April 14, 2017
A Supreme Court Justice issued a rare and stark warning recently about the state of religious liberty in America.
Speaking to a group of Catholic lawyers in March, Justice Samuel Alito said that “a wind is picking up that is hostile to those with traditional moral beliefs” based on faith.
It’s highly unusual for a Supreme Court Justice to speak out about an issue in a public speech. They typically reserve their thoughts for official Court opinions. But Justice Alito felt sufficiently alarmed to speak publically of the danger facing Americans who value religious liberty.
This is Justice Alito’s second warning about the escalation of war against religious freedom within two years. In June 2015, Alito warned in a dissenting opinion that people with traditional beliefs would be labeled negatively.
At that time, he predicted that judicial rulings “will be used to vilify Americans unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.” He said:
“I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”
“By imposing its own views on the entire country,” he said, “the majority facilitates the marginalization of the many Americans who have traditional ideas.”
Now, he claims, “we are seeing this come to pass.”
Are we? Recent legal decisions certainly seem to point in that direction. Wedding vendors making principled faith-based decisions regarding participating in ceremonies they believe are contrary to their faith have been on the wrong side of court decisions in their cases. Pressure has mounted against members of the military who either expressed, or were suspected to have, faith-based beliefs regarding certain issues of faith and marriage.
First Liberty Institute is the nation’s largest legal organization dedicated exclusively to defending religious liberty for all Americans. As its caseload has grown exponentially, those cases are spread over massive sectors of American society where violations of religious liberty have grown:
The stakes of many cases are rising as fast as the numbers. First Liberty’s cases that are currently in high federal court (some of which could end up all the way at the Supreme Court) include the following:
- Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial. This case is currently one step below the U.S. Supreme Court. The American Humanist Association is suing to have the memorial in Maryland removed because it is in the shape of a cross.
- Rowan County Commissioners. This is also one step below the U.S. Supreme Court. The ACLU is trying to eliminate a traditional invocation before a government meeting in Rowan County, North Carolina. A similar case is occurring in Jackson County, Michigan.
- Sweet Cakes by Melissa. This family bakery was penalized for declining to create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding. Can the government coerce you to violate your conscience and, in effect, deny a key tenet of your faith? That is what’s at stake.
- Joe Kennedy. This is currently in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. This case is about a high school football coach fired for saying a quick, silent prayer at the 50 yard line. If this is illegal, religious expression is in serious jeopardy.
- Monifa Sterling. Currently appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. This is the case of a U.S. Marine convicted at court martial, in part, for refusing to remove an inspirational scripture verse from her work area.
- Livingston Christian School. Currently before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, one step below the Supreme Court. This case is about a private Christian school being told by a township it cannot exist in a church—and, in fact, is not even allowed in the city since there are no other options.
These cases are just a sample of the nationwide push against religious freedom, and the push back by people of faith struggling to keep their freedom. And each of these cases has the potential to dramatically alter the future of religious liberty in America.
The good news? The future could turn brighter with victories in cases like these. With new appointees to the Supreme Court and federal courts, such victories are now a possibility.
HEARTS AND MINDS
Even as these battles are waged in courtrooms and lawmakers battle over religious freedom legislation, another fight must take place. In fact, it’s what Alito called the “most important fight.” And that fight is for the hearts and minds of Americans.
“It is up to all of us to evangelize our fellow Americans about the issue of religious freedom,” Alito said.
“If we win every court battle for religious freedom, but American people do not understand why religious freedom matters, then our victory is incomplete,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute.
He added that educating others “is the most important thing anyone can do for the cause of religious freedom.”
Why? Because people won’t stand up for their religious liberty rights unless they know what those rights are. And others won’t stand alongside victims of religious discrimination unless they understand why their religious liberty matters.
(News and Commentary is brought to you by First Liberty’s team of writers and legal experts.)
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