Posts tagged with: Separation of Church and State

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, July 1, 2015

hist-ff-first-amendment-7195911“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to make same-sex marriage a constitutional right under the Fourteenth Amendment,” says Zack Pruitt in today’s Acton Commentary, “will generate huge conflicts—in some cases unforeseen—with the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.” Fortunately, some legislators are already attempting to do something to prevent such conflicts.

Even before the recent Supreme Court ruling, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID) introduced legislation to clarify and strengthen religious liberty protections in federal law, by “safeguarding those individuals and institutions who promote traditional marriage from government retaliation.” The First Amendment Defense Act (S. 1598, H.R. 2802) would prevent any federal agency from denying a tax exemption, grant, contract, license, or certification to an individual, association, or business based on their belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. For example, the bill would prohibit the IRS from stripping a church of its tax exemption for refusing to officiate same-sex weddings.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has issued its 2015 annual report on religious liberty around the world. In their report, the USCIRF documents religious freedom abuses and violations in 33 countries and makes county-specific policy recommendations for U.S. policy. One country worthy of particular attentions is Afghanistan.

religiousfreedomreport2015For the past nine years USCIRF has designated Afghanistan as a country of particular concern, a country where the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government are serious and are characterized by at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” standard. As the report notes,

Afghanistan’s legal system remains deeply flawed, as the constitution explicitly fails to protect the individual right to freedom of religion or belief, and it and other laws have been applied in ways that violate international human rights standards.

Notice that the country has been on the list since two years after the adoption of their new constitution—a constitution that the U.S. helped to create.

In 2004, after U.S. military and allied forces overthrew the Taliban, American diplomats helped draft a new Afghani constitution. Many people around the world were hoping the result would be similar to the constitution of Turkey—or at least be distinguishable from the constitution of Iran. Instead, what was created—with the help of the U.S. government—was an Islamic Republic, a state in which “no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam.”

While the White House issued a statement calling it an “important milestone in Afghanistan’s political development,” the USCIRF had the courage to admit what we were creating: Taliban-lite.

scaliaOver the past hundred years few judges have been able to match the wit, wisdom, and intellectual rigor of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. During his thirty year career he has been an indefatigable champion of originalism (a principle of interpretation that views the Constitution’s meaning as fixed as of the time of enactment) and a vociferous critic of the slippery “living constitution” school of jurisprudence. When future historians assess his career Scalia will be viewed as one of the most thoughtful, principled, and important jurists of his era.

But even a legal genius can produce a disastrous opinion, and Scalia delivered his worst twenty-five years ago this week in Employment Division v. Smith. As Michael Stokes Paulsen explains, this ruling has “proven to be one of the most devastatingly long-term harmful Supreme Court constitutional decisions of the past half century.”

indiana-religiousfreedomOver the past few weeks the American media has revealed two important truths: (1) Religious freedom has become a surprisingly divisive and controversial topic, and (2) very few people understand what is meant by the term “religious freedom.”

Is religious freedom merely the liberty to attend worship services? Is the freedom limited to internal beliefs or does it also apply to actions taken in the public square? Should religious freedom ever trump other societal goods?

Joseph Backholm of the Family Policy Institute of Washington examines those questions and explains what religious freedom entails:

RFRA1Last week, Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed his state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Social media went a bit, well, bonkers. Hillary Clinton tweeted, “Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn’t discriminate against ppl bc of who they love #LGBT.” The CEO of SalesForce, headquartered in Indiana, says they will pull out. Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, has called religious freedom laws “dangerous” and likens them to Jim Crow laws.

What’s all of this about?

First, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was signed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1993. This act re-instated what is known as the Sherbert Act, in which the Supreme Court:

…set out a three-prong test for courts to use in determining whether the government has violated an individual’s constitutionally-protected right to the free exercise of religion. (more…)

blaine-standing-leftEleven years ago this week, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling in Locke v. Davey that continues to have a detrimental impact on religious liberty. But the seeds for that ruling were planted 140 years ago, in another attempt to curb religious liberty.

When James Blaine introduced his ill-fated constitutional amendment in 1875, he probably never would have imagined the unintended consequences it would have over a hundred years later. Blaine wanted to prohibit the use of state funds at “sectarian” schools (a code word for Catholic parochial schools) in order to inhibit immigration. Since the public schools instilled a Protestant Christian view upon its students, public education was viewed as a way to stem the tide of Catholic influence.

While the amendment passed by a large majority (180-7) in the House, it failed by a tiny margin (4 votes) in the Senate. Supporters of the amendment, however, pressed the issue at the state level, often making it a prerequisite for statehood. The measure finally found its way into 37 state constitutions, including Washington State.

Fast-forward to 1999, where a Washington high school student Joshua Davey applies for the state sponsored “Promise Scholarships.” According to a press report in 2004:

IVCF_bannerEarlier today a federal appeals court handed down an important ruling that protects the liberties of religious organizations.

In the case of Alyce Conlon v. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected a plaintiff’s attempt to enforce state and federal gender discrimination laws on one of the nation’s largest Christian campus ministries.

According to the court opinion, Alyce Conlon worked at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA (IVCF) in Michigan as a spiritual director, involved in providing religious counsel and prayer. She informed IVCF that she was contemplating divorce, at which point IVCF put her on paid—and later unpaid—leave. Part of IVCF’s employment policy is that “[w]here there are significant marital issues, [IVCF] encourages employees to seek appropriate help to move towards reconciliation” and IVCF reserves the right “to consider the impact of any separation/divorce on colleagues, students, faculty, and donors.”

When Conlon’s marital situation continued to worsen despite counseling efforts, IVCF terminated her employment. Conlon sued IVCF and her supervisors in federal district court under Title VII and Michigan law. IVCF claimed the First Amendment’s ministerial exception to employment laws.

The Sixth Circuit rejected Conlon’s claims based on conclusions in the Supreme Courts’ ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School (2012).