In Sterlinski v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, (ND IL, July 23, 2018), An Illinois federal district court held that the ministerial exception doctrine applies to an organist at a Catholic parish.  Plaintiff claims he was demoted from Director of Music to Organist because he is Polish and because of his age. The court previously held that the Director of Music position was within the ministerial exception doctrine.  It now rejected plaintiff’s claim that his position no longer qualified as

In Cormier v. PF Fitness-Midland, LLC, (MI App., July 26, 2018), a Michigan appellate court in a case on remand from the Michigan Supreme Court held that the gym Planet Fitness violated provisions of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act when it failed to inform plaintiff that it had a policy of allowing members to use whichever locker room and rest room corresponds to the gender with which that person self-identifies. The court concluded that Planet Fitness violated MCL 445.903(1)(s), (bb), and (cc) which prohibit:(s) Failing to reveal a material fact, the omission of which tends to mislead or deceive the consumer, and which fact could not reasonably be known by the consumer.(bb) Making a representation of fact or statement of fact material to the transaction such that a person reasonably believes the represented or suggested state of affairs to be other than it actually is.(cc) Failing to reveal facts that are material to the transaction in light of representations of fact made in a positive manner.In concluding that the failure to inform plaintiff of the policy was material, the court said:After joining the gym, plaintiff saw an assigned male individual in the women’s locker room and then complained to an employee at the front desk and to defendants’ corporate office. Upon being informed of defendants’ unwritten policy on the matter, plaintiff verbally warned other women at the gym about it. Plaintiff’s actions indicate that she strongly preferred a locker room and a restroom in which individuals who are assigned biologically male are not present, and it is thus reasonable to infer that defendants’ failure to inform plaintiff of the unwritten policy affected her decision to join the gym.A person who successfully sues under Michigan’s Consumer Protection Act may recover actual damages or $250, whichever is greater, plus attorneys’ fees. Liberty Counsel issued a press release announcing the decision.

Source: http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2018/08/gyms-failure-to-disclose-transgender.html

In Walker v. Indian River Transport Co., (11th Cir., July 27, 2018), the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of Title VII claims brought by a Jehovah’s Witness truck driver who resigned his job alleging a failure to accommodate his need to regularly attend Sunday church services. The milk route to which Bobby Walker, Jr. was assigned required flexibility that included Sunday availability.  The court concluded that Walker’s employer, Indian River Transport, offered Walker a reasonable accommodation by offering him other local routes, even though they paid less than the milk route.  The court also rejected Walker’s retaliation claim.  Land Line reports on the decision.

Source: http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2018/07/11th-circuit-jehovahs-witness-truck.html

Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered remarks (full text) at today’s Department of Justice Religious Liberty Summit.  He said in part:I want to thank all of you for your courage and insight to speak out for religious liberty.Let us be frank.A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom. There can be no doubt. This is no little matter. It must be confronted and defeated.This election, and much that has flowed from it, gives us a rare opportunity to arrest these trends.  Such a reversal will not just be done with electoral victories, but by intellectual victories. We have gotten to the point where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law; where ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit; and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them a “hate group” on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs.This President and this Department of Justice are determined to protect and even advance this magnificent heritage….[I]n recent years, the cultural climate in this country—and in the West more generally—has become less hospitable to people of faith. Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.And it’s easy to see why.  We’ve seen nuns ordered to buy contraceptives. We’ve seen U.S. Senators ask judicial and executive branch nominees about dogma—even though the Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for public office.  We’ve all seen the ordeal faced so bravely by Jack Phillips.Americans from a wide variety of backgrounds are concerned about what this changing cultural climate means for the future of religious liberty in this country.President Trump heard this concern.I believe this unease is one reason that he was elected.  In substance, he said he respected people of faith and he promised to protect them in the free exercise of their faith.  He declared we would say “Merry Christmas” again….Today I am announcing our next step: the Religious Liberty Task Force, to be co-chaired by the Associate Attorney General and the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy—Jesse [Panuccio] and Beth [Williams].The Task Force will help the Department fully implement our religious liberty guidance by ensuring that all Justice Department components are upholding that guidance in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt, and how we conduct our operations.  That includes making sure that our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith.As the people in this room know, you have to practice what you preach. We are also going to remain in contact with religious groups across America to ensure that their rights are being protected.  We have been holding listening sessions and we will continue to host them in the coming weeks.This administration is animated by that same American view that has led us for 242 years: that every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith in the public square.

Source: http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2018/07/ag-sessions-announces-new-religious.html

In Boyd v. Etchebehere, (9th Cir., July 25, 2018), the 9th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a challenge to a California prison’s Ramadan meal policy.In McCracken v. Godert, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 121480 (ED MO, July 20, 2018), a Missouri federal magistrate judge dismissed, unless an appropriate amended complaint is filed, a Native American inmate’s complaint that he is not being allowed to use ceremonial pipes, tobacco, and other ritual items.In Thomas v. Delaney, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122106 (ND NY, July 23, 2018), a New York federal district court dismissed some claims by a Rastafarian inmate of harassment and free exercise infringement, while allowing an amended complaint asserting 1st Amendment, harassment and RLUIPA claims to be filed.In Allen v. Kunkel, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122116 (D CT, July 22, 2018), a Connecticut federal district court dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies a Moorish American inmate’s complaints about barring his obtaining a particular book and refusing to approve his ability to purchase a fez.In Miller v. Lucas, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122640 (MD PA, July 20, 2018), a Pennsylvania federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing an inmate’s complaint that on one occasion he was sent from the chapel back to his cell without being able to participate in religious services.In Cejas v. Brown, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122935 (SD CA, July 20, 2018), a California federal district court allowed a Buddhist inmate to move ahead with his claim that authorities denied weekly Buddhist services and the ability to practice meditation, chanting and prostration indoors. The court however denied joinder of other plaintiffs.In Finefeuiaki v. Maui Community Correctional Center Staff, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124678 (D HI, July 25, 2018), a Hawaii federal district court dismissed an inmate’s complaint that authorities could not locate his Bible, daily bread, and religious handbook during a 5-day perioid.In Mears v. Kauffman, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 125038 (MD PA, July 26, 2018), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed an inmate’s complaint that after a chaplain accused him of homosexual activity, a correctional officer removed him from services and urged him not to attend services conducted by that chaplain, or not bring the other inmate with whom he allegedly has sexual contact.In Cox v. United States, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124412 (D MN, July 25, 2018), a Minnesota federal district court adopted a magistrate’s report (2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 125213, June 28, 2018), and dismissed an inmate’s complaint that a counselor told him to stop praying.In Brown v. Ryles, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 125256 (ED AR, July 26, 2018), an Arkansas federal magistrate judge dismissed an inmate’s complaint that he was denied the right to shave in accordance with his religion.

Source: http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2018/07/recent-prisoner-free-exercise-cases_29.html

In Welson v. Sessions, (6th Cir, July 26, 2018), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reopen a petition for refugee status filed by an Egyptian Coptic Christian.  The immigration judge had held that petitioner was notcredible and had not demonstrated a well-founded fear of persecution in Egypt. The 6th Circuit said in part:In support of his motions to reopen, Welson chiefly relies on articles describing various recent acts of terrorism perpetrated by ISIL, including: the December 2016 bombing of a Coptic cathedral in Cairo; the April 2017 bombing of two Coptic churches, both in Northern Egypt, on Palm Sunday; and a May 2017 incident in Southern Egypt where gunmen fired on vehicles carrying Coptic Christians. However, as the BIA reasoned, these articles describe events which, while indisputably terrible and tragic, are nevertheless similar to those conditions considered by the IJ at Welson’s individual hearing. Moreover, none of the additional reports and articles disturbs a key portion of the IJ’s reasoning—namely, that Welson’s family continues to live in Sohag, Egypt, unharmed, and that the Egyptian government under the leadership of President elSisi has undertaken to improve conditions for Coptic Christians. These new articles accordingly do not show that if the case were reopened Welson would likely prevail on his asylum claim.[Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.] 

Source: http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2018/07/6th-circuit-refuses-to-reopen-asylum.html