Religious Freedom Updates – August 2020

By Religious Freedom Committee

Posted Sep 1, 2020 | 5:07 PM

Religion and Coronavirus

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley sought injunctive relief from a directive on public gatherings issued by the governor of Nevada. The request was denied by the District Court and the Ninth Circuit. The Supreme Court denied cert, so the church who challenged the ruling does not have a TRO against the governor’s order. This ruling that allows casinos to operate, while not allowing churches to operate the same way, is the first really troublesome case related to COVID-19.

Prisoner Rights

The Sixth Circuit denied a Muslim prisoner’s claim that he was entitled to pork-free food because the prison had witnessed him buying other products with pork in it (Zareck v Corr. Corp. of Am.). This seemed to suggest his beliefs were not sincere and seemed to contradict the practices of other Muslims in the prison system. The ruling seems to contradict the long-standing rule from Thomas v. Review Board that courts will not look into the sincerity of someone’s religious exercise by comparing it to that of members of the same faith or by the government’s interpretation of that religion’s doctrine.

What Constitutes a Religion

In Penkowski v. Bowser, two black pastors in D.C. brought establishment clause claims against the mayor of D.C. by arguing that Black Lives Matter is a form of religion and painting “Black Lives Matter” on the street violates the Establishment Clause. A number of scholars have questioned whether BLM qualifies as a religious movement. The court dismissed the case, ruling the pastors don’t have standing because mere psychological or stigmatic harm is not sufficient to provide standing—this relates to the question of whether “dignitary harm” in other contexts is enough to justify the government curtailing First Amendment rights.