Written by Don Byrd

Here are some of the local church-state stories from around the country I have been watching with particular interest the last few days:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has filed a federal lawsuit in Texas alleging that a Montgomery County judge’s practice of opening his daily docket with a prayer violates the First Amendment’s religious liberty guarantees. Attorneys claim Judge Wayne Mack “watches to see what [parties and lawyers] do” when a volunteer chaplain leads the courtroom in prayer. While the Supreme Court upheld certain legislative prayer practices that are not discriminatory or coercive, the opinion (in Town of Greece v. Galloway) emphasized the long history dating back the Founding of opening legislative sessions with prayer. The Court has not directly ruled on the constitutionality of opening prayers in a courtroom.

The ACLU and Lambda Legal filed a new lawsuit against South Carolina and the Trump Administration on behalf of a same-sex couple challenging the waiver recently issued by the Department of Health and Human Services that allows Miracle Hill Ministries to refuse on religious grounds to place foster children in certain homes, despite receiving federal funds to provide that service.  Americans United also filed a lawsuit addressing the waiver back in February. As the BJC’s Amanda Tyler responded when the waiver was announced, “government-funded programs should not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion.”

After enduring years of terrible harassment, Sawinder Singh, a Rockville, Maryland bus driver who follows the Sikh faith, finally filed a lawsuit alleging a hostile work environment. He has now reached a settlement agreement that will require Montgomery County Public Schools to implement training programs designed to “mak[e] the work environment safer and more inclusive for all.” Religion News Service reports on the decade of abuse Singh suffered, and the terms of the agreement.

The Paducah, Kentucky City Commission has voted to amend its Fairness Ordinance in an effort to provide greater religious liberty protections. The ordinance, passed last year, bars discriminaton on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. The amendment clarifies that individuals maintain the right to “act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief.” WKMS reports on the controversial amendment, which passed last week by a 4-1 vote.