Religion clauses

  • February 27, 2014
    Guest Post

    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.

  • February 25, 2014
    Guest Post
    by James C. Nelson, Justice, Montana Supreme Court (Retired)
     
    There is gathering national support acknowledging that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens are simply that—citizens—with the same rights, privileges and obligations as other citizens. In response, some States, along with various fundamentalist religious and conservative organizations are fighting for a legally protected right to discriminate. This right to discriminate is grounded in the First Amendment’s “Free Exercise” clause. As the theory goes, being able to discriminate against LGBT citizens is necessary to preserve the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion for these States’ fundamentalist religious heterosexuals and conservative organizations.
     
    This stratagem is not only patently specious; it is legally insupportable.
     
    Contrary to the homophobic fear-mongering by religious fundamentalists and conservatives, there is no legal support for the notion that a State which has recognized the equal rights of LGBT citizens can force a religious organization to adopt those same views. If Religion X condemns gay people, the State cannot, require Religion X to perform a gay or lesbian marriage or change its doctrinal beliefs against homosexuality under threat of governmental penalty. Indeed, if the State attempted to do that, it would violate the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. And, of course, for that reason, no State has made any such demands on any sectarian organization.
     
    Yet, in Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Ohio and Utah religious and conservative organizations and, in some cases, their supporters in the state legislatures are actively promoting the adoption of laws that would permit any individual or group to discriminate in a variety of contexts based on religious beliefs. Such laws would allow business owners, for example, to discriminate against LGBT customers in much the same fashion that businesses run by racists once discriminated with impunity against people of color. A government official could deny same-sex couples basic services and benefits based solely on that official’s religious beliefs. Indeed, Arizona has even proposed to allow the denial of equal pay to women and the abrogation of contractual rights in the name of religion. In other words, one’s personal religious beliefs trump legal obligations imposed generally upon and for the benefit of all.
     
  • February 11, 2014
     
    The American Bar Association Standards Review Committee is considering a recommendation that the ABA no longer prohibit law students from receiving money for internships and externships. Karen Sloan of The National Law Journal has the story.
     
    In their debut article for The Intercept, Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald examine the National Security Agency’s controversial role in targeting terror suspects for lethal drone strikes and the effectiveness of geolocating technology.
     
    Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins created the nation's first Conviction Integrity Unit. In an interview with NPR’s Melissa Block, Watkins discusses the 87 overturned convictions in the U.S. in 2013 and what is being done in Dallas County to prevent miscarriages of justice.
     
    With the U.S. Supreme Court returning to session on February 24, the justices could soon rule on whether legislative prayer violates the Establishment Clause. Michael Kirkland at UPI breaks down Town of Greece v. Galloway.
  • February 6, 2014
     
    Writing for The Huffington Post, distinguished George Washington University Law School Prof. Alan B. Morrison and co-author Adam A. Marshall argue in favor of the National Popular Vote (NPV) movement. In his article, Morrison—a faculty advisor to the ACS Student Chapter at GWU—explains why the current state of the Electoral College is a major deficit to American democracy and how the NPV movement would facilitate a more representative voting system.
     
    Writing for SCOTUSblog, Jody Freeman explains why the greenhouse gas cases pending at the U.S. Supreme Court will have little impact on the EPA and the government’s ability to regulate emissions.
     
    The Associated Press reports on the developing case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit that has Utah state attorneys insisting that same-sex marriage will devalue the family structure and lead to economic crisis.
     
    David H. Gans of Slate breaks down Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit against the Obama administration to reveal why, when it comes to the free exercise of religion, most corporations are sitting this one out.
     
    At the blog of Legal Times, Todd Ruger notes the diversity of President Obama’s judicial nominees.

     

  • January 3, 2014
     
    On December 31, while many Americans were celebrating the arrival of 2014, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (who herself would inaugurate 2014 by leading the famed Times Square ball drop) ended 2013 by erecting a judicial roadblock to an important provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Earlier today the Obama administration answered Sotomayor with a defense of the policy that requires most companies to provide health care plans with access to contraceptives to their workers.
     
    Sotomayor had temporarily enjoined the federal government from enforcing the contraceptive coverage mandates against the Little Sisters of the Poor, as well as other Catholic non-profit groups who use the same health care plan called the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, who had brought suit claiming that the provisions violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The mandate was to go into effect on January 1. As the Supreme Court justice who oversees emergency matters emanating from U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Sotomayor issued the order after the Tenth Circuit had denied the request for an injunction earlier on New Year’s Eve.
     
    The U.S. Department of Justice argued in its brief opposing an injunction of the ACA’s contraception policy that there is a simple distinction to be made between the present case and the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases that the Court recently agreed to hear on the issue -- that the Little Sisters of the Poor “are eligible for religious accommodations set out in the regulations that exempt them from any requirement ‘to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for contraceptive coverage.’  They need only self-certify that they are non-profit organizations that hold themselves out as religious and have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services, and then provide a copy of their self-certification to the third-party administrator of their self-insured group health plan.” (citations omitted).
     
    For the government, this case is not about religious accommodations, but rather, “whether a religious objector can invoke RFRA to justify its refusal to sign a self-certification that secures the very religion-based exemption the objector seeks.” Furthermore, the government points to decisions of lower courts and notes that the church healthcare plan at issue is exempted from regulation under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
     
    With the government’s response now before the Court, a decision from either Justice Sotomayor or the full Court should come shortly.
     
    For more on Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, you can read two recent ACSblog posts from BYU law professor Frederick Mark Gedicks. For more on RFRA, UNLV law professor Leslie Griffin recently examined the law’s constitutionality.