Religious freedom is crucial to the American experience. Indeed, a longing for the right to worship according to the dictates of conscience is one of the reasons our nation exists.
Religious freedom encompasses many concepts. Fundamentally, it means the power to choose where and how you will worship—or if you’ll worship at all. It also means that the government has no right to compel anyone to take part in religious exercises or force its citizens to directly subsidize houses of worship. It means that decisions about faith are private and belong firmly anchored in what Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark once eloquently referred to as the “inviolable citadel of the heart.”
That’s what religious freedom is. Here is what it is not: a tool to control others or to diminish their rights. Yet, increasingly, this is how some Americans are defining religious liberty. Because religious freedom is central to our democracy, it’s important that we get this right.
I wrote Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You the Right to Tell Other People What to Do because I was concerned that a noble principle designed to protect individual freedom was being warped into an instrument of mass oppression. This must not happen.
The Justice Department has been asked to investigate accusations of CIA surveillance of computers used by Senate staff to prepare a Senate Intelligence Committee report allegedly detailing “how the CIA misled the Bush administration and Congress about the use of interrogation techniques that many experts consider torture.” Jonathan S. Landay, Ali Watkins, and Maris Taylor at McClatchy DC have the story.
State officials are appealing U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II’s ruling that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed outside the state. Writing for The Courier-Journal, Tom Loftus and Chris Kenning report on why the Office of the Attorney General is sitting this one out.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear oral argument in a case that challenges the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ no-beard policy for inmates. Ruthann Robson—Faculty Advisor for the CUNY School of Law ACS Student Chapter—reviews Holt v. Hobbs at the Constitutional Law Prof Blog and explores whether the ADC’s policy violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court expanded whistleblower protections. In Lawson v. FMR LLC, the justices agreed to extend such protections to businesses working for public companies. Writing for Reuters, Lawrence Hurley breaks down the high court’s decision.
Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic examines United States v. Maloney, a case that features a wrongfully convicted man, an intrepid prosecutor and “a result … that is worthy of respect.”
Alex Rich at Above the Law argues why a new meaning of legal work “may define the work of a generation of lawyers.”
The Supreme Court heard oral argument yesterday in a case that centers on Florida’s rigid policy of determining whether it can move forward on executing a mentally disabled death row inmate. Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog reviews Florida’s standard for evaluating intellectual disability in the death penalty case, Hall v. Florida. For more on this case, please see analysis by Diann Rust-Tierney and Prof. John H. Blume at ACSblog as well as Jeremy Leaming’s piece on the controversial execution of Herbert Smulls.
Despite efforts by lawmakers in Georgia and Ohio to create more hurdles to voting, Jennifer L. Clark and DeNora Getachew at the Brennan Center for Justice report on some of the “good news on voting rights.”
Frank Pasquale at Balkinization briefly reviews Raul Carrillo and Rohan Grey’s The Cost of Justice, arguing that “law students need macroeconomics … and macroeconomics needs us."
by James C. Nelson, Justice, Montana Supreme Court (Retired)
Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer said she’d do the right thing, and she did. Good for her; she made the correct decision.
The right decision for the right reason would have been for her to say outright that Senate Bill 1062 was simply religious bigotry against LGBT people and had no place in Arizona’s civil code. End of story; end of bill.
Instead, Governor Brewer vetoed the proposed law because of the outcry of big business. Corporate America – hailed by some in the popular media as a “beacon of progress” – has come to realize that conservative religious zealotry hurts the bottom line. Bigotry and business seemingly don’t make good bedfellows any more – as they may well have when the conservative Christian Right was in its heyday not too many years ago.
I suggest what is happening here is not that Corporate America has suddenly developed a social and moral conscience. Rather, big business does what it always does where constitutional rights are concerned. If embracing those rights adds luster to the “brand” and dollar signs to the bottom line, then count the big guys in. If the opposite is true -- equal pay and freedom of choice for women -- for example, well that’s likely to be another story. In the end, greed usually trumps God, and that’s what happened here.
But am I complaining that the LGBT Community won this round in the way it did? No I am not. A win is a win; and if one’s frenemies are on your side in the battle, we all get to bask in the victory.
But before America’s newest beacons of progress get complacent on this issue, be aware that other States are still in the process of putting “right to discriminate” laws in play – Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, Maine, Tennessee and Utah.
All of us who are committed to equality under the law won this battle; but the war is not over. We’ll take the win; and we’ll take your help Corporate America.
Homophobic discrimination is wrong for the right reasons – and for the wrong reasons as well. Pick your weapon; it’s the result that matters.
by Richard W. Painter, the S. Walter Richey Professor of Corporate Law, University of Minnesota Law School
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has listened to the concerns of a wide range of pro-business Republicans, Democrats and Independents who want Arizona to be open for business to everybody.
Senate Bill 1062 would have legalized discrimination on religious grounds by changing the definition of a “person” entitled to assert religious freedom as a defense in a discrimination lawsuit:
"Person" includes a religious assembly or institution ANY INDIVIDUAL, ASSOCIATION, PARTNERSHIP, CORPORATION, CHURCH, RELIGIOUS ASSEMBLY OR INSTITUTION, ESTATE, TRUST, FOUNDATION OR OTHER LEGAL ENTITY."
The existing statutory language - crossed out above and replaced in Senate Bill 1062 with the now vetoed language in ALL CAPS - remains the law in Arizona. This existing law allows a Christian Church to tell a fifteen year old Jewish girl that she cannot take communion without, among other things, affirming the divinity of Christ. The existing statute, however, does not give a Christian flower shop owner an excuse to refuse to sell the girl flowers for her bat mitzvah, and later an excuse not to sell her flowers for her wedding.
The objective of this bill was to legalize religiously motivated discrimination against gays rather than against Jews or other religious minorities. The language, however, is extremely broad, presumably because singling out discrimination against gays for a statutory discrimination safe harbor would have raised even more constitutional problems than the text of the legislation as it was written.