Religious Freedom

  • November 26, 2012

    by Amanda Simon

    The Supreme Court today revived challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate and contraceptive coverage provision. The challenge, brought by Liberty University, has now been given new life. With its 5-4 ruling in June, the Court held that the ACA and its coverage provisions were constitutional. Now, the future of the mandate is a bit hazier.

    Though the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case, Liberty University v. Geithner, in September, the Supreme Court today ordered the appeals court to rehear the challenge, opening the door to what could be a significant legal battle. Liberty University, a Christian college founded by the controversial TV preacher Jerry Falwell, brought the suit saying the ACA violated its First Amendment rights as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by requiring the school to provide insurance that could be used for abortions.

    The Fourth Circuit based its dismissal of the university’s case on standing, saying it could not challenge a tax that had yet to be implemented. However, in its ruling on the ACA, Talking Points Memo reports, “the Supreme Court dismissed the standing argument, implicitly conceding that taxpayers may challenge the ACA’s mandates, even ones that have yet to take effect — providing Liberty an opening to move forward with its case.”

  • October 9, 2009
    Guest Post

    By Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation, ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. Mr. Mach is a co-counsel for the plaintiff in Salazar v. Buono.

    The Supreme Court heard argument last Wednesday in Salazar v. Buono, an Establishment Clause challenge to the federal government's display of a Latin cross in the Mojave National Preserve. The Court's questions focused largely on esoteric procedural doctrine, and while it's always risky to predict the outcome of a case based on oral argument, it seems unlikely the Court will rule on the broader constitutional issues in the case - namely, whether the plaintiff, a devout Catholic and former National Park Service employee, had standing to challenge the display of the cross; and whether, before it tried to transfer the cross to a private party, the government violated the First Amendment by displaying the sectarian symbol on federal land. (The lower courts decided those issues in favor of the plaintiff in the first round of the case, and the Bush Administration chose not to seek Supreme Court review at the time. As a result, the Court now appears disinclined to revisit those rulings.)

    But while the Supreme Court ultimately may pass on the loftier constitutional questions in Buono, Wednesday's argument did have some dramatic moments. In the most heated exchange of the morning, Justice Antonin Scalia peppered Peter Eliasberg, the ACLU attorney arguing for the plaintiff, with questions about the significance of the cross. Justice Scalia bristled at Eliasberg's suggestion that a World War I memorial featuring only a Christian cross sends a message of exclusion and religious favoritism, asking, "The cross doesn't honor non-Christians who fought in the war?" After Eliasberg responded that the cross "is the predominant symbol of Christianity," Justice Scalia pushed back, suggesting that there was no constitutional problem with the display because "the cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead." Eliasberg resisted, explaining that "the cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians." "I have been in Jewish cemeteries," continued Eliasberg, the son of a Jewish World War II Navy veteran. "There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew."