Christ religion

Supreme Court religious rulings should affect members of all faiths

Joseph D. Steinfield lives in Keene and Jaffrey. He can be contacted at joe@joesteinfield.com.

In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, the governors of several states, including Nevada, California and New Hampshire, issued regulations limiting the number of people who can gather in an indoor space. When religious groups challenged the Nevada and California mandates, a Supreme Court “shadow case” majority deferred to the executive branch first. He did so on the basis that courts are not health experts and that such limitations should be maintained in times of national emergency.

But not without strong objection from Justices Alito and Gorsuch, and other members of the Court. At the end of 2020, after the death of Judge Ginsburg and the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, the new majority overturned what had been decided a few months earlier.

This is just one example of the court’s conservative majority siding with religious interests. In the past quarter, the Court has done so three times, with one case ruling that when the City of Boston made one of its flagpoles available as a public forum, it could not refuse to allow a Christian flag being hoisted (a 9-0 decision); another arguing that while Maine provides tuition assistance to parents living in sparsely populated districts, it cannot limit this benefit to non-denominational schools but must also extend it to parents who enroll their children in religious schools (6-3); and the third with a public high school football coach who insisted he had a constitutional right to pray at the 50-yard line right after the game (also 6-3).

This year’s roll includes 303 Creative LLC v Elenis, which will decide whether a wedding web designer can refuse services to same-sex couples because his religion opposes same-sex marriage. The case is being framed as a free speech case — whether applying the state’s anti-discrimination law on public housing “to compel an artist to speak or remain silent” violates the First Amendment.

But this is, in truth, the latest example of the weaponization of free speech in the name of religion. Given the composition of the Supreme Court and the decisions of the past year, it is not difficult to predict the outcome.

Meanwhile, Yeshiva University is in the middle of a dispute with an LGBT student organization. The Yeshiva, which describes itself as ‘the world’s first Torah-based institution of higher learning’, has refused to recognize a group called the ‘YU Pride Alliance’ on the grounds that its gay rights activities are unprincipled. Jewish clerics.

The club sued under New York’s human rights law, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The lower court ruled for the students on the somewhat technical basis that the Yeshiva’s incorporation documents describe it as an educational institution and not a religious one.

The case went to the Supreme Court’s “shadow case” and by a 5-4 vote the students won, at least for now. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh joined the three liberal justices, while Justice Alito, joined by Thomas, Gorsuch and Barrett, dissented.

Alito’s dissent in the Yeshiva case accuses the majority of inflicting “serious harm to the university’s right to religious freedom.” This is the same Judge Alito who a few years ago wrote the Hobby Lobby decision allowing a private company (a “person”, according to the opinion) to withdraw contraceptive coverage, required by the Affordable Health Act , to the health of employees. plans. The reasoning was that the owners of the company oppose certain types of contraception for religious reasons.

Rather than follow the court’s decision in favor of YU Pride Allowance and pursue the litigation in New York courts, Yeshiva University announced that it was suspending all undergraduate club activities.

The student group responded by saying they would respect the university’s wishes while the case progressed through the lower courts, allowing other groups to operate rather than becoming collateral damage to the dispute. I doubt this case will ever come back to the Supreme Court, but if it does, the university will probably win.

The law exempts churches and other religious institutions from certain anti-discrimination laws, but the Court crossed the line in the Hobby Lobby case, which proved to be a harbinger of what was to come. This Supreme Court shows little interest in balancing competing interests. Instead, claims based on religious beliefs prevailed on a case-by-case basis. If that means reversing or “abandoning” earlier decisions or turning the wall between church and state into a palisade, so be it.

The likely outcomes in the 303 Creative and Yeshiva University cases may seem like minor intrusions, but I don’t think so. The door, once opened, may be difficult to close. The irony is that as the United States becomes a more diverse country, the Court’s constitutional interpretations may encourage our society to be less tolerant.