The War on Religious Liberty

IV. Continued – How are Progressives Attacking Religious Liberty?

Nevertheless, they are arguing that non-profits, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, must still be forced to comply with the original HHS mandate or pay tens of millions of dollars in government fines. Seventeen states are now bringing lawsuits against the Little Sisters.(96)

A fifth Progressive strategy for attacking religious liberty is denying freedom of speech to Christians. In McCullen v. Coakley (2014),(97)   Massachusetts made it a crime to knowingly stand on a  “public  way  or  sidewalk”  within  35 feet of an entrance or driveway to an abortion  clinic.(98)   Abortion  opponents who engage in “sidewalk counseling” sought an injunction, claiming that the Massachusetts  law  displaced  them from   their   previous   positions   and hampered  their  counseling  experts. The  opponents  sued  Massachusetts officials,   claiming   the   law   violated their  right  to  free  speech  under  the First Amendment.

The   U.S.   Supreme   Court   agreed with the sidewalk abortion counselors. The Massachusetts statute restricted access to public ways and sidewalks that  are  traditionally  public  forums.

The government’s ability to regulate speech in such locations is   very   limited.   The   government   may   impose   reasonable restrictions on the time, place, or manner of protected speech, but only if the government meets three requirements. First, the restrictions must be justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech. Second, the restrictions must be narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest. Third, the government regulations must leave open alternative channels for communication of the information.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Massachusetts statute was  not  sufficiently  narrowly  tailored.  The  statute  deprived the   sidewalk   counselors   of   their   two   primary   methods   of communicating  with   patients,   close   personal  conversations and  distribution  of  literature.  Although  Massachusetts  has  a legitimate interest in maintaining public safety and preserving access to abortion clinics, the Massachusetts statute imposed a substantially greater burden on free speech than was necessary to    further    these    legitimate    government    interests.    Since Massachusetts failed to show that it seriously undertook to use less  burdensome  means,  the  Massachusetts  statute  violated the abortion counselors’ First Amendment freedom of speech.

A  sixth  Progressive  strategy  for  attacking  religious  liberty is  using  federal discrimination  laws  to  usurp  the  authority of Christian  churches  and  religious  schools  to  select  their  own leaders. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal  Employment   Opportunity   Commission   (2012)(99)     holds that Americans  are  free  to  choose  their ministers  and  religious teachers without regard to federal discrimination law Hosanna-Tabor   Evangelical   Lutheran   Church   and   School classified  its  teachers  into  two  categories,  “lay”  teachers  and “called”  teachers.  “Called”  teachers  are  called  to  their vocation by   God,   commissioned   as   ministers,   and   performed   duties combining teaching and ministering. “Lay” teachers, on the other hand, are not even required to be Lutheran.

Hosanna-Tabor involved a “called” teacher who took a leave of absence for narcolepsy. She requested reinstatement before the school considered her ready. The teacher threatened to sue when her request for reinstatement was denied. This threat violated the religious beliefs taught by the church and school, which prohibit Christians  from  taking  other  Christians  to  court  to  resolve  their disputes.(100) The church congregation voted to rescind her call and Hosanna-Tabor terminated her employment.

The teacher sued for reinstatement under the Americans with Disabilities Act    (ADA).(101) The ADA prohibits discrimination by employers based on disability.  It  also  prohibits  retaliation against  individuals  for opposing  acts prohibited by the ADA. Hosanna- Tabor claimed a First  Amendment “ministerial exception” to government regulation of its ministers.

Hosanna-Tabor  raised  two  issues. First,  do  federal  discrimination  laws govern  the  selection  of  leaders  by religious organizations? Second,  can  the  federal  government  compel the  school  to  reinstate  the  teacher as  a  “called”  teacher?  Chief  Justice Roberts,   writing   for   a   unanimous court, answered “no” to both questions.

The U.S. Supreme Court explained that the First Amendment provides   that   “Congress   shall   make   no   law   respecting   an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Familiar with  life  under the  established  Church  of  England,  the founding  generation  sought  to  foreclose  the  possibility  of  a national church. By forbidding the “establishment of religion” and guaranteeing  the  “free  exercise  thereof,”  the  Religion  Clauses insured  that  the  federal  government,  unlike  the  English  crown, would have no role in filling ecclesiastical offices.

The U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the Free Exercise and Establishment  Clauses  bar  employment  discrimination  suits  by ministers and religious teachers against their churches. Churches are free to shape their faith and mission under the Free Exercise Clause  by  selecting  their  own  ministers  and  religious  teachers. The Establishment Clause prohibits any government involvement in their selection.

Progressives  in  Congress  are  now attempting  to  bolster their attacks on religious liberty through federal discrimination laws with the so-called “Equality Act.”(102)This bill, which passed the House of Representatives on May 17, 2019, prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The bill prohibits an  individual  from  being  denied  access  to  a  shared  facility, including a restroom, a locker room, and a dressing room, that is in accordance with the individual’s gender identity. This bill claims to promote equality but its true purpose is the denial of religious liberty. Section 1107 of the bill specifically prohibits the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 from providing a claim, defense, or basis for challenging any discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.(103)

A   seventh   Progressive   strategy   for   attacking   religious liberty  is  to  force  Christians  to  abandon  their  faith  or  lose their  livelihood.  Jack  Phillips  is  the  owner  of  Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado.(104) When two men walked into his cakeshop and requested a custom cake to celebrate their same-sex  wedding,  Phillips  politely  declined.  Phillips  told  the men he would be happy to sell them anything else in his shop. He  could  not,  however,  use  his  artistic  talents  to  celebrate  a message that was inconsistent with his Christian faith.

The couple filed a charge against Phillips under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in a “place of business engaged in any sales to the public.”105  The Colorado Civil Rights Commission prosecuted Phillips  even  though  the  Commission  allowed  other  Colorado cake artists to decline requests for custom cakes that expressed messages   to   which   the   artists   objected.   Members   of   the Commission made hostile statements against Phillips’ religious beliefs. One member called Phillips’ religious liberty defense “a despicable piece of rhetoric.” He even compared Phillips to the Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust.

An administrative law judge found for the same-sex couple. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s hostility toward Phillips’ religious  faith  was  so  extreme  that  the  U.S.  Supreme  Court formally rebuked the Commission. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court   reversed   the   case   in   Phillips’  favor  and   condemned Colorado’s  “clear  and  impermissible  hostility  toward  [Phillips’] sincere  religious  beliefs.”  The  Supreme  Court  wrote  that  “The Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ case violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.” (106)

Private  citizens  have  now  joined  the  Colorado  Civil  Rights Commission’s persecution of Phillips. In June 2017, on the very day  that  the  Supreme  Court  announced  its  decision  to  hear Phillips’  case,  an  attorney  called  Phillips’  shop  asking  for  a custom cake. The  attorney wanted  a cake  that would be  blue on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate his transition from male to female. Phillips politely declined to create the cake because  it  expressed  a  message  that  conflicted with  his  faith.

Phillips believes that God creates us male and female. Gender is a biological reality determined by God, not something we choose or change. When Phillips declined this request, the attorney filed a new complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Less than one month after the U.S. Supreme Court condemned the state’s anti-religious hostility toward Phillips in the first case, the  state  agency  made  its  first  finding  against  Phillips  in  this new case. Phillips then filed a lawsuit against the relevant state officials.  In  March  2019,  Colorado  dismissed  its  case  against Phillips.

With the end of that lawsuit, Phillips thought he could finally go  back  to  focusing  on  his  work.  Now,  however,  the  same attorney who filed the second complaint has filed a third lawsuit against Phillips in state court. This latest lawsuit seeks monetary damages and attorney’s fees from Phillips. If successful, it could bring financial ruin to Phillips and his family.

Another  case  illustrating  the  Progressive  tactic  of  forcing Christians  to  abandon  their faith  or lose  their livelihood  is  that of   Barronelle   Stutzman.   Stutzman   is   a   74-year-old   florist, grandmother,  and  the  owner  of  Arlene’s  Flowers  in  Richland, Washington.(107) Stutzman has served and employed people who identify  as  LGBT  for  her  entire  career,  including  her  longtime customer and friend Rob Ingersoll for almost 10 years. When Mr. Ingersoll asked her to design custom floral arrangements for his same-sex wedding, Stutzman politely explained that she could not  participate  in  the  same-sex wedding  because  of her faith. Stutzman gave Ingersoll the name of other florists who might be willing  to  serve  him.  Mr.  Ingersoll said  he  understood,  hugged Stutzman, and left the shop.

After  hearing  about  Stutzman’s  decision  in  the  news,  the Washington  State  Attorney  General  decided  to  take  matters into  his  own  hands  and  sued  her.  The  ACLU  followed  closely behind. Both lawsuits attacked Stutzman personally as well as her business. The trial court ruled against Barronelle and ordered her to pay penalties and attorneys’ fees. On appeal, the Washington  Supreme Court concluded that the state government can force Stutzman and other creative professionals to create artistic expression and participate in events with which they disagree.

Stutzman petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her case. The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Washington Supreme Court’s decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018).(108) The Washington Supreme Court ruled against Stutzman a second time in 2019, and Stutzman has again asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take her case.

Progressives   in   Congress   are   attempting   to   increase   the persecution   of   Christians   like   Jack   Phillips   and   Barronelle Stutzman  with  the  so-called  “Equality  Act.”(109) This  bill,  which passed the House of Representatives on May 17, 2019, prohibits discrimination   based   on   sex,   sexual  orientation,   and   gender identity.  This  bill  is  designed  to  deny  the  religious  liberty  of Christians,  like  Jack  Phillips  and  Barronelle  Stutzman,  who  live out their faith. The Equality Act specifically prohibits the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 from providing a religious liberty defense to claims such as those made against Jack Phillips and Barronelle Stutzman.(110)


Next Page >

© 2020 Houston Baptist University