Cultural Issues in the Courts: June 2018 Update

Courthouse with the year 2018 overlayed

Executive Briefing: Judicial Update ―June 1, 2018

Employers’ dress codes, polygamy, religious freedom in the military, and government programs denied to churches are all subjects of this issue of the Executive Briefing Judicial Update.

Freedom of Religion – Michigan

A Christian-owned funeral home must allow a male employee to dress like a woman if he claims transgender status, even if the owner’s religious beliefs are infringed, says the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This case could end up at the U.S. Supreme Court because a few federal appellate courts have interpreted “sex discrimination” in federal law to include transgenderism, while other appellate courts reject that interpretation.

Marriage, Polygamy – Montana

Montana’s law prohibiting polygamy is constitutional, a federal court there rules. In turning away a challenge from a man who was denied a marriage license for a second wife, the court noted that an 1878 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding anti-polygamy laws is still good law, and nothing in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage decision changed that.

Freedom of Religion – Air Force

The Air Force Review Boards Agency upholds the religious freedom rights of Col. Leland Bohannon to decline to sign a certificate of appreciation for the same-sex spouse of an airman under his command, on religious grounds. Although Bohannon obtained a higher ranking officer’s signature on the certificate, a complaint was filed against him, and he was stripped of his command and removed from consideration for a promotion to general, before the review board exonerated him and reversed those actions.

Freedom of Religion, Government Programs – New Jersey

Under New Jersey’s state Constitution, no church can receive funds from the state in support of its religious activities, so churches are barred from participating in a state program that provides grants for historical preservation of buildings, says the New Jersey Supreme Court. In reaching its decision, the New Jersey court examined the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the 2017 Trinity Lutheran case regarding a Missouri grant program (which concluded a state grant program must establish a level playing field for all participants, including churches) but rejected its application to New Jersey’s situation. If the case is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, however, expect the justices to look closely at the New Jersey court’s rejection of the Trinity Lutheran precedent.