Posts tagged with "district court"

Child illustration by Heather Skovlund for 360 Magazine

Child Friendly Faith Project

Child Advocacy Group Highlights Abuse in Religious Institutions for Child Abuse Prevention Month

With National Child Abuse Prevention Month underway, the Child-Friendly Faith Project (CFFP), a national nonprofit that educates the public about religiously enabled child maltreatment, is raising awareness of crimes against children perpetrated in religious institutions.

The CFFP is also drawing attention to a dangerous court decision that could prevent abusive institutions from being held accountable and offering a valuable resource to parents and guardians to help them determine whether they should enroll or continue to enroll their children in certain religious institutions.

The little-known ecclesiastical abstention doctrine (EAD) guides courts in deciding First Amendment, religious matters. While historically the EAD has been raised in cases relating to claims of wrongful termination, in recent years religious schools facing lawsuits involving allegations of child harm have pushed courts to interpret the EAD very broadly to get cases dismissed. In one recent case, the Episcopal School of Dallas was permitted to ignore its own legal contracts with parents and the emotional harm suffered by a child never came to light.

Given this alarming legal precedent, parents and guardians of children who have been harmed by private institutions could lose their right to seek relief in court, while the institutions might never be held accountable.

Parents who have children enrolled in private, faith-based schools (or are considering enrolling them) should be aware of the potential harm posed by the EAD. With this in mind, CFFP’s campaign is offering parents valuable tips on how to determine whether they should enroll (or continue to enroll) their children in private, faith-based schools:

  • Determine whether the institution your child is enrolled in (or might be enrolled in) could claim to be faith-based. Some private schools have stretched the meaning of “faith-based” as a way to be shielded by the EAD in court. Even if an institution seems to operate in a way that appears secular, as long as a facility, school, program, or daycare operation can claim that it has some sort of faith-based or spiritual component, it could convince a court that it should be protected by the EAD and cannot be sued for child abuse or neglect.
  • Read the school’s contract carefully. Many schools specify in their contracts how legal issues must be resolved. For example, some require parents to agree to mediation. It’s important to know what legal recourses you’re agreeing to. However, be aware that if a case goes to court, the EAD does have the potential to make contracts of religious school’s moot.
  • Ask to see a school’s child-abuse prevention policies & procedures. Those that take abuse seriously and proactively develop and enforce comprehensive abuse-prevention policies are usually open to making these policies available and may even post them on their websites.
  • Research whether the school has a history of abuse allegations. Conduct an online search using the name of the institution and words such as “lawsuit,” “sued,” and “abuse” to determine if it has been accused of abuse or of covering up cases in the past. Be extremely wary if you find a pattern of abuse allegations, even if you do not find information about final court decisions.
  • Explore the educational programs of secular private or public schools. Children can receive a high-quality education and experience at many different types of schools. Consider the offerings of private secular schools or public schools, which would be unable to raise the EAD in court.

Recent abuse cases

The CFFP has previously exposed issues of religious institutional child abuse and offered support to survivors and affected families. An example is its efforts to make public the decades-long, egregious abuses perpetrated at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch. Recently, other cases have also made the news:

  • Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) — Last February, the SBC’s executive committee voted to expel two member churches for employing pastors who were convicted sex offenders. One pastor, who had been with his church since 2014, had pleaded guilty to two counts of statutory rape of a minor in the 1990s. The other pastor led his church since 2018, despite having been on Florida’s sex offender registry since 1993. In 2019, the SBC published a report on preventing and responding to cases of sexual abuse and later launched its “Caring Well Challenge” that calls on all SBC churches to adopt the report’s recommendations. Unfortunately, the program is voluntary.
  • Circle of Hope Girls Ranch — The owners and operators of this faith-based boarding school in Missouri face more than 100 criminal charges of sexual, physical and mental abuse of girls in their care. Their arrests came after their estranged daughter, Amanda Householder, posted social media videos of former residents talking about the abuse they endured. In an interview with a Missouri TV station, Householder said that victims had been speaking out since 2007. “Why did it take ten years for anyone to do anything?” she asked.

A dangerous court decision

While it’s heartening that these cases are receiving public attention, it is possible that they, and many more like them, could be dismissed thanks to a legal precedent set by a Texas appellate court in 2018. The case involved the Episcopal School of Dallas which invoked a common-law doctrine known as the “ecclesiastical abstention doctrine” (EAD). The EAD provides guidance to courts when weighing in on First-Amendment, religious matters. However, in the Dallas case, in which a father alleged that his son had been wrongfully expelled and in violation of school policy, it was applied very broadly and used to shield the school from being sued.

In another case involving Trinity Episcopal School in Galveston, Texas, a district court, in recognizing the EAD, threw out a lawsuit filed by a mother whose son had endured repeated racist bullying by other students. The mother wanted the school to hold the perpetrators accountable after the school had only demanded a written apology and suspended them for one day. Despite emotional trauma suffered by the victim, the judge agreed with the school’s claim that a court should not “intrude upon a religious institution’s management of its internal affairs and governance.”

“The EAD allows courts to prioritize a religious institution’s desire for secrecy and avoidance of accountability over the wellbeing of children,” said CFFP founder Janet Heimlich. “In cases in which organizations invoke the EAD, the public may never learn what abusive or neglectful actions took place, and parents may unwittingly enroll their children in those schools.”

To schedule an interview with a representative of the CFFP, an affected parent or a survivor of religious institutional child abuse, contact Jeff Salzgeber  through email or (512) 743-2659 cell.

The Child-Friendly Faith Project (CFFP) is a national, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that seeks to end religious child maltreatment by raising awareness of this issue through educational programs that benefit the general public, survivors, professionals, and faith communities.

The Nation cover illustration by Heather Skovlund (Original cover art Illustration by Barry Blitt) for 360 Magazine

Elie Mystal × The Nation

Can Biden Fix the Courts That Trump Broke?

There is no progressive future without a serious fight to reclaim the judiciary from the grips of conservative judges.

In The Nation’s latest cover story, justice correspondent Elie Mystal explains:

“While previous Republican administrations tried to break government, Donald Trump tried to break democracy. He did this boldly and brazenly, by attacking elections, and he did it less boldly but no less brazenly, by working alongside Mitch McConnell to take over the unelected branch of government that sets the rules for all the others: the federal judiciary. That branch is now stuffed with conservative ideologues masquerading as jurists.”

Making the case that there is no progressive future without a serious fight to reclaim the judiciary from the grips of conservative judges, Mystal evaluates whether Biden can fix the courts that Trump broke: Happily, there is a solution, and that solution is to expand the lower courts.

Congress has used its constitutional authority throughout history to expand the federal judiciary. Historically, these lower court expansions were bipartisan: As the country grows in population, so does the number of lawsuits. Adding judges is just a thing we used to do to keep the judiciary running smoothly. But since 1990, when the last judgeship bill was passed, the US population has grown by a third; the number of district court cases has grown by 38 percent; and the number of cases involving a felony defendant has grown by 60 percent. The number of judges has not changed.

“I absolutely believe that if Trump had won reelection and McConnell had hung onto the Senate, Republicans would be working on court expansion right now,” writes Mystal. “There just aren’t a lot of vacancies left in the federal judiciary. Republicans can always find some casus belli for stacking the courts with conservative judges. The only question is whether Democrats will ever realize there’s a war, and they’re losing it.”

“To balance out decades of inequity, Biden’s judicial appointments shouldn’t ‘look like America;’ they should overrepresent the kinds of Americans routinely excluded by Republican administrations,” he continues. “You can’t balance a seesaw by standing in the middle when an elephant is sitting on one side.”

Read the full cover story here. Mystal, who covers the courts, the criminal justice system, and politics for The Nation, has also recently reported:

Biden’s Supreme Court Commission Is Designed to Fail

Biden’s recently announced commission to study court reform isn’t designed to offer solutions—it’s designed to be an excuse to do nothing.

How the Supreme Court Gave Cops a License to Kill

Derek Chauvin’s defense team is hoping that the 1989 Graham v. Connor ruling will be his ticket to acquittal.

The Blue Wall of Silence Is Crumbling Around Derek Chauvin

For one of the first times in memory, police are testifying against one of their own. But will it lead to an actual conviction?

ABOUT Elie Mystal

Elie Mystal is The Nation’s justice correspondent—covering the courts, the criminal justice system, and politics—and the force behind the magazine’s monthly column, “Objection!” He is also an Alfred Knobler Fellow at the Type Media Center. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Mystal was previously the executive editor of Above the Law and a former associate at Debevoise & Plimpton. He’s a frequent guest on MSNBC and Sirius XM. 

Founded by abolitionists in 1865, The Nation has chronicled the breadth and depth of political and cultural life from the debut of the telegraph to the rise of Twitter, serving as a critical, independent, and progressive voice in American journalism.

banging gavel illustration

Philly Police Sues Mayor,DA, Commissioners

Today, Larry Klayman, the founder of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, and the current chairman and general counsel of the latter, announced the filing of suit against the The Plainview Project, Mayor Jim Kenney, Soros financed District Attorney Larry Krasner and the former and current Philadelphia Police Commissioners Richard Roth and Danielle Outlaw. The complaint, which can be viewed at www.freedomwatchusa.org, alleges discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity and sex, insofar as the plaintiffs, six Philly cops, were terminated and/or constructively terminated for private social media posts which were illegally hacked by defendant The Plainview Project, a radical anti-police left wing group, likely financed by George Soros. The social media posts were falsely characterized by the defendants as racist, homophobic and Islamophobic, in an contrived effort to remove them from the police force for political purposes. As a result, the complaint also contains counts for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of constitutional rights.

The complaint, which plaintiffs reserved the right to later convert to a class action for all similarly situated Philly police, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and is styled Melvin et. al v. Kenney et. al, Case No. 2:20-cv-003529.

Klayman, who was born and raised in Philadelphia as was his local co-counsel Andrew Teitelman, had this to say on behalf of his clients after filing suit:

“There is a systematic effort by these defendants to harm and endanger the police, in order that the left can take control of not just major cities like Philadelphia but the nation as a whole. My clients, brave Philly cops who risked their lives in one of the most dangerous of cities, are being made the scapegoats for hack leftist politicians, district attorneys and their enablers, such as George Soros, in order to seize control over our body politic. White male cops in particular have been targeted for extinction, based on discrimination. We at Freedom Watch believe that all citizens, including white male cops, deserve to be respected and to that end we have brought suit for damage and other relief in excess of $90,000,000 USD. The defendants must be taught a lesson they will never forget.”

Patients Win in Case Dismissal

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a ruling on Tuesday in favor of patients when it dismissed an attempt by hospital groups to block price transparency regulations. The regulations, issued last November by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), require hospitals, other healthcareproviders, and insurance companies to disclose their cash and negotiated contract prices to patients in a clear, easy-to-access format.

In December 2019, a consortium of hospital groups sued HHS to stop the regulations from taking effect.

In the case, American Hospital Association v. Azar, Independent Women’s Law Center and PatientRightsAdvocates.org filed an amicus brief arguing that providers are fully capable of complying with the rules since insurers routinely disclose their prices in their explanation of benefits statements—after it’s too late for patients to choose the most cost-effective care option.

Independent Women’s Law Center Director Jennifer C. Braceras said, “We are gratified by today’s ruling and hopeful that the nearly fifty percent of American patients with high deductible plans will soon be able to comparison shop until their deductibles are met.” Independent Women’s Law Center Senior Fellow Erin Hawley said, “The Price Transparency Rule upheld by the District Court today is a win for consumers. It injects market-forces into the healthcare economy, making sure that hospital patients—like the consumers of any other product—know upfront the price of a healthcare product or service.”

As a result of today’s ruling, hospitals will soon be required to disclose prices to patients before they purchase care, so that patients can shop for treatment that fits their needs and their budgets.

“The Price Transparency Rule injects market-forces into the healthcare economy, making sure that hospital patients—like the consumers of any other product—know upfront the price of a healthcare product or service.”