Double SCOTUS Win Elates Conservatives 07/11 10:42
Conservative-leaning faith leaders and their allies, outspoken in recent
years about what they consider infringements on religious liberties, cheered
Wednesday as the Supreme Court issued a pair of rulings that protected certain
rights of religious employers.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Conservative-leaning faith leaders and their allies,
outspoken in recent years about what they consider infringements on religious
liberties, cheered Wednesday as the Supreme Court issued a pair of rulings that
protected certain rights of religious employers.
In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the high court sided
with two Catholic schools in finding that certain employees of religious
schools, hospitals and social service centers can't sue for employment
discrimination. Critics fear the 7-2 ruling will embolden some religious
organizations to fire or otherwise discriminate against LGBTQ employees.
And in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, also
decided 7-2, the court upheld the Trump administration's allowance for a broad
religious or moral exemption from the Obama-era Affordable Care Act's
requirement that employers provide free contraception. Opponents say the
decision could leave more than 70,000 women without it.
Vice President Mike Pence reflected the victorious mood on the religious
right with a politically tinged tweet underscoring the centrality of President
Donald Trump's courtship of conservative, faith-focused voters ahead of
"Two Big WINS for Religious Freedom at SCOTUS today. All Americans of faith
can be assured that under President @realDonaldTrump, the Obama-Biden assault
on religious liberty is over!"
Others hailing the rulings included the Southern Baptist Convention's public
policy arm, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the
conservative Family Research Council.
By contrast, Roman Catholics who have urged their church to be more
accepting of LGBTQ people were dismayed by the workplace ruling, warning that
it could backfire if more faith-based employers were seen as discriminating in
their hiring and firing.
"'Religious exemption for discrimination'" makes as much sense as 'ethical
exemption for murder,'" tweeted Daniel Horan, a Franciscan friar who teaches at
the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. "History will not look kindly on
Christianity's recourse to state power to justify the dehumanization of others."
The decisions were also decried by a number of secular groups, with women's-
and abortion-rights organizations in particular assailing the contraception
"This is part of a larger effort to use religious freedom as a cover for
discrimination & restrictions on reproductive healthcare," tweeted the
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights.
The religious workplace ruling comes less than a month after the Supreme
Court extended protections against employment discrimination to LGBTQ workers,
a 6-3 decision that left the door open to future religious exemptions. Some
legal experts underscored that Wednesday's decision gave broader --- but still
limited --- leeway for faith-based organizations to make employment decisions
without regard for discrimination claims.
Wednesday's ruling clarified the type of employees a house of worship or
related institution "basically has very broad power to hire and fire, in a way
that makes clear the zone is fairly broad when it comes to teachers," said
Eugene Volokh, a UCLA School of Law professor.
That clarity "is not of unlimited breadth, but it is broader, and it does
cover pretty much everybody who teaches religion" at a religious school, Volokh
said, adding that the decision "definitely is a win for autonomy for religious
Eric Rassbach, a senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty who
argued for the schools in the case, said that it should be viewed together with
last month's ruling.
The overall result "means the government is significantly limited and courts
are significantly limited in how much they can intrude on the internal affairs
of religious organizations," Rassbach said.
He noted, however, that the question of whether the likes of gym teachers
and other employees not involved in religious instruction would be covered by
the ruling remains unresolved.
It's unclear how widespread the effect of the decisions will prove to be.
Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBTQ
Catholics, urged church institutions not to view the ruling as empowering
"There is a difference between a legal right and doing what is morally
right," he said, warning Catholic leaders against decisions that could lead to
the loss of "some of their best employees" and "what little respect lay
Catholics still hold for the church's leaders."
Kristen Waggoner, general counsel at the conservative-leaning Alliance
Defending Freedom, welcomed them both but does not predict a big increase in
employers seeking a religious or moral exemption from the contraception mandate.
"Those who want to force those with moral and religious objections to
violate those convictions always suggest there's a slippery slope, or it's
going to open all kinds of harms, and that just hasn't proven itself to be
true," she said.
Charlie Camosy, a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham
University, also welcomed both rulings, saying via email that they showed a
respect for religious convictions at a time when American culture is
"Religious freedom is really about carving out a space for all --- whether
religious or secular --- to live according to their foundational beliefs and
values," he wrote.
The decisions' political power was clear from the praise they drew from
"I welcome the Supreme Court's rulings to protect religious individuals, so
they can live out their faith without being forced to violate their
conscience," Arkansas GOP Sen. Tom Cotton said in a statement.