Christian couple can sue over Minnesota same-sex marriage video law

FILE PHOTO: A rose is seen on a giant rainbow flag at a pro same-sex marriage party after couples registered their marriages in Taipei, Taiwan May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Friday revived a lawsuit by a Minnesota couple challenging a state law requiring that their video production company film same-sex weddings, which they say violates their Christian beliefs.

In a 2-1 decision, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minnesota, said Angel and Carl Larsen can try to show that the law violates their rights to free speech and freely exercise their religious beliefs under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Circuit Judge David Stras, an appointee of President Donald Trump, called videos by the St Cloud, Minnesota couple “a medium for the communication of ideas about marriage,” and said the state’s law “is targeting speech itself.”

The court ordered U.S. District Judge John Tunheim in Minneapolis to decide whether the Larsens and their Telescope Media Group deserve a preliminary injunction against the law, which subjects violators to fines and possible jail time. Tunheim had dismissed the lawsuit in September 2017.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office defended the law, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Angel and I serve everyone,” Carl Larsen said, in a statement provided by his lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom. “We just can’t produce films promoting every message.”

The case is among several in recent years where private business owners or individuals invoked their religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples.

In June, for example, the Washington Supreme Court ruled for a second time against a Christian florist for refusing to sell flowers to a same-sex couple for their wedding, setting up a potential clash at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis in 2015 cited her religious beliefs in refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota in 2013, and nationwide in 2015.

The Larsens said they wanted to use their talents to honor God, including by producing wedding videos promoting marriage as a “sacrificial covenant between one man and one woman.”

Minnesota objected, saying the Larsens had to produce videos of same-sex weddings as well as opposite-sex weddings, or else produce none.

But in Friday’s decision, Stras said the Larsens could try to show that Minnesota law interfered with their message “by requiring them to say something they otherwise would not.”

He distinguished antidiscrimination laws targeting conduct and only incidentally affecting speech, calling it “unquestionably” acceptable to require an employer to remove a “White Applicants Only” sign.

Circuit Judge Jane Kelly dissented, saying the majority’s approach could support treating customers differently based on sex, race, religion and disability.

“Nothing stops a business owner from using today’s decision to justify new forms of discrimination tomorrow,” she wrote. “In this country’s long and difficult journey to combat all forms of discrimination, the court’s ruling represents a major step backward.”

The case is Telescope Media Group et al v Lucero, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 17-3352.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)

U.S. abortion rights groups sue over Missouri law

FILE PHOTO: Abortion rights advocates attend a rally after a judge granted a temporary restraining order on the closing of Missouri's sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Prominent U.S. abortion rights groups Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit late on Tuesday in an effort to stop a new Missouri law that bans almost all terminations of pregnancies after eight weeks.

The new law was signed by Republican Governor Mike Parson in May and is set to go into effect on Aug. 28.

The 31-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri contends that the legislation is unconstitutional. It asks for an injunction to stop the law from being enacted next month until the complaint is resolved.

“Without this relief, the bans will have a devastating effect on patients seeking access to abortion in the state,” lawyers wrote in the complaint.

The law is one of the most restrictive in the nation and activists contend it effectively forbids most abortions since many women do not know they are pregnant yet at eight weeks.

In a perennially divisive moral and political fight, similar laws have been proposed in more than a dozen other U.S. states as Republican-controlled legislatures flex their muscles.

Efforts to roll back Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in 1973, have been emboldened by two appointments by President Donald Trump giving conservatives a solid majority on the court.

Neither representatives for the Missouri governor’s office, nor lawyers for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, were immediately available for comment early Wednesday.

Parson said in May the new law would make Missouri “one of the strongest pro-life states in the country.”

The legislation allows for an abortion after the eighth week only in the case of medical emergencies, and provides no exceptions for victims or rape or incest.

Plaintiffs in the Missouri complaint said the law conflicts with more than four decades of binding precedent, would prohibit “the vast majority of pre-viability abortions”, and denied patients healthcare they were entitled to.

Planned Parenthood is engaged in separate litigation with the state to keep a St. Louis clinic open. If Missouri officials succeed in closing the clinic, it would become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion facility.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Notre-Dame toxic fallout lawsuit turns heat on Paris authorities

FILE PHOTO: A view shows the damaged roof of Notre-Dame de Paris during restoration work, three months after a fire that devastated the cathedral in Paris, France, July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) – An environmental protection group has filed a suit alleging lives were deliberately endangered after the fire that ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, saying authorities failed to protect people from lead that spewed into the area.

The April 15 inferno melted hundreds of tonnes of lead in the cathedral’s spire and roof. Unusually high levels of lead were later detected in the air and nearby buildings, including primary schools.

Campaign group Robin des Bois filed a lawsuit dated July 26 against unknown persons, alleging that authorities in Paris were aware the fire had dispersed large quantities of lead into the air and that lead is toxic.

Authorities failed to provide adequate warnings of potential lead poisoning to local residents, tourists and workers on the site before and after the blaze, the suit says.

The authorities’ actions meant there was exposure to toxic fallout and that “lives were deliberately endangered”, Robin des Bois said in its complaint, filed with the Paris prosecutor.

Paris City Hall declined to comment.

The prosecutor will next determine whether the complaint merits deeper investigation.

Health officials have said people living and working in the vicinity of the cathedral were kept informed of risks and safety measures. Nearby residents were advised to wipe down surfaces with a damp cloth.

In June, after unusually high lead levels were detected in a child, pregnant women and young children were invited to get tested for lead levels in their blood.

More than three months after the fire, the Paris prefect suspended restoration work on the cathedral on July 25 until more robust decontamination measures have been put in place. The same day, the mayor’s office temporarily closed a nursery and primary school that were hosting a holiday club for a “deep clean” after high lead levels were detected.

The cathedral’s spire and roof, which collapsed in the fire, contained more than 450 tonnes of lead.

(Reporting by Emilie Delwarde; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Frances Kerry)

‘Good old boy network’ dominates FBI academy, lawsuit claims

FILE PHOTO: FBI headquarters building in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

(Reuters) – Sixteen women filed a lawsuit against the FBI on Wednesday, claiming sexual discrimination and accusing it of running “a good old boy network” in its training program.

Male instructors exposed the former recruits to a hostile work environment, sexual harassment and inappropriate jokes, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal district court in Washington.

Seven of the women still work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and some did not use their full names in the suit, fearing retaliation, according to a court filing.

According to the suit, the bureau’s instructors are mostly men and they penalized and dismissed female trainees at a significantly higher rate than male trainees.

Some of the litigants accused the instructors of making inappropriate jokes and making multiple sexual advances on at least one of the female trainees.

The lawsuit asked that the bureau review its training evaluation process, pay $300,000 to each of the women for emotional stress, and that it hire more female instructors.

The FBI said in a statement to the New York Times, which first reported the lawsuit, that it was “committed to fostering a work environment where all of our employees are valued and respected.”

A representative for the bureau could not be reached early on Thursday by Reuters.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Nick Macfie)

NRA sues Los Angeles over law requiring that contractors reveal ties to gun group

An attendee speaks to representatives of the National Rifle Association (NRA) at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) annual meeting at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland

(Reuters) – The National Rifle Association sued Los Angeles on Wednesday over a new law requiring that contractors seeking to do business in the second most-populous U.S. city must disclose their ties to the gun rights group.

The NRA said the law violates its First Amendment free speech and association rights and its equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution, according to its complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court.

Mayor Eric Garcetti was also named as a defendant.

The Los Angeles City Attorney’s office and Garcetti’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit challenges an ordinance passed on Feb. 12 by the Los Angeles City Council that requires companies that want city contracts to disclose NRA contracts or sponsorships.

That ordinance was passed in the wake of a series of recent mass shootings in the United States.

The NRA said Los Angeles adopted the ordinance “intending to silence NRA’s voice, as well as the voices of all those who dare oppose the city’s broad gun-control agenda.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Judge upholds New York City’s mandatory measles vaccination order

FILE PHOTO: Materials are seen left at demonstration by people opposed to childhood vaccination after officials in Rockland County, a New York City suburb, banned children not vaccinated against measles from public spaces, in West Nyack, New York, U.S. March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A Brooklyn judge on Thursday ruled against a group of parents who challenged New York City’s recently imposed mandatory measles vaccination order, rejecting their arguments that the city’s public health authority exceeded its authority.

In a six-page decision rendered hours after a hearing on the matter, Judge Lawrence Knipel denied the parents’ petition seeking to lift the vaccination order, imposed last week to stem the worst measles outbreak to hit the city since 1991.

The judge sided with municipal health officials who defended the order as a rare but necessary step to contain a surge in the highly contagious disease that has infected at least 329 people so far, most of them children from Orthodox Jewish communities in the borough of Brooklyn.

Another 222 cases have been diagnosed elsewhere in New York state, mostly in a predominantly ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Rockland County, northwest of Manhattan.

The New York outbreaks are part of a larger resurgence of measles across the country, with at least 555 cases confirmed in 20 states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health experts say the virus, which can cause severe complications and even death, has spread mostly among school-age children whose parents declined to get them vaccinated. Most profess philosophical or religious reasons or cite concerns – debunked by medical science – that the three-way measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine may cause autism.

The judge rejected the parents’ contention that the vaccination order was excessive or coercive, noting that it does not call for forcibly administering the vaccine to those who refuse it.

Under the public health emergency declared last Tuesday by Mayor Bill de Blasio, residents of certain affected Brooklyn neighborhoods who refuse orders to obtain an MMR vaccine face fines unless they can otherwise demonstrate immunity to measles or provide a valid medical exemption.

The court challenge was filed in Brooklyn’s Supreme Court on behalf of five mothers and their children in the affected neighborhoods. Their identities were kept confidential to protect the children’s privacy, their lawyers said.

They told Knipel in court on Thursday the city had overstepped its authority and that quarantining the infected would be a preferable approach.

Robert Krakow, an attorney for the parents, estimated that just 0.0006 percent of the population of Brooklyn and Queens had measles. “That’s not an epidemic,” he said. “It’s not Ebola. It’s not smallpox.”

The health department’s lawyers argued that quarantining was ineffective because people carrying the virus can be contagious before symptoms appear.

The judge cited 39 cases diagnosed in Michigan that have been traced to an individual traveling from the Williamsburg community at the epicenter of Brooklyn’s outbreak. The surge in measles there originated with an unvaccinated child who became infected on a visit to Israel, where the highly contagious virus is also running rampant.

Krakow later told Reuters he was reviewing the judge’s dismissal of the case – brought under special proceedings for the appeal of administrative actions – to determine how his clients might respond.

The number of measles cases worldwide nearly quadrupled in the first quarter of 2019 to 112,163 compared with the same period last year, the World Health Organization said this week.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Berkrot and G Crosse)

New York City defends measles vaccination order in court

FILE PHOTO: A sign warning people of measles in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Williamsburg, two days after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn in response to a measles outbreak, is seen in New York, U.S., April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City’s Department of Health defended its mandatory measles vaccination order in a state court on Thursday after a group of anonymous Brooklyn parents sued, arguing that the order was unconstitutional.

The department issued the order last week, saying it was an unusual but necessary step to contain the worst outbreak of the highly contagious virus seen in the city since 1991. The outbreak has infected 329 people so far, most of them children from Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn.

The order, which was extended this week, requires unvaccinated people living in certain affected Brooklyn neighborhoods to get the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine if they cannot otherwise demonstrate immunity to measles, or face a $1,000 fine.

Five people who said they were parents living in the affected neighborhoods sued the department this week in Brooklyn’s Supreme Court, filing their lawsuit anonymously in order, their lawyers said, to protect their children’s privacy.

Their lawyers told Judge Lawrence Knipel that the city had overstepped its authority, saying 329 confirmed cases so far did not constitute an epidemic. They argued that quarantining people with measles would be a preferable approach.

“It’s excessive, it’s coercive,” Robert Krakow, a lawyer for the parents, said in court. He said he estimated that 0.0006 percent of the population of Brooklyn and Queens had measles. “That’s not an epidemic,” he said. “It’s not Ebola. It’s not smallpox.” He said even vaccinated people could spread the virus and that the vaccination carried a “risk of injury,” which the city disputed.

The department’s lawyers argued that this is a serious outbreak and that quarantining was ineffective because infected people can be contagious before symptoms appear. They said the lawsuit relied on bogus or discredited science.

Lawyers for the Health Department said three or more cases constituted an outbreak, given the United States had declared the disease eliminated in 2000, meaning it is no longer present year round. Measles can lead to serious complications and death.

“The percentage is irrelevant,” Sherrill Kurland, a lawyer from the city’s Law Department, told the court. “The rates of transmission has continued to increase. These areas remain serious for concern.”

The Brooklyn outbreak has been traced to an unvaccinated child who became infected on a visit to Israel, which is also grappling with an outbreak.

The number of measles cases worldwide nearly quadrupled in the first quarter of 2019 to 112,163 compared with the same period last year, the World Health Organization said this week, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported measles cases in at least 20 U.S. states.

Judge Knipel said he would release his decision on whether to temporarily block the city’s order by the end of the week.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Chicago will sue actor Jussie Smollett after he refuses to pay for police overtime

FILE PHOTO: Actor Jussie Smollett makes a court appearance at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 14, 2019. E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Pool via REUTERS

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Chicago will sue actor Jussie Smollett for the costs of police overtime spent investigating his claims that he was the victim of a hate crime, which prosecutors say were false, a city official said on Thursday.

The lawsuit was being prepared after Smollett, 36, refused a demand by the city for $130,000, said Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Law.

“Mr. Smollett has refused to reimburse the City of Chicago for the cost of police overtime spent investigating his false police report on January 29, 2019, McCaffrey said. “The Law Department is now drafting a civil complaint that will be filed in the Circuit Court of Cook Country.”

Smollett, who is black and gay, touched off a social media fire storm by telling police on Jan. 29 that two apparent supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump struck him, put a noose around his neck and poured bleach over him.

But the actor, best known for his role as a gay musician on the Fox Television hip-hop drama “Empire,” was charged in February with staging the incident himself and filing a false police report.

Last week prosecutors dropped all charges against Smollett, infuriating police and outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Prosecutors said they stood by the accusation but that an agreement by Smollett to forfeit his $10,000 bond was a just outcome.

The case file was sealed by a Chicago judge, which critics suggested was evidence of a cover-up.

The actor’s criminal defense attorney, Mark Geragos, could not be reached for comment.

On Monday, some 300 people, including off-duty Chicago police officers, took to the streets to protest, calling on Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to resign over her handling of the case.

Foxx, who recused herself from the case before charges were filed, citing conversations she had with one of his relatives, has defended her actions and those of her prosecutors.

Smollett was written out of the final two episodes of “Empire” this season after he was charged with staging the hate crime. Fox executives have not said if he will return should the show be renewed for another year.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Lisa Shumaker)

Several U.S. states sue Trump administration over school lunch rules

Students eat a healthy lunch at Marston Middle School in San Diego, California, March 7, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Several U.S. states sued the Trump administration on Wednesday, seeking to undo its recent decision to relax standards for restricting sodium content and requiring whole grains in school breakfasts and lunches.

In a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court, the states accused the U.S. Department of Agriculture of acting in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner in easing rules championed by former first lady Michelle Obama to make school lunches healthier.

The lawsuit was filed by New York, California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont and the District of Columbia.

The Agriculture Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)

Facebook looks to place restrictions on who can go live after Christchurch attack

FILE PHOTO - People gather to form a "ring of peace" around a local mosque to show solidarity with the victims of the Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said on Friday the company was looking to place restrictions on who can go live on its platform based on certain criteria in the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre.

The company will monitor who can go “Live” on Facebook depending on factors such as prior community standard violations, Sandberg said in a blog post https://instagram-press.com/blog/2019/03/29/by-working-together-we-can-win-against-hate.

A lone gunman killed 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand on March 15, while live streaming the massacre.

Facebook has identified more than 900 different videos showing portions of the 17-minutes of carnage and has used its existing artificial intelligence tools to identify and remove hate groups in Australia and New Zealand, the blog said.

Last week, the social networking giant said it removed 1.5 million videos globally that had footage of the New Zealand mosque attack in the first 24 hours after the attack.

Earlier this week, one of the main groups representing Muslims in France said it was suing Facebook and YouTube, accusing them of inciting violence by allowing the streaming of the video.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network with 2.7 billion users, has faced growing discontent over its approach to privacy and user data amid increasing concerns over its advertising practices.

(The story corrects headline and first paragraph to say restrictions on who can go live, not restrict live videos.)

(Reporting by Sayanti Chakraborty in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)