Posts tagged with: supreme court

child traffickingAt first blush, the issues of same-sex marriage and surrogacy don’t seem to have too great a connection. However, in Ireland, a public debate illustrates how closely these issues are related, and it isn’t good.

In May, same-sex marriage became legal in Ireland by public vote. In the days before the vote, major news sources noted that “fears” of surrogacy would sink the vote for same-sex marriage, even though surrogacy is not legal in Ireland. The question raised is: Do people have a right to procreate or, more importantly, have children? Christopher White explains:

The confusion can be traced back to a 1991 case, Murray v. Ireland, in which the high court effectively held that there is a constitutional right to procreate. While many on both sides of the referendum argued that this decision was referring to natural procreation, the decision has already been used to promote donor conception. It’s understandable, then, that many were fearful that a “yes” vote would open the floodgates to a practice that many Irish voters do not support. Mothers and Fathers Matter—the leading civic group opposing the same-sex marriage referendum—launched a campaign that papered the country with ads and posters of a young, concerned toddler with the following slogan: “Surrogacy?: She Needs Her Mother For Life, Not Just For Nine Months. Vote No.”


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.”

Notre_Dame_signEarlier today the Supreme Court threw out an appeals court decision that went against the University of Notre Dame over its religious objections to the Obamacare health law’s contraception requirement.

Last summer the high court ruled that Hobby Lobby Stores Ltd could, on religious grounds, seek exemptions from the contraception provision. Because this case, Notre Dame v. Burwell, was the only appeals court decision on the issue that pre-dated that ruling, the Supreme Court sent it back to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision ruling in light of the Hobby Lobby ruling.

Until now, Notre Dame was the only nonprofit religious ministry in the nation without protection from the HHS mandate. According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the federal government has relied heavily on the decision against Notre Dame in courts around the country, arguing that it should be able to impose similar burdens on religious ministries like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“This is a major blow to the federal government’s contraception mandate. For the past year, the Notre Dame decision has been the centerpiece of the government’s effort to force religious ministries to violate their beliefs or pay fines to the IRS,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel of the Becket Fund, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “As with the Supreme Court’s decisions in Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby, this is a strong signal that the Supreme Court will ultimately reject the government’s narrow view of religious liberty. The government fought hard to prevent this GVR, but the Supreme Court rejected their arguments.”



o-SUPREME-COURT-BUILDING-facebookOne of the core principles of the Acton Institute is the importance of the rule of law: “The government’s primary responsibility is to promote the common good, that is, to maintain the rule of law, and to preserve basic duties and rights.”

While most conservatives would agree with this sentiment, there has recently been a lot of confusion about what defending the rule of law requires and entails. The most troubling mistake is the confusion of the rule of law with judicial supremacy, the view that the Supreme Court gets to have the “final say” on the meaning of the Constitution and that the other branches of government may not contradict it.

As Carson Holloway says, conservatives should defend the Constitution and the rule of law, but they should not defend judicial supremacy. The Constitution—not the Supreme Court—is our country’s highest authority:


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).

community-muralWhat is a “community?” What are the boundaries of a community or organization? And – most important – why is community important?

Andy Crouch, writer, musician and Acton University plenary speaker, says we need to ask and answer these questions. He begins his discussion with the recent Supreme Court decision regarding Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods. While the decision was sound, Crouch says it speaks to something beyond the law:

It reminds us that fewer and fewer of our neighbors understand how religious organizations—and all communities smaller than the state—contribute to human flourishing and the common good.

One essential question in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was the extent to which a for-profit corporation can hold to a religious (in this case, Christian) identity. In her dissent, Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited approvingly the idea that for-profit groups “use labor to make a profit, rather than to perpetuate a religious-values-based mission.”

The words rather than are key. In Justice Ginsburg’s view, it seems, corporations cannot serve—or at least the law cannot recognize that they serve—any god other than Mammon. She articulated an equally small view of nonprofits when she wrote that “religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith.”


scarjoDespite my esteemed background in high school drama (I starred in several productions), I don’t critique acting, except over the water cooler. I don’t have a clue what it takes to make a movie, let alone make a movie well. I assume Scarlett Johansson does, as she’s made a number of them. But clearly, Ms. Johansson doesn’t do so well with logic.

Ms. Johansson has designed t-shirts for Planned Parenthood. The hot pink t’s feature a cartoon male on the front, along with “Hey Politicians! The 1950s called…”; the back reads, “They want their sexism back!” Ms. Johansson stated her reason for wanting to be part of this project:

When I heard that some politicians were cheering the Supreme Court’s decision to give bosses the right to interfere in our access to birth control, I thought I had woken up in another decade,” explained Johansson in a statement.

“Like many of my friends, I was appalled by the thought of men taking away women’s ability to make our own personal health care decisions,” she added.


contraceptive-mandateToday the Department of Health and Human Services issued yet another revision regarding its contraception mandate. Details on the new regulations should be announced within a month. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Justice Department lawyers said in a brief filed Tuesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit that the federal government would issue new regulations in the next month that will apply to all nonprofit institutions that say the faith with which they are affiliated is opposed to the use of most forms of contraception.

“The Wheaton College injunction does not reflect a final Supreme Court determination,” the brief said. “Nevertheless, the Departments responsible for implementing the accommodations have informed us that they have determined to augment the regulatory accommodation process in light of the Wheaton College injunction and that they plan to issue interim final rules within a month. We will inform the Court when the rules are issued.”

A senior administration official said the details of the rules are still being worked out. But it is likely that the Supreme Court’s order will shape the new compromise arrangement, and that nonprofit institutions will be able to write a letter stating their objections, rather than filing a form. That would leave the federal government to work out how those employers get access to contraception coverage.

In reply to this news, Lori Windham, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, says:


church and flagAt RealClearReligion, Rev. Robert Sirico remarks on concerns about liberty in the U.S., spurred on by the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding Hobby Lobby and the HHS mandate. Sirico wonders why we are spending so much time legally defending what has always been a “given” in American life: religion liberty. While the Hobby Lobby ruling is seen as a victory for religious liberty, Sirico is guarded about where we stand.

Many celebrated the Supreme Court’s June 30 ruling on Hobby Lobby. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: Plenty of other challenges are coming for churches, synagogues, mosques and, yes, businesses.

On July 21, President Obama issued an executive order that prohibits federal government contractors from “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” discrimination and forbids “gender identity” discrimination in the employment of federal employees. In a scathing response, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops decried the executive order as “unprecedented and extreme and should be opposed.” (more…)