Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian church leaders have closed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial) in Jerusalem in protest of two legal moves by Israeli government officials. YNet News today describes the disputed actions:As part of a battle with Finance Ministry over budgets to the capital, the Jerusalem Municipality informed the Finance, Interior and Foreign ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office that it had started collecting property tax debts of more than NIS 650 million from some 887 properties across the city which belong to churches and United Nations institutions.Municipality officials said these properties did not include houses of worship, which are exempt from paying property taxes by law, but rather properties used for non-prayer activities, including commercial activities.Churches are exempt from paying property taxes as part of an agreement with the state, but the Jerusalem Municipality says it is not being compensated by the state for the money it is losing by not collecting these taxes.Later on Sunday, an Israeli cabinet committee is due to consider a bill that would allow the state to expropriate land in Jerusalem sold by churches to private real estate firms in recent years.The stated aim of the bill is to protect homeowners against the possibility that private companies will not extend their leases. The churches, major landowners in the city, say such a law would make it harder for them to find buyers for their land.A statement from church leaders calls the moves a

Last October, the Trump Administration issued Interim Final Rules that expanded exemptions from the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate for organizations, colleges and businesses that have religious or moral objections to furnishing coverage for employees (or enrolled students), as well as for employees who object to having such coverage. (See prior posting.)  Shortly thereafter, the government entered settlement agreements in at least 13 cases conceding that the mandate imposes a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ exercise of religion and, thus, cannot be legally enforced against them under RFRA. (See prior posting).  In December, two separate federal district courts issued nationwide preliminary injunctions against enforcement of the Trump Administration’s expanded exemptions. (See prior postings 1, 2).Now this week in Wheaton College v. Azar, (ND IL, Feb. 22, 2018),  an Illinois federal district court granted Wheaton College a permanent injunction barring enforcement against it of the contraceptive coverage mandate to the extent that the mandate violates Wheaton College’s conscience.  Wheaton is a Christian liberal arts college.  The court’s decision came after the government conceded that enforcement of the mandate against the college would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Becket issued a press release announcing the decision.

Source: http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2018/02/court-says-enforcing-contraceptive.html

A lawsuit was filed this week in a Georgia federal district court by a Christian apologetics club against administrators of Kennesaw State University challenging the school’s speech zone policy.  The complaint (full text) in Ratio Christi of Kennesaw State University v. Olens, (ND GA, filed 2/20/2018) complains that the school would not allow the group to set up a pro-life display on the Campus Green.  Instead it limited the display to a small area set aside as a

A Title VII lawsuit was filed in Louisiana federal district court this week by a former assistant football coach at the Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College.  Plaintiff Joshua Bonadona, whose mother is Jewish, was raised in the Jewish religion.  He converted to Christianity while a student at Louisiana College, and was employed as an assistant football coach there for two years after he graduated.  He then went to Southeast Missouri State University for graduate work combined with a coaching position.  Two years after that he applied for an Assistant Coach opening that had arisen back at Louisiana College.  The complaint (full text) in Bonadona v. Louisiana College,  (WD LA, filed 2/21/2018), alleges that Bonadona received assurances from Louisiana College’s head coach that he would be hired for the position.  In reliance on that he resigned his Southeast Missouri position.  However Louisiana College president, Dr. Rick Brewer, vetoed the hiring because of Bonadona’s

Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced yesterday that  Rachel K. Laser has been appointed its new Executive Director.  Laser has had extensive experience in non-profit advocacy, having worked for Planned Parenthood, the National Women’s Law Center, Third Way and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.  She succeeds Rev. Barry W. Lynn who retired last year after 25 years as AU’s leader. Washington Post carries an extensive article on Laser’s appointment. [Thanks to Michael Lieberman for the lead.]

Source: http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2018/02/americans-united-names-new-executive.html

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday in Murphy v. Smith, (Sup. Ct., Feb. 21, 2018), in a 5-4 decision, decided on the proper interpretation of a statutory provision relating to award of attorneys’ fees in damage actions by prisoners, including actions alleging a violation of an inmate’s First Amendment free exercise rights.  At issue is the provision in 42 USC § 1997e(d) relating to the amount an inmate must contribute out of his or her recovery toward attorneys’ fees when the inmate has been awarded such fees.  The majority, in an opinion by Justice Gorsuch, held that the statutory reference to the inmate’s contribution of up to 25% of the monetary judgment toward satisfying the award does not give the trial court discretion to require less than 25%.  Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ginsberg, Breyer and Kagan, dissented arguing that the statute permits the exercise of discretion in determining the percentage (up to 25%) of a judgment that must be applied toward an attorneys’ fee award.

Source: http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2018/02/supreme-court-defines-prisoner.html

Rev. Billy Graham Dies At Age 99

The New York Times chronicling his life, reports this morning:The Rev. Billy Graham, a North Carolina farmer’s son who preached to millions in stadium events he called crusades, becoming a pastor to presidents and the nation’s best-known Christian evangelist for more than 60 years, died on Wednesday at his home. He was 99.

Source: http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2018/02/rev-bill-graham-dies-at-age-99.html

A lawsuit was filed yesterday against the federal government and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops challenging discrimination against same-sex couples in administration of the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program and the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program. The complaint (full text) in Marouf v. Azar, (D DC, filed 2/20/2018), alleges that various federal agencies use taxpayer funds to finance grants to the USCCB to implement these programs based on impermissible religious criteria.  Plaintiffs, a lesbian couple, were told by Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, a sub-grantee of USCCB, that they did not qualify to become foster parents of an unaccompanied refugee child. An official of the organization told them that foster parents must

In Sikh Temple Turlock, California v. Chahal, (CA App, Feb 20, 2018), a California state appeals court upheld the trial court’s resolution of a governance dispute between two factions in a Sikh Temple.  As described by the court:Following a bench trial, the [trial] court found the election of the First Board was valid. The court further concluded the April 2013 election did not occur and that appellants took control of the Temple by usurpation. Accordingly, the trial court reinstated the First Board and ordered that a judicially supervised election take place. The court also enjoined five of the appellants from serving as officers or directors of the Temple for five years.The appeals court rejected challenges to the trial court’s decision, including a a free exercise challenge to the 5-year injunction.  The court said in part: Appellants submitted evidence that a Sikh has a general obligation to perform selfless service. However, there was no testimony that serving on the board is itself a religious act, constitutes a religious practice, or is required to satisfy the seva obligation. In fact, the evidence suggests otherwise…. Thus, appellants’ claim that the ban infringes on the free exercise of their religion has no support in the record.

Source: http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2018/02/injunction-against-serving-as-temple.html