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religious liberty

Idaho Hitching Post case

by Walter Olson on October 22, 2014

I was preparing a post on the case from Idaho in which husband and wife Donald and Evelyn Knapp have pre-emptively sued (complaint, motion for TRO) to prevent the application of the city of Coeur d’Alene’s public accommodation law from being used to require their wedding chapel business, the Hitching Post, to handle same-sex weddings. In the mean time Andrew Sullivan has done a post pulling together most of what I planned to say, so go read that instead.

Sullivan quotes my observation on Facebook:

I will note that I have learned through hard experience not to run with stories from ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom) or Todd Starnes without seeking additional corroboration. As a libertarian, I oppose subjecting this family business to any legal compulsion whatsoever, but it’s also important (as in the Dallas pastors case) to get the facts straight before feeding a panic.

While I hope the Knapps succeed in establishing their exemption from this law, I am still shaking my head at the ADF’s framing efforts, which via Starnes set off a predictable panic about dangers to religious liberty (see also, last week, on the Houston pastors subpoena). In this instance, those efforts amount to something very akin to hiding the ball, including (as cited by Sullivan) the quiet legal revamping of the business onto a religious basis in recent weeks and the silent removal of extensive language on its website that until earlier this month had promoted the chapel as a venue for civil, non-religious wedding ceremonies.

Now, the Knapps are free (or should be, in my view) to change their establishment’s business plan overnight to one that welcomes only ceremonies consistent with Foursquare Evangelical beliefs. But shouldn’t their lawyers be upfront that this is what’s going on? Especially since even sophisticated commentators, let alone casual readers, are construing the city of Coeur d’Alene’s legal position by reference to what its lawyer said back in May, when the Knapps were running the business the old way. (Back then, as Doug Mataconis notes, coverage included the following: “Knapp said he’s okay with other ministers performing marriages at their facilities but it is not something he will do.” — a position that appears to have changed, again without acknowledgment.)

Let’s be blunt. ADF, which was involved in helping the Knapps revamp their enterprise onto a religious basis, is by the omissions in its narrative encouraging alarmed sympathizers to misread the situation.

Could the city of Coeur d’Alene force the Knapps to provide ministerial officiation of same-sex weddings? As Eugene Volokh explains, in a post based on the initial reports, the clear answer is no, since such compulsion would be an unconstitutional forcing of speech and “would also violate Idaho’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

Besides those two distinct layers of legal protection, they are likely to benefit from a third, noted in this May article in the Spokane Statesman-Review: “religious entities are exempt from the Coeur d’Alene ordinance” and “pastors in the city are not obligated to perform same-sex weddings.” (Todd Starnes links to the Spokane article, but makes no reference to these bits.)

Possibly — the statements of municipal lawyer Warren Wilson in May are ambiguous — the city saw the then-secular Hitching Post as obliged not only to provide the equivalent of a hall rental to same-sex applicants, and sell them silk flowers and other incidentals, but also connect them with an outside officiant sympathetic to their union to pronounce the ceremony. It is by no means clear that the city would apply the same requirements to the Knapps’ newly revamped and far more explicitly religious Hitching Post. It is even more of a stretch to imply, as Starnes does, that the city is on the verge of “arresting” the Knapps.

Even absent any obligation to officiate, it seems to me that a family business in this situation has at least as sympathetic a case as the cake bakers, wedding photographers, invitation engravers, and hall providers who sought exemptions in previous episodes. But really, isn’t our libertarian case strong enough that it can stand on an accurate description of what’s actually going on?

Update: Via Eugene Volokh, Coeur d’Alene’s attorney has now sent a letter making clear the city’s position that even the newly reorganized Hitching Post is subject to the law because the law’s religious exemption covers by its terms “nonprofit” religious corporations, which theirs is not. Volokh argues, I think plausibly, that this position will fail in court if applied to compel the provision of ceremonies because both the constitutional right against forced speech and the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act extend in their application beyond nonprofits. Indeed, the city lawyer’s own letter cites a provision, section 9.56.040, in the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, stating that the ordinance “shall be construed and applied in a manner consistent with first amendment jurisprudence regarding the freedom of speech and exercise of religion”. This provision would appear not merely to permit, but to require, the city to back off enforcement efforts that conflict with speech and religious freedoms, whether exercised in a non-profit or for-profit setting. The letter — which in its reference to “services” draws no distinction between functions like hall and equipment rental, and expressive ceremonial services — would thus appear to put the city on a collision course with the speech and religious freedoms of the Knapps.

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And if so, could/should it be fixed by extending its accommodation requirement to deeply held secular convictions? [Sasha Volokh] Earlier on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 here.

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Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on July 9, 2014

  • Congress responds to Veterans Administration health care scandal by throwing huge new sums at care [Nicole Kaeding, Chris Edwards, Cato] “Every Senior V.A. Executive Was Rated ‘Fully Successful’ or Better Over 4 Years.” [NYT via Instapundit] “VA Hospitals aren’t included on the federal government’s Hospital Compare web site” [White Coat]
  • Canadian judge quashes as vexatious suit over non-admission to medical school [Winnipeg Free Press]
  • Brain-damaged child cases: “14.5 Million Reasons Physicians Practice Defensive Medicine” [White Coat, Cleveland] “North Carolina Jury Deadlocks in John Edwards’ Malpractice Trial Against Doctor” [Insurance Journal, emergency medicine]
  • “Medical Licensing in the States: Some Room for Agreement — and Reform” [Charles Hughes, Cato]
  • “NY Launches Statewide Med Mal Settlement Program” [NYDN via TortsProf]
  • “Unlucky Strike: Private Health and the Science, Law and Politics of Smoking” [John Steddon and David Boaz, Cato program] Here’s the long-awaited segue to complete prohibition: British Medical Association recommends banning tobacco permanently for persons born after 2000 [WaPo]
  • Sneaky: California ballot language undoing MICRA liability limits “buried in an initiative titled The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act of 2014.” [Yul Ejnes, KevinMD]

Hobby Lobby prevails

by Walter Olson on June 30, 2014

The Court has ruled that under RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Congress cannot require closely held corporations to provide contraception coverage as part of ObamaCare when there are readily available alternatives to serve the government’s objectives that would not tread on conscience rights. So said a five-Justice majority led by Justice Alito, including a whittle-it-down concurrence by Justice Kennedy emphasizing the narrowness of the ruling. Why narrow?

* “Closely held” is important — private corporations like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are closer to surrogates for the owning family than are publicly traded corporations.

* The available alternatives are important — in many closely related situations it won’t be as easy to devise a workaround that serves the government’s policy objectives, and in those situations the claims of conscience may lose out.

* And the basis of the decision in RFRA, that is to say, statutory rather than constitutional law, is important. Congress is free to tinker with RFRA, Obamacare law, or both if public opinion is dissatisfied with the outcome. Although objectors may later raise First Amendment arguments, today’s decision in no way decides those issues.

Earlier coverage here. Cato’s brief is here, and Ilya Shapiro is out with a statement for Cato (“Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate had to [fail under RFRA] because it didn’t show – couldn’t show – that there’s no other way of achieving its goal without violating religious beliefs.”)

P.S. My colleague Julian Sanchez argues that the outcry against Hobby Lobby had almost nothing to do with whether any actual female employees will gain or lose access to contraception, and was instead was almost entirely a matter of cultural signal-sending.

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Yale Law’s Stephen Carter lacks patience for the start-a-conversation-by-FOIAing-someone’s-emails approach to academic controversy:

Laycock’s approach to the constitutional issue [underlying Hobby Lobby and the Arizona version of RFRA] may be right or wrong, but it’s well within the mainstream conversation of legal scholarship. The late Ronald Dworkin, often tagged as the greatest defender of liberal theory in the legal academy, argued last year in his final book that Catholic adoption agencies with religious objections to adoption by same-sex couples should have a constitutional right to disobey laws requiring them to violate their convictions.

But even when a professor holds opinions off at the far margin, to target him or her for intimidation is an affront to the freedom that makes the academy worth cherishing.

Prof. Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia is among the nation’s leading law-and-religion scholars. Many of his positions on church-state matters would normally be taken for quite liberal; for example, he argued the recent Supreme Court case of Town of Greece v. Galloway on behalf of those objecting to sectarian prayer of any sort before town council meetings. At the same time, as noted on an earlier occasion, Prof. Laycock happens to favor a broad application of religious-accommodation laws such as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. This has led him to support proposals for state RFRAs with broad definitions, like the one recently vetoed in Arizona, and also to file an amicus brief on behalf of employer Hobby Lobby in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby.

Now comes the price to pay [Charlottesville Daily Progress]:

Laycock, who is married to UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan, is the subject of a Freedom of Information Act records request by two UVa student activists — Gregory Lewis and Stephanie Montenegro. In an open letter to the professor, Lewis and Montenegro said that while they respect Laycock’s right to academic freedom, they believe his writings supporting controversial religious freedom laws are holding back progressive causes such as access to contraceptives and gay marriage.

An outside group has been promoting the action [C-ville.com]:

“His work, whether he understands it or realizes it or not, is being used by folks who want to institute discrimination into law,” said Heather Cronk, co-director of Berkeley, California-based LGBT activist group GetEQUAL. …

Through the activist group Virginia Student Power Network, GetEQUAL found two UVA students willing to take up the cause of calling out Laycock: rising fourth-year Greg Lewis and now-alum Stephanie Montenegro. Last week, the pair sent an open letter to Laycock asking him to consider the “real-world consequences that [his] work is having.” They also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking e-mails between Laycock and various right-wing and religious liberty groups. … Meanwhile, GetEQUAL has launched a national e-mail campaign calling out Laycock for his role in shoring up the legal arguments of those who support “religious bigotry.”

If the issue of FOIA-ing U.Va. professors rings a bell, it’s because it’s happened at least twice before. Around 2009 Greenpeace, the environmental activist group, FOIAed the university demanding correspondence and documents relating to former professor Patrick Michaels (now at Cato), who had espoused skeptical views on global warming. Then allies of former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli filed a FOIA request seeking similar documents for Michael Mann, a prominent advocate of global warming theories. [C-ville.com, WaPo]

No one could doubt that Laycock’s views on religious accommodation are part of a set of intellectually derived convictions that run through decades of his work. (In addition to opposing such forms of church-state entanglement as officially sponsored prayer, he supports the right of gays to marry.) It’s simply a matter of trying to arm-twist a tenured, well-recognized scholar who takes a position that the Forces of Unanimity consider wrong.

Of course, the student activists deny that anything like that is on their minds:

Lewis said they’re not trying to smear Laycock, and they’re not trying to undermine academic freedom. They just want a dialogue, he said.

Prof. Bainbridge isn’t buying it:

[B.S.] You don’t start a dialogue with FOIA requests. ….It’s time to start fighting back.

It might also be time for legislators to clarify state open-records laws to determine under what circumstances they can be used to go after academics, and consider altering them, where appropriate, to provide for financial or other sanctions when they are misused.

Note also: conservative-leaning groups have launched a series of FOIA requests seeking records of professors at state universities in North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Texas. The left-leaning Institute for Southern Studies has a critical account here. (& welcome readers from Steve Miller, IGF; Paul Caron, TaxProf; Jonathan Adler, Volokh; Ramesh Ponnuru/NRO “Corner”; Prof. Bainbridge; Will Creeley/FIRE; Dahlia Lithwick, Slate; Megan McArdle, Bloomberg View)

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I’ll be one of the panelists on a webinar this Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern (fee-based, CLE credit available) presented by the ABA’s State and Local Government Law Section on Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court’s recent case on invocational prayer at town councils and similar legislative bodies (earlier here and here). Other panelists include Eric Rassbach of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Mark Burkland of Holland & Knight, while Patricia Salkin, Dean and Professor of Law at Touro Law Center, will serve as moderator. More at Inverse Condemnation.

“…without mentioning the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?” You can if you’re Jeffrey Toobin at the New Yorker, busy stroking your readers’ presumed ideological prejudices. [Ann Althouse, and followup on an unsatisfactory correction]

P.S. From Prof. Michael McConnell, a much better article.

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My Cato colleague Ilya Shapiro thinks it went well for the religious objectors. More: Lyle Denniston/SCOTUSBlog, transcript, earlier.

I discussed it yesterday at Cato at Liberty, shortly before Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill. My Cato colleague Ilya Shapiro’s thoughts are here. For those who want a deeper dive, here’s the Douglas Laycock-drafted letter on the bill in its entirety, and here is the student note he cites making a case for courts’ application of RFRA to private lawsuits. (& welcome visitors: Ramesh Ponnuru, Paul Mirengoff, Stephen Richer/Purple Elephant, Memeorandum, Hans Bader)

P.S. To clarify, the Arizona bill would have enacted into law as part of the state’s mini-RFRA two broad applications of RFRA that many courts have been unwilling to concede to advocates heretofore. One is its availability as a defense in private litigation, not just in discrimination complaints but across the entire range of legal disputes arising in some way from state (in this case) law. That’s potentially a broad intervention into otherwise available private rights, and the fact that it’s in no way limited to discrimination law is one reason I would foresee that it would wind up having some surprising or unintended consequences along the line. A second broad application which drew fire from some critics would be to make available to businesses and various other nonprofit and associational forms of organization the defenses and other remedies otherwise available to individuals. I noted in this post a few weeks ago a high-profile case in which a panel of the D.C. Circuit, parting company from the Fifth, declined to recognize business coverage under the federal RFRA.

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Ilya Shapiro sorts out the issues for SCOTUSblog. Earlier here.

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As I explain in a new Cato post, Eugene Volokh has been blogging this week on the proper role of the courts in recognizing or ignoring religious law, whether Christian, Jewish, or Islamic. Oklahoma passed a measure banning by name the use of Islamic sharia law, but the Tenth Circuit struck that law down as discriminating against a particular religion. Meanwhile, lawmakers in other states have introduced legislation on the subject. Earlier.

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The Cato Institute has submitted an amicus brief in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cases, which test the extent to which the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment restrain the federal government from requiring employers to participate in employee benefit arrangements that violate the conscience of the individuals who own and run the company. More on the other amicus briefs from Rick Garnett at PrawfsBlawg and commenters. Prof. Bainbridge takes issue with a brief signed by a group of law professors on whether a corporate enterprise can be treated as an alter ego for its owners for purposes of imputing to it their rights (“reverse veil piercing”), and has some further thoughts on the legal principle — sometimes ideologically contested, but seldom in a consistent way — of corporate personhood. Related earlier here.

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on January 15, 2014

  • Setback for climate scientist Michael Mann in defamation suit against critics [Jonathan Adler, Mark Steyn, earlier here and here; update, Mann wins a round] Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has taken interest on defendants’ side [Steyn] “Blogger’s Incarceration Raises First Amendment Questions” [NYT on Shuler case in Alabama, on which earlier; more]
  • Religious liberty: “When thought is a crime, no other freedom can long survive.” [Doug Bandow]
  • Nigeria’s new jail-the-gays law is brutally repressive toward speech and association. Oil-rich country gets upwards of $500 million in US foreign aid a year [Reuters, AP and followup, Al-Jazeera]
  • Members of Ramapough tribe in New Jersey sue Hollywood over “Out of the Furnace” depiction [AP]
  • “California’s New Law Shows It’s Not Easy To Regulate Revenge Porn” [Eric Goldman]
  • Catching up on the Ampersand case, where the NLRB got slapped down trying to restrict newspaper owner’s First Amendment rights [Harry G. Hutchison]
  • Video interview with noted civil libertarian Harvey Silverglate [Cato]

January 10 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 10, 2014

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November 11 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 11, 2013

  • Incoming Australian attorney general: we’ll repeal race-speech laws that were used to prosecute columnist Andrew Bolt [Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne Herald-Sun, earlier]
  • Texas sues EEOC on its criminal background check policy [Employee Screen]
  • After Eric Turkewitz criticizes $85M announced demand in Red Bull suit, comments section turns lively [NYPIAB]
  • If only Gotham’s official tourism agency acted like a tourism agency [Coyote on NYC's official war against AirBnB; Ilya Shapiro, Cato; earlier here and here, etc.]
  • “Lawmaker wants Georgia bicyclists to buy license plates” [WSB]
  • Religious liberty implications of European moves to ban infant circumcision [Eugene Kontorovich]
  • Video on CPSC’s quest for personal liability against agency-mocking Craig Zucker of Buckyballs fame [Reason TV, earlier]

Slate really embarrassed itself the other day with a column by Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick flatly misreporting the holding of a Janice Rogers Brown opinion on religious liberty and Obamacare. I wrote this piece in response, which just appeared at PowerLine.

More: West Coast politics and law blogger Patterico likes my piece. Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center writes on Twitter to say that a post he wrote on Saturday “seems to be what triggered [the] weak correction.”

“Exhibiting a complete lack of common sense, the city’s Human Rights Commission is determined to take seven Hasidic-owned stores in Brooklyn to trial for the high crime of requiring modest dress of their customers.” Signs the HRC deems “discriminatory” include “No Shorts, No Barefoot, No Sleeveless, No Low Cut Necklines Allowed.” [editorial, New York Post] But shops catering to a secular clientele routinely post demands that their customers button up: no shirt/socks/shoes, no service, business attire only, and so forth. “Which means the city is targeting the Hasidic stores because of religion!” [Ann Althouse]

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