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    Steven G. Friedman

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    FIRST AMENDMENT/PUBLIC HEALTH: Freedom of Religion During the COVID-19 Pandemic

    Posted by Steven G. Friedman on Thu, Jun 25, 2020 @ 11:06 AM

    Steve Friedman, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many aspects of our lives have been severely altered and restricted in the name of public health. The extent of the states' police power is currently being tested amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and one such legal battleground involves the freedom of religious practice.

         As long ago noted by the Supreme Court, "[t]he right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community . . . to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death." Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166‑67 (1944). As illustrated below, even the fundamental right to gather in worship can be somewhat restricted by the government (i.e., prohibiting in-person services), but even such restrictions have limits (i.e., cannot ban drive-in services).

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    Topics: First Amendment, Steven G. Friedman, COVID-19, public health, freedom of religion, state police power

    CIVIL RIGHTS: A Civil Rights Civil War: Religious Observance and Educational Rights of the Disabled

    Posted by Steven G. Friedman on Tue, Nov 3, 2015 @ 11:11 AM

    The Lawletter Vol 40 No 9

    Steve Friedman, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         One of the bedrock principles of American jurisprudence is the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment. See U.S. Const. amend. I. More recently, the law had mandated that disabled students are to receive certain minimum educational benefits at public expense. See 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400–1491o (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA")); 29 U.S.C. § 794 (Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("RA")). At times, these two distinct rights may overlap and conflict with one another. As illustrated by two fairly recent cases, however, public schools need not accommodate the student's (or the parents') religious beliefs in providing a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") as required by the IDEA and the RA.

          In M.L. ex rel. Leiman v. Starr, No. PWG-14-1679, 2015 WL 4639569 (D. Md. filed Aug. 3, 2015), appeal filed, No. 15-1977 (4th Cir. Aug. 27, 2015), the parents of a child with an intellectual disability brought suit against Maryland's Montgomery County Board of Education, alleging that the Board had failed to provide the student with a FAPE as required by the IDEA. The student is part of the Orthodox Jewish community, and, thus, it is very important to his parents that he learn the rules and customs of Orthodox Jewish life. Consequently, the parents sought an individualized education program ("IEP") that placed the student at a private school where the basics of Orthodox Jewish life are a part of the curriculum. Instead, the school district proposed an IEP that placed the student at a public school that did not include instruction on Orthodox Jewish life.

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    Topics: civil rights, Steven G. Friedman, religious observance, educational rights

    PUBLIC LAW: Ability to Obtain Shelter Is a Major Life Activity

    Posted by Steven G. Friedman on Thu, Jul 9, 2015 @ 11:07 AM

    The Lawletter Vol 40 No 5

    Steve Friedman, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         The Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601–3631, the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), id. §§ 12101–12213, and the Rehabilitation Act ("RA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 701–796l, each prohibit certain forms of discrimination based on physical impairments. See 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(1) (making it unlawful "[t]o discriminate in the sale or rental [of], or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap"); id. § 12112(a) (making it unlawful to discriminate against disabled persons in employment); id. § 12132 (same regarding public services); id. § 12182(a) (same regarding public accommodations); id. § 594(a) (same regarding "any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance").

          "The relevant portions of the FHA, ADA, and [RA] offer the same guarantee that a covered entity . . . must . . . make the entity's benefits and programs accessible to people with disabilities," and, thus, the analysis "under the three statutes is treated the same." Sinisgallo v. Town of Islip Hous. Auth., 865 F. Supp. 2d 307, 337 (E.D.N.Y. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). A person is considered to have a disability under the FHA, ADA, and RA if that person has, in fact, a record of, or is merely regarded as having, "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2) (ADA); id. § 3602(h) (FHA). "[M]ajor life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working." Id. § 12102(2)(A) (emphasis added).

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    Topics: Rehabilitation Act, Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Steven G. Friedman, The Lawletter Vol 40 No 5, housing/shelter, major life activity

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