constitutional right to religiously-based polygamy.  

But I do think one point deserves emphasis:  This opinion is yet another instance of a serious and damaging failure, which I’ve discussed in other contexts here, here, and here, to appreciate the distinctively interwoven, intertwined, character of marriage in the United States.  Marriage as we know it carries a complex combination of governmental, religious, cultural, sociological, psychological, and maybe even “natural” meanings.  And those meanings have never been, and probably cannot be, kept hermetically sealed off from each other. Continue reading

Ron Colombo on Yesterday’s Cert Grants

At Constitution Daily, Hofstra’s Ron Colombo, a past guest here at CLR Forum, has a helpful essay on the contraception mandate cases on which the Court granted cert yesterday. Ron argues that for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby, the respondent in one of the cases, have standing to raise a free exercise claim:

Hobby Lobby … is owned and operated by a family deeply devoted to its Christian faith.  The company’s statement of purpose commits it to “[h]onoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”  Unlike so many companies today that put profits over people, Hobby Lobby pledges to “[s]erving [its] employees and their families by establishing a work environment and company policies that build character, strengthen individuals, and nurture families.” . . .

So the question becomes:  does the First Amendment provide the protections necessary for businesses such as Hobby Lobby to exist?  Or, to frame things differently:  are individuals free under the U.S. Constitution to follow the dictates of their consciences into the private sector, and to start businesses with practices that are religiously informed?  Businesses around which workers, customers, and investors with shared religious values and beliefs can coalesce?

As should become readily apparent, the recognition of “corporate free exercise rights” ultimately redounds to the protection of individuals.  For it is through religiously expressive corporations that many people wish to live out their faiths.  Can it really be the case that the Constitution effectively consigns these individuals to careers and options only in the world of non-profits?  Is the most significant modern means of harnessing private initiative, the business corporation, somehow carved out from the First Amendment’s religious liberty protections?

You can read Ron’s essay here.

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear For-Profit Contraception Mandate Cases

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari on two cases involving for-profit corporations which brought claims pursuant to the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act against the federal government’s contraception mandate (which is part of the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act). The two cases that the Court agreed to hear were the Hobby Lobby case out of the Tenth Circuit and the Conestoga Wood case out of the Third Circuit.

Note that these cases solely involve the issue of for-profit corporations. They do not concern the question of the “accommodation” granted to certain religious non-profit corporations which the government has decided are not exempt from the mandate. As this breakdown indicates, the Tenth Circuit found en banc that the corporation had free exercise rights which had been violated (it did not decide the issue of the rights of the individual owners), while the Third Circuit panel rejected all claims. One last note of interest (for now): neither of these corporations is owned by Catholics. Hobby Lobby’s ownership is Evangelical, while Conestoga Wood Specialties’ ownership is Mennonite.

NYPD Beard Policy Violates the Free Exercise Clause

I am a little late in noting this decision of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York involving a Free Exercise Clause challenge to the New York Police Department’s facial hair policy by a NYPD probationary police officer. The probationary officer is a member of the Chabad Lubavitch Orthodox Jewish community, and his faith prohibits him from cutting his facial hair. The NYPD’s policy generally prohibits the wearing of beards but makes exceptions for undercover duties, medical conditions, and religious reasons, but the last two exceptions require written approval. In practice, however, even accommodated beards may only be 1 millimeter or less in length, and the plaintiff’s natural beard grew to 1 inch. So the accommodations would not work for the plaintiff, because they would require him to trim his beard.

After his request for exemption was denied and he was eventually fired, the plaintiff sued under the Free Exercise Clause. One might think that the plaintiff would lose, because the policy was neutral as to religion and applied generally (see Employment Division v. Smith). But the plaintiff won. The City argued that the beard policy and the 1 millimeter exemption was a neutral, generally applicable rule, but the court disagreed. It said: “‘[f]acial neutrality is not determinative’ when the record shows that Plaintiff was terminated pursuant to a policy that is not uniformly enforced.”

What is particularly interesting is the nature of the exemptions that the court found trigger strict scrutiny. It isn’t just the stated exemptions in the policy. It’s the  fact that “the undisputed record demonstrates that de facto exemptions to the one-millimeter rule abound.” There were temporary exemptions to the one millimeter rule granted for religious reasons and family reasons. And there was under-enforcement of the one millimeter rule against officers who violated the policy for unspecified reasons. The court also rejected the City’s claim that shaving is necessary in order to render effective the fitness testing apparatus used by the Department, which is fitted over the officers’ mouth and needs to sit flush against the face. There was evidence that some officers were accommodated as to this requirement for medical reasons, and so strict scrutiny applied when plaintiff’s request for accommodation on religious grounds was denied. Here the court relied on then-Judge Alito’s famous police-beard case in Fraternal Order of Police Newark Lodge #12 v. City of Newark, in which the court held that where the government has made a “value judgment” that medical reasons are more important than religious reasons, strict scrutiny applies.

I’ve written before several times about the gaping hole (see Chapter Eight) in Smith that is being broadened all the time by the problem of the general applicability exception carved right into Smith itself. In this case, it isn’t only explicit exemptions to the policy that trigger strict scrutiny, but the “de facto” exemptions and accommodations in implementation and administration of the policy. If discretion in enforcement of a policy, and the exceptions that governments make all the time to their rules, really do trigger strict scrutiny, then one should expect to see the number of free exercise claims greatly increase in the coming years. Smith’s rule will look a whole lot less rule-like than it actually appears. What free exercise effect this expanding exception to Smith may have on other sorts of cases in which executive and administrative discretion as to the enforcement of the law is high remains to be seen.

D.C. Circuit Holds that Owners of For-Profit Corporations Are Injured by Contraception Mandate

This news is a little late in coming, but readers here should know that the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in a 2-1 panel decision (as to this specific issue), has reversed the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the federal government’s contraception mandate against the owners of a for-profit business. Though the panel was unanimous as to the issue of the individual plaintiffs’ standing to bring a claim under RFRA, only two judges (Judge Brown and Judge Randolph) held that the plaintiffs had satisfied the standard to obtain a preliminary injunction against the government. The court also held, 2-1, that corporations themselves do not have standing to exercise religion and so it dismissed those RFRA claims.

I recommend this thorough analysis and critique of the opinion by Kevin Walsh. For the record, and by my count (though I may have erred in my counting, and please write me if so), we now have the following breakdown among the federal circuit court of appeals:

  • Circuits that have rejected claims in which for-profits are plaintiffs on behalf of the corporation and the individual owners: Third Circuit, Sixth Circuit.
  • Circuits that have accepted claims in which for-profits are plaintiffs on behalf of the corporation but not the individual owners: Tenth Circuit.
  • Circuits that have accepted claims in which for-profits are plaintiffs on behalf of the individual owners but not the corporation: D.C. Circuit.

Adams, “Politics, Faith, and the Making of American Judaism”

Next month, the University of Michigan Press will publish Politics, Faith, and the Making of American Judaism by Peter Adams (Montgomery Community College). The publisher’s description follows.

In 1862, in the only instance of a Jewish expulsion in America, General Ulysses S. Grant banished Jewish citizens from the region under his military command. Although the order was quickly revoked by President Lincoln, it represented growing anti-Semitism in America. Convinced that assimilation was their best defense, Jews sought to Americanize by shedding distinctive dress, occupations, and religious rituals.

American Jews recognized the benefit and urgency of bridging the divide between Reform and Orthodox Judaism to create a stronger alliance to face the challenges ahead. With Grant’s 1868 presidential campaign, they also realized they could no longer remain aloof from partisan politics. As they became a growing influence in American politics, both political parties courted the new Jewish vote.

Once in office, Grant took notice of the persecution of Jews in Romania and Russia, and he appointed more Jews to office than any president before him. Indeed, Simon Wolf, a Washington lawyer who became one of Grant’s closest advisers, was part of a new generation of Jewish leaders to emerge in the post–Civil War era—thoroughly Americanized, politically mature, and committed to the modernized Judaism of the Reform movement.

Religious Division and Identity – Richard III and the Rest of Us – Part IV

I’ve been writing about theological and historical perspectives on religious identity, continuity, and division.  See here and here and here.  But what about the law? The problem of competing claims to what I’ve called the “religious DNA” of a faith tradition typically comes up during battles over church property arising out of divisions and schisms of one sort or another, within congregations or between congregations and larger church bodies.  (I’m not going to talk here about the “personnel” issues that have given risen to the “ministerial exception” doctrine

These sorts of conflicts arise frequently in a country such as ours where religious life and ecclesiastical identities have often been in flux, and have always raised fascinating and difficult questions.  An important recent example has been the effort to adjudicate the property of several Episcopal parish churches in Virginia whose congregations voted to break away from the Diocese of Virginia, and affiliate with the new “Anglican Church in North America” in reaction to the national Episcopal Church’s policies regarding homosexuality.  Nobody, of course, disputes the right of a group of persons to worship as they please and affiliate with whatever religious group they please.  The real question, put bluntly, is who gets to keep the church building, the bank accounts, the chalices and crosses and books and all the other material stuff of religious life.  This past April, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled largely in favor of the Diocese and the national Episcopal Church and against the breakaway congregations.

The issues raised by these and similar cases are much too involved and messy for one blog post.  But here are a few thoughts, connecting the legal questions to the other perspectives I’ve written about in this little series of posts.

Continue reading

“Religion in the Military Worldwide” (Hassner, ed.)

Next month, Cambridge University Press will publish Religion in the Military Worldwide, edited by Ron Hassner (University of California). The publisher’s description follows.Religion in the Military Worldwide

How does religion affect the lives of professional soldiers? How does religion shape militaries, their organization, procedures, and performance? This volume is the first to address these questions by comparing religious symbols and practices in nine countries: Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, India, the United States, and Turkey. The contributors explore how and why soldiers pray, the role of religious rituals prior to battle, the functions that chaplains perform, the effects of religion on recruitment and unit formation, and how militaries grapple with ensuing constitutional dilemmas.