Cultural Issues in the Courts: September 2017 Update

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Sept. 8, 2017

A praying football coach, conscience rights for churches and transgender issues in high schools and in the military are all subjects of this issue of the Executive Briefing Judicial Update.

Religious Freedom, Prayer at Football Games — Washington State

A high school football coach was justifiably suspended from his job for kneeling and praying at mid-field after each game, a federal appeals court rules. The court found the coach was still “on duty” after those football games ended, and his prayers could be seen as “endorsement” of a religious viewpoint by a government employee, subtly coercing impressionable players and students to join in. The school was therefore justified in suspending him over concerns that the school might be violating the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment.

Freedom of Conscience, Religious Organizations, Abortion — California   

A federal court dismisses a constitutional challenge from three churches to a recent California law forcing them to provide abortion coverage in their employee health plans. California does not have a religious freedom protection law similar to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act that protected Hobby Lobby and other entities from abortion-related health insurance mandates from the federal government. The churches are considering an appeal.

Transgender Issues, High School — Virginia

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sends the much-publicized transgender bathroom case of Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board back to the district court to determine whether the case has become moot (is no longer a viable legal issue) because the students who filed it have graduated and are no longer harmed by the school district’s policy of segregating bathrooms and locker rooms based on biological sex.  This case has already been to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the 4th Circuit for reconsideration after the Trump Administration revoked the 2016 U.S. Department of Education “Dear Colleague” letter which formed a basis for the 4th Circuit’s original decision.

Transgender Issues, High School — Pennsylvania

A Pennsylvania school district settles a case brought by three transgender teens challenging the school policy of segregating bathrooms and locker rooms based on biological sex. The school district has agreed to change its policy to allow students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of the sex with which they self-identify.

Transgender Issues, Military — Washington, D.C.

Five active military transgender individuals file suit over President Trump’s social media announcement that he would reverse the existing policy that allows transgender personnel to serve. The plaintiffs allege that if the announced policy goes into effect, their constitutional rights of equal protection and due process will be violated.