The War on Religious Liberty

IV. How are Progressives Attacking Religious Liberty?

Leiter’s views justify the war on religious liberty for Progressives. Progressives have adopted a variety of strategies to destroy religious  liberty,  particularly  the  religious  liberty  of  Christians. Seven  of  these  strategies  have  been  reviewed  by  the  U.S. Supreme Court, and each is explained below. These strategies include:  (1)  driving  Christian  influences  out  of  education, (2)  driving  Christian  influences  out  of  the  public  square,  (3) government   discrimination   against   religious   speech   and activities,    (4)    destroying    Christian    businesses,    religious institutions,  and  educational  institutions  through  arbitrary regulations  and  excessive  fines,  (5)  destroying  freedom  of speech  for  Christians,  (6)  using  federal  discrimination  laws to  usurp  the  authority  of  Christian  churches  and  schools  to select their own leaders, and (7) destroying the livelihoods of Christians who refuse to abandon their faith.

The  first  Progressive  strategy  for  attacking  religious  liberty focused on driving Christian influences out of education. Schools and universities are particularly influential in our culture because they provide access to the greatest number of impressionable minds. William  F.  Buckley, Jr.’s  first  book, God and Man at Yale (1951),  described  the  hostility  of  Yale  University  professors  to religious  faith.  Buckley  criticized  his  Yale  professors  for  their efforts to destroy their students’ religious beliefs.(59)

Early  attacks  on  religious  liberty  in  public  schools  enjoyed significant  success.  School  prayer  was attacked  in  Engel  v. Vitale   (1962).(60)    Engel   outlawed   compulsory   school   prayer in   public   schools.   Engel  involved   compulsory   recitation   of the   following   prayer:

 “Almighty   God,   we   acknowledge   our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents,  our teachers,  and  our country.”(61)

Justice  Hugo  Black, in a 6-1 decision, held that the compulsory prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, made applicable to  the  states  through  the  Fourteenth Amendment.  The  prayer was  a  religious  activity  composed  by  government  officials  as part of a governmental program to further religious beliefs.

The Engel opinion did not turn on the compulsory nature of the prayer. Justice   Black   wrote   that   school prayer  violated  the  Establishment Clause,  even  if  student  observance was voluntary. Black justified his holding by observing that governmentally established religion is historically associated with religious persecution.(62)

School District of Abington Township v. Schempp (1963) and its consolidated case, Murray v. Curlett (1963),(63) outlawed recitation of the Lord’s Prayer n Pennsylvania and Baltimore public schools. Bible verses were read, without comment, followed by recitation of  the  Lord’s  Prayer.  Students  were  excused  upon  parental request.  Justice  Thomas  C.  Clark,  in  an  8-1  decision,  held  this practice   violated   the   Establishment   Clause.   Justice   Clark’s opinion cited expert testimony that New Testament verses were “psychologically  harmful”  to  Jewish  children  and  “caused  a divisive force within the social media of the school.”

Schempp established the following test. If either the purpose or   the   primary  effect   of   the   government   action   advances religion, then the action is unconstitutional. The purpose of any government  action  must  be  secular. The  primary effect of  any government action must neither advance nor inhibit religion.

Wallace  v.  Jaffree  (1985)(64)  outlawed  moments  of  silence  in public  schools.  Wallace  involved  an  Alabama  law  authorizing one minute of silence “for meditation or voluntary prayer.” Justice John Paul Stevens, in a 6-3 decision, found the statute violative of the Establishment Clause. The purpose of the statute was to endorse religion. The statute was not motivated by any clearly secular purpose.

Notwithstanding these school prayer cases, however, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969)(65)  that students and teachers do not “shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.” A student’s free speech rights apply “when in the cafeteria, or on the playing field, or on the campus during authorized hours…”(66) The student’s right to free speech includes the student’s right to engage in voluntary prayer. As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000),(67)  “Nothing in the Constitution as interpreted by this Court prohibits any public school  student  from  voluntarily  praying  at  any  time  before, during, or after the school day.” School officials have no authority to approve, edit, or censor student speech because it contains a religious component.(68)

Stone   v.    Graham    (1980)(69) outlawed    posting    the    Ten Commandments in public schools. Stone involved a Kentucky law requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in classrooms. The  posted  copies were  purchased with  private  contributions, and the Kentucky statute recited a secular purpose: “The secular application  of  the  Ten  Commandments  is  clearly  seen  in  its adoption as the fundamental legal code of Western Civilization and the Common Law of the United States.”

The   Supreme   Court,   in   a   per  curiam  opinion  with   three dissents,  held  the  statute  violated  the  Establishment  Clause. Since  the Ten  Commandments  did  not  confine  themselves  to secular   matters,   the   law   had   no secular legislative purpose. Posting the Ten Commandments served no constitutional  educational  function. “If  the  posted  copies  of  the  Ten Commandments  are  to  have  any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren   to   read,   meditate upon,   perhaps   to   venerate   and obey, the Commandments.”(70)

Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971)(71) outlawed state aid to parochial schools. Pennsylvania reimbursed parochial schools for teacher salaries and materials incurred in teaching secular subjects. Rhode Island supplemented the salaries of such teachers.

The  Pennsylvania  statute  prohibited payment   for   any   course   containing   “any   subject   matter expressing religious teaching, or the morals or forms of worship of any sect.” Nevertheless, Chief Justice Warren Burger, in a 7-1 decision, held that such aid violated the Establishment Clause.

Justice   Burger  wrote   that   the   Establishment   Clause  was designed  to  avoid  the  “three  evils”  of  “sponsorship,  financial support,  and  active  involvement  of  the  sovereign  in  religious activity.”  These  goals  required  three  tests.  First,  the  statute must have a secular legislative purpose. Second, its principal or  primary  effect  must  be  one  that  neither  advances  nor inhibits   religion.   Third,   the   statute   must   not   foster   “an excessive government entanglement with religion.”

Lemon held that the Rhode Island and Pennsylvania statutes failed  the  third  prong  of  fostering  “an  excessive  government entanglement  with  religion.”  Although  the  state  could  easily ascertain the content of secular textbooks, teachers could easily and  impermissibly  foster  religion.  Furthermore,  state  aid  to parochial schools could lead such political divisiveness as would “pose a threat to the normal political process.”

A second Progressive strategy for attacking religious liberty is  driving  Christian  influences  out  of  the  public  square.  This strategy, described in Richard John Neuhaus’ The Naked Public Square,72  seeks to exclude all religious speech from the public arena and foster public hostility to religious belief. This strategy includes prohibiting public prayer and forcibly removing religious symbols on public property.

Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway (2014)(73)  involved public prayer. The town of Greece opened its monthly board meetings with a prayer by local clergy selected from congregations listed in the local directory. The prayer program was open to all creeds, but since the majority of local congregations were Christian, a majority of the prayer givers was Christian. Plaintiffs claimed the prayer program violated the Establishment Clause by preferring Christians  to  other  prayer  givers.  Plaintiffs  sought  an  order limiting the town to “inclusive and ecumenical” prayers referring only to a “generic God.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy upheld  the  town’s  prayers  in  a  5-4 decision, writing that the Establishment Clause must be interpreted “by  reference  to  historical  practices  and  understandings.”  The governing  issue  is  whether  the  prayers  fit  within  the  tradition followed  by Congress  and  state  legislatures. This  tradition was approved in Marsh v. Chambers (1983),(74) which upheld Nebraska’s employment of a legislative chaplain. The Court found that the Town of Greece’s prayers fit within this tradition. The prayers to a “generic God” demanded by the plaintiffs, however, did not.

Van  Orden  v.  Perry  (2005)(75) involved   a   suit   to   remove   a monument containing the Ten Commandments from the Texas capitol grounds. Van Orden, a suspended attorney, sued to force the monument’s removal under the Establishment Clause. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in a 5-4 decision, ruled the monument did not violate the Establishment Clause.

Rehnquist began by holding that Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971),(76) which   prohibits   “excessive   government   entanglement   with religion,”  is  inapplicable  to  a  passive  monument.  Instead,  the analysis  should  be  driven  by  the  monument’s  nature  and  the nation’s history. The Ten Commandments are clearly religious, but they also have an undeniable historical meaning. Rehnquist noted numerous depictions of Moses and the Ten Commandments on federal buildings and monuments in Washington, D.C. The Texas monument  did  not  violate  the  Establishment  Clause  simply because it contained religious content or promoted a message consistent with religious doctrine.

On the other hand, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered two counties in Kentucky to remove copies of the Ten Commandments from their courthouses in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union   of   Kentucky   (2005).(77)    McCreary   County   reached   the opposite result from Van Orden v. Perry (2005), even though the

U.S. Supreme Court issued both decisions on the same day. McCreary County involved a display of the Ten Commandments surrounded  by  eight  equally  sized  items,  including  the  Bill of  Rights  and  a  picture  of  Lady Justice. The  eight  items were displayed  under  the  heading,  “Foundations  of  American  Law and Government.” Contrary to its holding in Van Orden v. Perry (2005),  the  U.S.  Supreme  Court  found  that  displaying  the  Ten Commandments violated the Establishment Clause. The Court reasoned that earlier displays of the Ten Commandments in the courthouses had a religious purpose, even though the current display, on its face, appeared not to have a religious purpose.(78)

Another Progressive attack on religious symbols was litigated in  American  Legion  v.  American  Humanist  Association  (2019).(79) American  Legion  involved  the  Bladensburg  Cross,  a  32  foot high cross erected by the residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland, in 1918. The cross bears a plaque naming 49 soldiers from Prince George’s County who died during World War I. The Bladensburg Cross has served as a site for numerous patriotic events   honoring   veterans,   and   monuments   honoring   the veterans of other conflicts have been added to a nearby park. The  Maryland-National Capital Park  and  Planning  Commission acquired  the  Bladensburg  Cross  and  land  in  1961  and  uses public funds for its maintenance.

In 2014, the American Humanist Association filed suit alleging that the presence of the Bladensburg Cross on public land, and the  Commission’s  maintenance  of  the  memorial  with  public funds, violated the Establishment Clause. The American Legion intervened to defend the Cross. The Supreme Court held that the Bladensburg Cross did not violate the Establishment Clause. “Even if the monument’s original purpose was infused with religion, the passage of time may obscure that sentiment.” The monument may be retained for the sake of its historical significance or its place in a common cultural heritage. “The passage of time gives rise to a strong presumption of constitutionality.”

Furthermore,  “as  World  War  I  monuments  endured  through years  and  became  a  familiar  part  of  the  physical  and  cultural landscape,  requiring  their  removal  or  alteration  at  this  date would be seen by many not as a neutral act.” Instead, it would be seen as the manifestation of “a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions.”(80)

A  third  Progressive  strategy  for  attacking  religious  liberty is  government  discrimination  against  religious  speech  and activities.   The   Freedom   of   Speech Clause    of    the    First    Amendment81 prohibits  government  from  engaging in   “viewpoint   discrimination”   against religious  activities.  Government  must afford   religious   activities   the   same opportunities it affords secular activities. Two cases establish this principle.

The first case, Lambs Chapel v. Center Moriches  Union Free School  District (1993),(82)  involved a New York school board. State law permitted after-hours use of school property. The board permitted use of school property for social, civic, and recreational purposes, but prohibited its use for religious purposes. A Christian church made two requests to use school facilities for a film series by Dr. James Dobson  on  child  rearing.  The  board  denied  both  requests  as “church-related.” Lambs Chapel considered whether the school board could discriminate against religious speech.

Justice   Byron   White,   in   a   9-0   decision,   answered   that government  could  not  discriminate  against  religious  speech. The  facilities  were  not  denied  because  of  the  subject,  child rearing, but because of the religious viewpoint. Such “viewpoint discrimination”  cannot  withstand  strict  scrutiny  under  the  First Amendment.

The  second  case,  Good News Club v. Milford Central School (2001),(83) involved the same New York law. Milford Central School enacted  a  policy  permitting  the  use  of  its  building  by  district residents for instruction in education, learning, and the arts. It also permitted  use  for social,  civic,  recreational,  and  entertainment purposes.

The Good News Club, a Christian children’s club, was denied use  of  the  building  because  school  policy  prohibited  religious worship.  Club  activities  included  songs,  Bible  lessons,  scripture memorization,  and  prayer.  Justice  Clarence  Thomas,  in  a  6-3 decision, found the school’s denial violated the First Amendment’s Freedom  of  Speech  Clause.  Furthermore,  the  Establishment Clause did not require the school to exclude the club.

Justice  Thomas  wrote  that  Milford  Central  School  operated a limited public forum. The state may restrict speech in such a forum, but its power to restrict speech is subject to two limits. First, the restriction must be reasonable in light of the forum’s purpose. Second, under Lambs Chapel, the restriction must not involve “viewpoint discrimination.” Speech cannot be excluded because of its religious nature.

The   school’s   act   demonstrated   an   impermissible   state “hostility”  to  religion.  This  case  was  not  akin  to  cases  where students felt compelled to act within the classroom setting, such as Engelv. Vitale (1962).(84) The club’s instructors were not teachers, the  meetings  were  after-hours,  and  parental  permission  was required  for  attendance.  Justice  Thomas  lastly  condemned “heckler’s veto” jurisprudence in religious expression cases. “We decline to employ Establishment Clause jurisprudence using a modified heckler’s veto, in which a group’s religious activity can be proscribed on the basis of what the youngest members of the audience might misperceive.”

A    fourth    Progressive    strategy    for    attacking    religious liberty  is  forcing  Christian  businesses,  religious  institutions, and  educational  institutions  to  abandon  their  faith-based practices   through   arbitrary   government   regulations   and excessive fines. The Obama administration targeted opponents of  abortion   using   regulations   issued under  Obamacare.  These  regulations required Christian businesses, religious institutions, and educational institutions to provide life-terminating abortifacient drugs   and   abortion-causing   IUDs   to their employees.

The “Affordable Care Act,” popularly known   as   Obamacare,   became   law in   March,   2010.(85)    On  June   28,   2013, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) issued an  Obamacare  mandate  that  required  employers  actively  to participate in the government’s scheme to distribute abortion- causing drugs and abortion-causing IUDs.(86)  This HHS mandate was a bureaucratic regulation, issued by the Administrator of the HHS, without any review by Congress or any other elected official. The  HHS  issued  this  mandate  despite  repeated  objections  by religious organizations.

Hobby  Lobby,  the  Little  Sisters  of  the  Poor,  and  Houston Baptist University refused, on religious grounds, to comply with the  HHS  mandate.  Life-terminating  abortifacient  drugs  and abortion-causing  IUDs  violated  their  religious  beliefs.  Hobby Lobby, a Christian business, faced ruinous fines of $475 million per year for refusing to comply with the HHS mandate on religious grounds.(87) The  Little  Sisters  of  the  Poor,  a  Catholic  order  of nuns  that  runs  homes  for the  elderly poor across  the  country, faced ruinous fines of $70 million per year for refusing to comply with  the  HHS  mandate.  Houston  Baptist  University,  a  Christian educational institution, faced ruinous fines of $13 million per year for refusing to comply with the HHS mandate. Hobby Lobby, the Little  Sisters  of the  Poor,  and  Houston  Baptist  University were forced to litigate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to protect their religious liberty. Hobby Lobby prevailed in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2014).(88)  Little Sisters of the Poor and Houston Baptist University prevailed in Zubik v. Burwell (2016).(89)  All three defendants relied on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).(90)  To destroy RFRA’s protection of religious liberty, Progressives in Congress are now seeking passage of the so- called “Equality Act.”(91)

On October 6, 2017, Health & Human Services issued a new rule(92)   with  an  exemption  that  protects  religious  ministries,  in compliance with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Zubik v. Burwell (2016)(93)  and a Presidential Executive Order.(94)  In its new rule, the federal government admits that it broke the law by trying to force the Little Sisters of the Poor and others to provide services in their health plans that violated their religious beliefs. On November 7, 2018, the government finalized that rule,(95) continuing to protect the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious ministries.

Shortly  after  the   new  rule  was   issued,   however,   several states sued the federal government to take away the religious exemption.  These  states  admit  they  have  many  programs  to provide contraceptives to women who want them.

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