Posts tagged with: U.S. Supreme Court

This past Friday, I blogged about the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s recent decision to allow a vaguely worded proxy resolution proceed to a vote. The resolution was submitted by, among others, members of the religious shareholder activist group the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

The ICCR resolution calls upon ExxonMobil Corporation to take action intended to mitigate climate change. ExxonMobil requested the SEC deny the ICCR resolution on the grounds it was based mainly on nonspecific greenhouse-gas reduction targets and unclear strategies to achieve them.

Since that post, I received an email from a subject matter expert that helps place the SEC’s decision in perspective. Legal Director Allen Dickerson from the Center for Competitive Politics, a free-speech nonprofit, commented:

The SEC’s decision was routine. It is extraordinarily easy, under U.S. securities laws, to put a proposal before a company’s shareholders, and politically active groups have done so with increasing frequency in recent years. But these policy proposals are seldom adopted. Shareholders generally want corporations to maximize the value of their investment, as management is legally obligated to do, and rebuff attempts to turn the annual meeting into an extension of the broader political arena.


What just happened?

Earlier today the U.S. Supreme Court split 4-4 on a legal challenge to a California law that forces non-union workers to pay fees to public-employee unions.

What was the case about?

California law requires every teacher working in most of its public schools to financially contribute to the local teachers’ union and that union’s state and national affiliates in order to subsidize expenses the union claims are related to collective bargaining. California law also requires public school teachers to subsidize expenditures unrelated to collective bargaining unless a teacher affirmatively objects and then renews his or her opposition in writing every year.

In the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, several plaintiffs, including Rebecca Friedrichs and the Christian Educators Association International, challenged the law claiming that this agency shop provision is a form of state-compelled speech. The Supreme Court was asked to decide:

1. Whether Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Ed., 431 U.S. 209 (1977), should be overruled and public-sector “agency shop” arrangements invalidated under the First Amendment.

2. Whether it violates the First Amendment to require that public employees affirmatively object to subsidizing nonchargeable speech by public-sector unions, rather than requiring that employees affirmatively consent to subsidizing such speech.

What is a “public-sector” union?

A public-sector union is a trade or labor union that represents the interests of employees within public sector or governmental organizations, such as teachers, firefighters, federal government employees, etc.

What is an “agency shop”?

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. Supreme Court decided today that it is unconstitutional for a state to declare that marriage is only between one man and one woman. There is nothing in the Constitution that requires states to redefine marriage, but the Court decided that the Due Process Clause prohibits defining marriage as it has been defined for millennia just as it found a right to an abortion in the same Due Process Clause over 40 years ago.

The role of the Court is to rule on the merits of a case based on prior case law and the Constitution. The Court is not to legislate or find ways to make something legal that they personally believe is better for society. When the Court removes an issue from the realm of democracy and imposes its will based on what it perceives as the best public policy, there is a natural resentment that occurs from the people and states opposed to the ruling, particularly when such a ruling has no real basis in constitutional law.

“Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law,” writes Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent. “Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.”


The Liberty Bell in PhiladelphiaRegarding the Hobby Lobby decision and the Supreme Court, I believe the National Review editors summed it up best: “That this increase in freedom makes some people so very upset tells us more about them than about the Court’s ruling.”

I address this rapid politicization and misunderstanding of religious liberty and natural rights in today’s Acton commentary. The vitriolic reaction to the ruling is obviously not a good sign for religious liberty and we’re almost certainly going to continue down the path of losing rights of conscience and free expression. Obviously, I hope I’m wrong. But I wanted to step back and take a more comprehensive look at where we are now.

One point I make in the piece is that our federal lawmakers no longer hold a consensus to protect religious liberty, as they did with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Back then, there was overwhelming unification and bipartisanship to protect and strengthen religious liberty, that is a thing of the past and it has been swallowed up by partisan politics. Our collective partisan politics is becoming bigger than our once common understanding of natural rights.

Another point I stress is that there is an obvious difference on the very meaning of religious liberty that cuts through our country. This is well known to those who pay attention to these issues. Many saw the Hobby Lobby ruling not as a ruling in favor of the rights of conscience and liberty, but only a temporary setback in divorcing religion from public human affairs.

The Supreme Court ruling is being politicized in a myriad of vicious ways and that by itself is a bad sign for religious liberty. It will be a tough task going forward to educate people on the necessity of a vibrant understanding of religious liberty and natural rights that promotes the common good.

Supreme_CourtSupreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority (5-4) opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The decision was decided in large part because it aligns with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that passed the U.S. Senate 97-3 and was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The law is intended to prevent burdens to a person’s free exercise of religion. At the time, it had wide ranging bipartisan support and was introduced in the House by current U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

That four justices voted against the decision speaks to the current ideological divide at the court and in the nation of a once non-controversial understanding of religious liberty.

Some significant lines from Alito’s majority decision are below:

As applied to closely held corporations, the HHS regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate RFRA.

Religious employers, such as churches, are exempt from this contraceptive mandate. HHS has also effectively exempted religious nonprofit organizations with religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services. Under this accommodation, the insurance issuer must exclude contraceptive coverage from the employer’s plan and provide plan participants with separate payments for contraceptive services without imposing any cost sharing requirements on the employer, its insurance plan, or its employee beneficiaries.

…the court held that HHS had not proved that the mandate was the “least restrictive means” of furthering a compelling governmental interest.

RFRA’s text shows that Congress designed the statute to provide very broad protection for religious liberty…

Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.

HHS has also provided no evidence that the purported problem of determining the sincerity of an asserted religious belief moved Congress to exclude for-profit corporations from RFRA’s protection.

Government could, e.g., assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives to women unable to obtain coverage due to their employers’ religious objections. Or it could extend the accommodation that HHS has already established for religious nonprofit organizations to non-profit employers with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate.

article-photo-Elaine“This ruling is more in the spirit of Nero Caesar than in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson,” said Russell D. Moore. “This is damaging not only to the conscience rights of Christians, but to all citizens.”

Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was responding to the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to rule on a case involving Elane Photography and its owners Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin. According to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Elaine received an email in 2006 asking her to photograph a “commitment ceremony” between Vanessa Willock and her same-sex partner. Willock asked if Elaine would be “open to helping us celebrate our day . . . .” Elaine politely declined to use her artistic talents to express a celebratory message at odds with her deep convictions. (Elaine had previously declined requests from others for things such as nude maternity photos.)

Willock, a licensed attorney who has served in various paid “diversity” positions, filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. After a one-day administrative trial in 2008, the commission ruled against the Huguenins and ordered them to pay $6,637.94 in attorneys’ fees. The case made its way through the state court system, with the New Mexico Supreme Court ultimately affirming the commission’s coercive decision. In an ominous concurring opinion, one justice wrote that the Huguenins “now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” adding “it is the price of citizenship.”

ADF attorneys representing the Huguenins are presenting only one claim to the U.S. Supreme Court—that the punishment of Elane Photography violates the constitutionally protected freedom “not to speak,” known as the compelled speech doctrine.