Hawaiian churches denied exemption
by Charlie Butts - OneNewsNow - 1/4/2012
A court in Hawaii has refused to exempt churches from being forced to allow their property to be used for civil union ceremonies.
The Emmanuel Temple and the Lighthouse Outreach Center Assembly of God requested a restraining order to block a law that permits same-sex couples to enter civil unions. It exempts clergy from performing the ceremonies, which are the equivalent of marriage, but there is no provision to protect church property. They argued that they would face civil penalties and fines if they refused to rent their property for same-sex civil unions, but U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright denied the request.
Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel Action tells OneNewsNow that creates a clear conflict between government and the free exercise of religion.
"There is no exemption for religious institutions, for churches, houses of worship from being subject to fines and to sanctions as provided in the legislation for refusing to allow their houses of worship to be desecrated through the use of a so-called 'civil union' ceremony," he explains.
But the two churches were unsuccessful in blocking the law for that reason.
"It's unfortunate that this judge has refused to grant injunctive relief here to protect freedom of religious expression," Barber laments, "and this will indeed create a chilling effect on the free exercise of religion in the state of Hawaii -- and it sets a very bad example for the rest of the country."
At the very least, the attorney says the legislature needs to revisit the issue and make sure churches are protected from being forced to host civil union ceremonies. The law went into effect as scheduled on Sunday.
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Judge Dismisses Civil Unions Lawsuit Due to Hypothetical Cause of Action
Courthouse News Jan 3: "Act 1 ... contains 'immunity' from fines or penalties if a pastor, such as Harris, refuses to perform a civil union (if such refusal would otherwise constitute illegal discrimination)," the 17-page decision states (parentheses in original). "Act 1 does not, however, contain 'immunity' if a church or other religious organization refuses - on the basis that it is opposed to civil unions - to rent or otherwise allow use of its facilities for performing civil unions or hosting receptions celebrating a civil union."
The "drastic" remedy of the preliminary injunction is unjustified because it was "based upon plaintiffs' planned refusal to make their facilities available" for civil union events, Seabright wrote.
He added that there is no "realistic danger of sustaining a direct injury" under the statute, and a "general intent to violate a statute at some unknown date in the future does not rise to the level of an articulated, concrete plan."
"A couple would have to ask, they would have to be denied, and they would then have to file suit," Seabright wrote....
Luiz has reportedly said his clients will not hesitate to bring another suit now that Act 1 is actionable. Full Text: Court Denial Ruling
read … Judge Won't Block New Hawaii Civil Union Law
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CB: Federal Judge Clears Way for Hawaii Civil Unions (12-30-11)
Civil Beat: …Federal Judge Michael Seabright, however, said their claim didn't rise to the level that would merit immediate intervention by the court.
"In short, the present dispute -- based upon the current record and allegations -- is not justiciable such that Plaintiffs have not met their burden to authorize this court to issue a temporary restraining order that would prevent Act 1 from taking effect on January 1, 2012," he wrote in his 17-page court order, which he issued only hours after receiving all the arguments from the attorneys in the case….
Seabright avoided getting into any of the Constitutionality concerns raised by the plaintiffs, citing a previous court decision: "'When plaintiffs seek to establish standing to challenge a law or regulation that is not presently being enforced against them, they must demonstrate a realistic danger of sustaining a direct injury as a result of the statute’s operation or enforcement.'"
The churches' claims of a vague threat of possible litigation against them in the future does not satisfy the court's requirements for jurisdiction, he wrote.
The executive director of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission told Civil Beat that while churches may legally opt out of hosting all civil union ceremonies, they may not refuse to lease their facilities for only same-sex civil union ceremonies and celebrations.
"If a religious institution offers the use of facilities to general public for a fee (e.g., grounds, halls, catering services) for marriages and other celebrations, or owns, operates, or controls a commercial enterprise that rents out accommodations or facilities or sells goods or services, it cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation," reads a document outlining the commission's explanation of the issue e-mailed to Civil Beat by Bill Hoshijo. "For the operator of a place of public accommodation, there is no exception for discrimination based on sincerely held religious belief.
"So, under current law, if a person believes they have been discriminated against by being denied full and equal enjoyment of a place of public accommodation (including the rental of a facility offered for rental to the public based on sexual orientation), they can call the Hawai‘i Civil Rights Commission (HCRC) at 586-8636, to find out how to file a complaint."
The attorney for the churches, Shawn Luiz, said they will continue to pursue their case….
read … Federal Judge Clears Way for Hawaii Civil Unions
CB: State Says Halting Civil Unions Would Be 'Devastating' for Hawaii
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SA: Two churches object to having same-sex rites on their property
Although the law, Act 1, exempts churches from performing civil unions, it does not allow them to refuse to rent their church grounds for same-sex ceremonies and receptions. Such a refusal would expose the churches to fines and money damages under state anti-discrimination laws, the lawsuit said.
Their attorney, Shawn Luiz, said the churches believe that as religious entities, they should not be held liable for fines or damages for refusing to rent their property for those activities.
The lawsuit said that during the past year, individuals have already complained to the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission that churches have refused to rent their facilities for same-sex unions.
Joshua Wisch, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said the state will oppose the request.
Seabright directed Luiz to file arguments in support of his request by 10 p.m. Thursday and state lawyers to file their opposition papers by 8 a.m. today.
read … Gays Demand Control of Your Church
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Hawaii's Civil Union Law Greeted With Lawsuit
by Purna Nemani Courthouse News
HONOLULU (CN) - Two Christian churches have filed a federal complaint to stop Hawaii's new civil union law in its tracks, claiming the legislation is unconstitutional.
Set to take effect on Jan. 1, the law makes Hawaii the seventh state to give same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as married couples, via application of the tax code.
"The family court of each circuit shall have jurisdiction over all proceedings relating to the annulment, divorce, and separation of civil unions entered into in this state in the same manner as marriages," Act 1 reads.
Although not legal marriage, some believe the law could lead to such. Applications are already available online and will be accepted only at the state health department, in person, starting Jan. 1.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, signed the bill into law on Feb. 23, after the state Senate passed it 19-6 and the House 31-19. His Republican predecessor, Gov. Linda Lingle, vetoed a different version of the law last year.
Before signing the bill into law, Abercrombie said, "The legalization of civil unions in Hawaii represents, in my mind, equal rights for all people. All people here, all who visit us. They protect our diversity, they protect our civil rights, they protect who we are as a people here in Hawaii. If there's anything that the word aloha means, it's that our diversity defines us, rather than divides us."
He said the state Legislature showed "civic courage" and a "public conscience."
"This has been an emotional process, but everyone has been involved. This process is now ended. Everyone has been heard, all points of view have been respected. ... This represents a triumph for everyone. We are not singling out an elite. We are not going after a special interest. This is, in fact, an interest, which is, something that provides for everyone."
Abercrombie posted live coverage of the historic event on YouTube.
Licensed and willing judges or clergy members must solemnize a civil union, but none are required to do so, nor are they subject to any penalty for refusing, according to the new law.
"Nothing in this section shall be construed to require any person authorized to perform solemnizations pursuant to chapter 572 or civil unions pursuant to this chapter to perform a solemnization of a civil union, and no such authorized person who fails or refuses for any reason to join persons in a civil union shall be subject to any fine or other penalty for the failure or refusal," the legislation reads.
Two Christian churches and their pastors filed the first federal complaint over the law Wednesday, alleging violation of their civil rights.
They say Act 1 wrongfully fails to exempt the clergy and churches from hosting such events.
"Neither Act 1 not its implementing regulations exempts religious institutions, churches and houses of worship, clergy, officers and members from being subject to the injunctive relief and fine provisions of H. R. S. 489," the complaint states. "Within the last 12 months, private individuals have already initiated complaints with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission against churches and houses of worship for refusing to rent their facilities for same-sex unions and/or marriage ceremonies."
Claiming the law will have a "chilling effect" on the free exercise of religion, the groups want a judge to issue a permanent injunction and declare the law unconstitutional. They are represented by Shawn Luiz.
The plaintiffs are Emmanuel Temple, the House of Praise, and its pastor, Carl E. Harris, and Lighthouse Outreach Center Assembly of God, and its pastor, Joel Hunkin. They sued the state, Gov. Abercrombie and state health director Loretta Fuddy.
LINK: FULL TEXT OF LAWSUIT