June 21, 2019
Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a cross-shaped memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland does not violate the Establishment Clause. The memorial honors veterans that sacrificed themselves to defend our nation, and the ruling by SCOTUS sets a new precedent for the constitutionality of religious memorials across the nation. This is a huge win for the right to religious freedom in the public sphere, but there are several other critical battles still being fought on the issue of religious freedom.
Free expression of personal beliefs in public and at work is the cornerstone of our pluralistic society, government, and free market. At Family Research Council, we actively track attacks on religious freedom in our Hostility to Religion Report, which we will be updating soon. Here are three important ongoing court cases that you need to be aware of:
1. Oregon Family Threatened and Sued for Refusing to Bake a Cake for a Same-Sex Union
Melissa and Aaron Klein owned Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a bakery located in Gresham, Oregon. When they declined to bake a cake for a same-sex union, they quickly became a target of a lawsuit. The same-sex couple that requested the cake filed a complaint against the Kleins with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). When BOLI ruled against the Kleins, stating that they discriminated against the couple by not baking a cake, the Kleins were forced to pay $135,000 and closed their shop in September of 2013. Significant public backlash caused the Kleins to be fearful of their safety, especially after receiving threats against their children. The family refused to back down from fighting for their religious beliefs, and they appealed the case to the Oregon Court of Appeals in 2016, but the court declined to hear the case. On June 17, 2019, after appealing to the Supreme Court, SCOTUS remanded the case back to the lower Oregon courts—advising them to reconsider the case in light of the decision made in the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.
2. Church Sues Against Washington State Requirement to Cover Cost of Abortions
In March of this year, Washington state passed legislation that would force any insurance plan that covers maternity costs to also cover abortions. Horrified of being forced to support something directly opposed to their pro-life beliefs, Cedar Park Assembly of God filed a suit against the state’s new law. Cedar Park Assembly actively serves in pregnancy centers and assists with foster children and infertile couples, and the church’s pro-life views are directly opposed to providing staffers with insurance that would pay for abortions. No church or organization that firmly and actively believes in the right to life should be forced to pay for abortions. Cedar Park Assembly of God has partnered with Alliance Defending Freedom to challenge the unconstitutional law in court.
3. Michigan Attempts to Discriminate Against Faith-Based Adoption and Foster Agencies
For 70 years, St. Vincent has provided foster and adoption care for thousands of children in need in Michigan—and they have made a huge impact. In 2017 alone, St. Vincent performed better than 90 percent of agencies in its area with finding children a loving home. However, the Attorney General of Michigan announced in March of 2019 that they were going to permanently end the state’s relationship with faith-based adoption and foster care agencies. The policy claims to be an attempt to “protect” same-sex couples that would be refused from adopting from a faith-based organization, but St. Vincent has always referred same-sex couples to other adoption agencies when approached. Ultimately, not only would the state refusing to work with organizations like St. Vincent further worsen the chances of children finding the homes they desperately need, but such a policy is in clear contradiction to religious liberty that is integral to life in the United States. On April 15, 2019, St. Vincent partnered with Becket Law to sue against Michigan’s damaging policy.
These three cases exemplify the attacks on religious liberty that are becoming increasingly frequent. The right to freedom of conscience—the ability to not be forced to do something that is against your religious beliefs—fundamentally defined the founding of our nation. Religious liberty fosters the ideological plurality that allows people of all faiths to find solidarity in the United States, and the pluralism that religious liberty creates forms the groundwork for our society.
Tragically, in the name of “non-discrimination,” these fundamental rights are now being strategically stripped away. Ironically, policies intending to be non-discriminatory can be the most discriminatory policies of all.
If laws are passed to prevent people from living and working according their personal religious beliefs, the only result will be discrimination against all in favor of none.
Luke Isbell is an intern at Family Research Council.