Practical Guidance for Employees Seeking Religious Exemption from Vaccine Mandates

Vaccine mandates are becoming increasingly prevalent among both public and private employers in New York and at least half of the states in this country. Nevertheless, the Constitution, federal statutes, and New York State laws require employers to provide exemptions from such policies to employees who raise objections that are religious in nature and sincerely held. One effective way to inform your employer of your sincerely held religious objections to its vaccination mandate is to pen a notarized personal statement, accompanied by a letter from a religious official who can attest to your deeply held beliefs.

CLICK HERE for practical guidance on how to go about seeking a religious exemption.

Nelson Madden Black Secures Significant Second Circuit Victory

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a significant reversal of the District Court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction.  In Keil v. The City of New York and its companion case Kane v. de Blasio, the appellate court determined that plaintiffs Keil and Kane were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that New York City’s vaccine mandate was unconstitutional.  The decision can be found here.

New York Law Journal Column – The Ministerial Exception, and How It Protects Religious Institutions

In the October 29, 2021 edition of the New York Law Journal Religion Law column, partner Barry Black and counsel Lane Paulsen explored the ministerial exception and the inherent conflict that arises in employment disputes involving religious groups between equality and freedom of religion. The article touches on case law that prominently feature these types of issues and set precedent. Barry and Lane then examine how courts determine when the exception requires judgment in favor of a defendant.

Read the full article here.

New York Law Journal Column – Religious Community Eagerly Awaits U.S. Supreme Court’s New Term

In the August 27, 2021 edition of the New York Law Journal Religion Law column, partners Barry Black and Jonathan Robert Nelson look back at recent key rulings from the Supreme Court and look ahead to the SCOTUS’s new term and upcoming religion law cases on the docket. A particular case of note, Carson v. Makin, No. 20-1088, challenging Maine law stating that since more than half of Maine’s school administrative units (SAUs) do not operate a public secondary school that the SAU may “pay the tuition … at the public school or the approved private school of the parent’s choice at which the student [from their SAU] is accepted.” However, under Maine law a private school must be “a nonsectarian school” and several families have claimed that this requirement infringes on several federal constitutional rights, including theirs rights under the Free Exercise Clause.

The upcoming Supreme Court term should be filled with key developments for the religious community, read the full NMB analysis here.

New York Law Journal Column – How RLUIPA Protects the Right To Use Land for Religious Purposes

In the May 28, 2021 edition of the New York Law Journal Religion Law column, partner Barry Black and associate Sarah E. Child take a close look at the RLUIPA statute and how recent decisions have affected the interpretation and application of the act. Our lawyers focus in on the land use section that provides important religious freedom protections pertaining to houses of worship and religious schools—from zoning and landmarking laws that discriminate based on religion or that unjustifiably infringe on religious freedom.

Read the full article here

New York Law Journal Religion Law Column – Is ‘Substantial Equivalency’ The Next Religious Freedom Fight?

Partner Barry Black and associate Sarah E. Child examine whether school requirements will be the next legal battle religious institutions will face as the New York State Education Department moves forward with the proposed regulation, Substantial Equivalency of Instruction in Nonpublic Schools, which broadly examines the criteria required for non-public schools to meet a “substantial equivalency” standard to their public school counterparts. Barry and Sarah review recent employment cases and how those precedents may translate and be interpreted when viewed through an education-focused lens.

Read the full article here.

New York Law Journal Religion Law Column – When a Corporation’s Members, Not Its Trustees, Make the Decisions

In the November edition of the Religion Law column in the New York Law Journal, partner Barry Black analyzes the duties, powers and limitations of “managing officers” of religious corporations operating under New York’s Religious Corporations Law (RCL) and how two landmark New York Court of Appeals decisions affect the interpretation of the RLC and the role of trustees when key decisions are made regarding the organization.

To read the full article click here: “When a Corporation’s Members, Not Its Trustees, Make the Decisions”.

New York Law Journal Religion Law Column – U.S. Supreme Court Expands Religious Freedom in Key Rulings

In the August edition of the Religion Law column in the New York Law Journal, partners Barry Black and Jonathan Robert Nelson discuss three recent SCOTUS decisions that show strong support behind religious freedom. The analysis of these cases provide some clarity and guidance to all types of religious organizations on matters such as school aid, employment discrimination and contraceptives.

To read the full article click here: “U.S. Supreme Court Expands Religious Freedom in Key Rulings

New York Law Journal Religion Law Column – Considerations for Religious Institutions in Times of Crisis

In the May edition of the Religion Law column in the New York Law Journal, partners Barry Black and John B. Madden dive into timely, distinct issues facing religious institutions during this uncertain time amidst the Covid-19 crisis and offer practical guidance and insight to stay ahead of growing concerns.

Read the full article here: “Considerations for Religious Institutions in Times of Crisis”

San Francisco Theological Seminary complains to ecclesiastical court against its expulsion from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

On Saturday, May 16, the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which has been a Presbyterian theological institution for the past 150 years, filed a judicial complaint with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Invoking the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the church’s courts, the seminary’s complaint affirmed its longstanding ties with the Presbyterian Church and its continued devotion to the interests of American Presbyterianism. The complaint was occasioned by a decision by the church’s Committee on Theological Education to remove the seminary from the church’s list of Presbyterian theological institutions.

Last year, the seminary merged with the University of Redlands, a non-sectarian university with a campus in Redlands, California. The seminary’s trustees believed that uniting with Redlands was the best way to preserve the seminary’s existence long-term. While both parties to the merger pledged their strong interest in retaining the seminary’s ties to the Presbyterian church, the church committee secretly adopted new rules after the merger that would rule out non-sectarian merger partners. 

The seminary’s complaint charges that only the General Assembly of the church has the authority to determine the seminary’s status, and the committee exceeded its authority. The 224th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is scheduled to convene next month. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plans are being made to hold a “virtual” meeting of the church council. The committee has submitted a “recommendation” to the gathering that asks the church to approve its new rules without explaining that it has already applied them, without authority, to expel the seminary from the denomination. 

Supporters of the seminary note that the committee’s action, if left standing, would end the church’s relationship with its only seminary located west of the Rocky Mountains. The denomination is based in Louisville, Kentucky. The committee’s expulsion of the seminary, and its application to next month’s General Assembly, are causing an uproar among Presbyterian churches with links to the seminary, particularly in the western United States. They are concerned about the committee’s assumption of powers that belong to the entire church, and worried that it sets a precedent that leaves all of the denomination’s theological institutions at risk. A copy of the complaint may be downloaded here.

The seminary is represented by Nelson Madden Black partner Jonathan Robert Nelson, who is a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).