US Supreme Court Takes on a Potentially Important Religious Liberty Case

In Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton, the Supreme Court is set to decide whether the church-plan exemption to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) applies so long as an otherwise-qualifying church-affiliated organization maintains a pension plan, and whether the exemption applies only if a church initially established the plan.  This case is expected to be argued in the Spring of 2017.  Will the Supreme Court vacancy be filled by then, and how could that affect the outcome?  Stay tuned!

California’s SB 1146: A Threat to Religious Freedom?

By: Emma Bechara

A Look at California Legislation on Academic Institutions with Religious Affiliations

Should academic institutions that are controlled by religious organizations be subject to state anti-discrimination laws? What if the anti-discrimination laws are in direct conflict with the fundamental tenets of a religious organization? These are two of the key questions at the center of the recently-passed Senate Bill 1146 (“SB 1146”), signed into law in California on September 30, 2016 by Governor Jerry Brown. Unsurprisingly, its enactment has been met with impassioned debate from both sides of the fence; notably on the one side by Equality California and on the other by religiously-affiliated private postsecondary institutions. For such significant legislation, little has been reported or discussed on its enactment. Against this backdrop, this post provides both a brief overview of the bill and its federal equivalent, and some food for thought about whether the bill passes muster under the United States Constitution.

What is SB 1146?

Senator Ricardo Lara, the bill’s author, argues that legislation in the form of SB 1146 is necessary because, as it stands, universities are using federally authorized exemptions from Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”) as a means to discriminate against students, particularly against those who are transgender and homosexual. In the Continue reading “California’s SB 1146: A Threat to Religious Freedom?”

Victory for Nelson Madden Black Client

Yesterday a state appellate court in Brooklyn, New York upheld the governance of the Geeta Temple, in New York City, by its current trustees and religious leader, Swami Satyanandji. In a case entitled Temple-Ashram v. Satyanandji, the Second Department upheld a trial court decision that dismissed a lawsuit brought by four former devotees of the temple who claimed to be the “lawfully appointed trustees” of the Temple. The court found that:

. . . the Supreme Court correctly found that … the plaintiffs failed to establish their standing to prosecute this action pursuant to Religious Corporations Law §§ 180, 181, and, 182. While the individual plaintiffs asserted that they had been validly appointed as trustees at an October 2005 meeting held by Swami Continue reading “Victory for Nelson Madden Black Client”

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Pauley, 2016

Church Seeks Clarification on State Funding

Trinity Lutheran church applied to the State of Missouri for a state-run grant designed to provide recycled rubber tires to schools for installation as play equipment. The State denied the church’s application, citing a provision in the Missouri state constitution which prohibits state money from aiding any church, sect or denomination of religion either “directly or indirectly.” The Lutheran Church has challenged the State’s decision, arguing that the State’s denial on the basis of religion is a violation of the Free Exercise and Equal Protection clauses of the United States Constitution. The case is currently pending before the United States Supreme Court. Oral arguments are expected to be delivered in the fall of 2016.

New Mexico Association of Nonpublic Schools v. Moses, 2016

Case of Religious Institutions Falling Under State (New Mexico) Textbook Program

This case questions whether applying a Blaine Amendment to exclude religious institutions from a state textbook lending program violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Here, the New Mexico Supreme Court found that a “no aid” provision in the state’s constitution is also a Blaine Amendment, and therefore legally excludes religious and private schools from a secular, neutral textbook lending program. The case is currently pending before the United States Supreme Court and is scheduled for Conference on September 26 2016.

Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, et al v Laurence Kaplan, 2016

The case considers what defines a “church plan” pursuant to ERISA s 3(33)(A). Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), a church plan is defined as a plan established and maintained . . . for its employees (or their beneficiaries) by a church or a convention of churches.” The section also states that a “plan established and maintained” by a church “includes a plan maintained by an organization . . . controlled by or associated with a church or a convention of churches.” In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that the St. Peter’s pension plan was not entitled to religious tax exemption under ERISA as the plan was not established by a church. St Peter’s filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States on July 18, 2016 and responses to the petition are being accepted until September 16 2016.

Brown v Buhman, 2016

Brown v Buhman, 2016

US Court of Appeals Decision on Utah Polygamy Law

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has reversed a decision striking down the cohabitation provision of a Utah polygamy law. The Court ruled on standing, and not on the constitutional merits of the case, including a challenge raised by the Brown family as to violations of the free speech and free exercise of religion clauses. Lead counsel for the Brown family has noted that the family will appeal the decision.