Religious Freedom

  • November 10, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Leslie C. Griffin, Boyd Professor of Law, UNLV Boyd School of Law

    Now that the Supreme Court has granted cert. in Zubik v. Burwell on seven related religious nonprofits’ cases, we will have an opportunity to learn if Hobby Lobby was a “decision of startling breadth,” as Justice Ginsburg predicted in her dissent. In Zubik, the religious nonprofits allege that the government’s accommodation of the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). An important part of the case turns on what the Court views as a “substantial burden” on the exercise of religion.

    Under RFRA, a plaintiff must demonstrate as a threshold matter that the government substantially burdened his exercise of religion. Only then does the government have to meet the most difficult test in constitutional law, namely that its action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest. If the courts make it easy for plaintiffs to prove a substantial burden, each and every federal law can be constantly put to this strict standard.

    The appeals courts in the nonprofit cases ruled that plaintiffs’ religious exercise was not substantially burdened by the accommodation. An Eighth Circuit opinion, however, suggests that those courts misread Justice Alito’s analysis in Hobby Lobby. Zubik will test just how deferential the Court intends to be toward religious plaintiffs who allege a substantial burden on their religion.

    Hobby Lobby’s Substantial Burden

    The contraceptive mandate of the ACA requires employers to include preventive health care services in their insurance coverage. Hobby Lobby involved a successful challenge to the mandate by religious for-profit employers who believe as a matter of faith that four covered contraceptives cause abortion. At the beginning of his opinion upholding the for-profits’ challenge, Justice Alito observed that if the employers did not provide contraceptive coverage, they would be taxed $100 per day for each affected employee, which could amount to $1.3 million per day and $475 million per year for employer Hobby Lobby, and $90,000 per day and $33 million per year for Conestoga Wood. That amount of money, Justice Alito concluded, is “surely substantial.”

    Responding to the argument that the employers need not provide insurance in the first place, Alito then identified an alternative substantial burden. If at least one of their employees qualified for a government subsidy on the health care exchanges, the companies would be fined $2,000 per employee per year, totaling $26 million for Hobby Lobby and $1.3 million for Conestoga. Still substantial, in Justice Alito’s eyes.

  • May 4, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    At The New York Times, Jesse Wegman considers the lethal injection case before the Supreme Court and how “both the logic and the practice of the death penalty begin to collapse inward on themselves.”

    Nina Totenberg of NPR discusses the ruling in Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar and its implications.

    David Savage reports in the Los Angeles Times on the oral arguments in the same-sex marriage cases and how opponents of marriage equality are arguing that marriage is not centrally about love or fedelity.

    At Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, Marci A. Hamilton reviews the history of the marriage equality movement and the religious freedom questions it raises.

    At Salon, Joanna Rothkopf profiles Marilyn Mosby, the Baltimore City state’s attorney that recently deemed Freddie Gray’s death a homicide.

  • April 15, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Cameron Miculka and Francel Blas report for USA Today that the Guam Attorney General is directing the public health department to begin to issue same-sex marriage licenses immediately. 

    In Salon, Jason Williamson takes a look at how the police commonly and unfairly detain African Americans for trespassing. 

    An appeals court has affirmed a dismissal of U.S. Senator Ron Johnson's lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, reports Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

    Steven Mazie writes in The Economist's Democracy in America blog considers the challengers' arguments in the same-sex marriage cases set to appear before the Supreme Court.

    David A. Strauss, member of the ACS Board of Directors, considers in The Washington Post what the fight for "religious freedom" means for the broader fight for equality in the United States.  

    At Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, Leslie Griffin considers how the real problem is "the efforts of religious corproations, organizations and individuals to block progress on LGBT and women's equality."

    Lawrence Norden and Daniel I. Weiner consider at the blog for the Brennan Center for Justice the best way to turn the tide of dark money. 

  • April 7, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    At Share America, Geoffrey Stone takes a look at the history of civil liberties during wartime.

    Dahlia Lithwick of Slate explains how arguments against same-sex marriage are impossible to reconcile with arguments in support of religious freedom acts.

    At The New Republic, Sam Eifling discusses the unusual circumstances that prompted Wal-Mart to oppose Arkansas’s proposed attack on gay rights.

    In The New York Times, Mitch Smith writes that the Wisconsin Supreme Court election has raised concerns about partisanship in the judicial branch.

    William Greider considers at The Nation how the Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby has provided inspiration for countless new conservative campaigns.

    Coral Davenport reports for The New York Times on how Laurence Tribe has become an outspoken – and unlikely – opponent of President Obama’s ambitious new plans to fight global warming.

  • October 3, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Rob Boston, the Director of Communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State

    Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia captured headlines recently by declaring that nothing in the Constitution prevents the government from favoring religion over non-religion.

    “I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over non-religion,” Scalia told a crowd at Colorado Christian University Oct. 1.

    “We do Him [God] honor in our Pledge of Allegiance, in all our public ceremonies,” he added. “There’s nothing wrong with that. It is in the best of American traditions, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. I think we have to fight that tendency of the secularists to impose it on all of us through the Constitution.”

    It’s not the first time Scalia has made such comments. In 2009, he told an Orthodox Jewish newspaper published in Brooklyn, “It has not been our American constitutional tradition, nor our social or legal tradition, to exclude religion from the public sphere. Whatever the Establishment Clause means, it certainly does not mean that government cannot accommodate religion, and indeed favor religion. My court has a series of opinions that say that the Constitution requires neutrality on the part of the government, not just between denominations, not just between Protestants, Jews and Catholics, but neutrality between religion and non-religion. I do not believe that. That is not the American tradition.”

    The “American tradition” that Scalia refers to doesn’t have much of a history. “Under God” was slipped into the Pledge in 1954 as a slap at godless Communism. “In God We Trust” wasn’t codified for use on paper money until 1956 – again, it was a Cold War-era slam at the Soviets. (The use of the phrase on coins is older. It was a desperate ploy by the North to curry favor with the deity during the early months of the Civil War.)