Voice your values: Legislative action
Read: Faith Steps: How to winsomely engage on controversial public policy issues.
Now with new study guide!
--Coercing health professionals and redefining sex discrimination: the 2016 HHS transgender mandate;
--Squelching First Amendment freedoms on campuses: barring campus faith expression;
--Forcing nuns to violate religious tenets: the Obamacare contraceptive mandate;
--Threatening pro-life doctors and health care access: the 2009 gutting of the federal conscience regulation;
--Denying federal human trafficking grants to pro-life programs for victims: HHS grant scandal;
--Government intrusion on churches' hiring freedom: Supreme Court Hosanna Tabor case;
--Firing and coercing life-honoring health care professionals and students: personal stories of discrimination.
The Trump administration's Department of Justice (DOJ) caused surprise today by signaling that it intends to continue the Obama administration's court battle with the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups over the HHS contraception mandate, at least for the time being. While Trump had promised on the campaign trail to drop the provision, the DOJ has now asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for 60 more days to negotiate with East Texas Baptist University and other religious institutions to find a solution to their religious liberty concerns. Becket Law's Eric Rassbach says that the time has come for the new administration to put the fight to rest for good. "The government has a chance to do the right thing here. It got it wrong for five years in these cases, almost six years," Rassbach told Catholic News Agency. "And they can do the right thing by dropping their appeals that are in favor of the mandate, and admitting that they were wrong on the issue of the contraceptive mandate, as applied to religious non-profits." Forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to cooperate in the provision of contraception is "a hostility to religious liberty you will never see in a Trump administration," Trump wrote to Catholic leaders during his campaign.
Beyond the workforce protections, the widely circulated draft order would have eliminated the contraceptive mandate that requires religious institutions to provide health insurance for birth control. Republicans lawmakers are also pushing for the order to allow for doctors to refuse to perform abortions based on religion. They also want to see protections for religious non-profits to be able to express political opinions without losing their tax-exempt status. The letters signatories, all men except for Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler, include some of the Republican caucus’ most conservative members. A similar letter was sent by Senate Republicans earlier this month. “An executive order requiring federal government agencies to protect the right to religious freedom is necessary, and directing agencies to adhere to existing federal laws protecting religious freedom is sound policy,” the letter reads.
A California woman who identifies as a man has filed a lawsuit against a Catholic hospital and its parent company for prohibiting her surgeon from performing a sex change-related hysterectomy at the facility because of the organization's religious convictions. Mercy San Juan President Brian Ivie informed Minton's surgeon, Lindsey Dawson-who regularly performs hysterectomies at the facility-that perhaps she could instead obtain admitting privileges at nearby Methodist Hospital, which is still a part of the network, but non-Catholic. "I don't blame the staff," said Dawson. "I don't blame the administrators. I blame the [Roman Catholic] doctrines." As previously reported, last summer, the Obama administration released guidelines prohibiting sex discrimination in federally-funded hospitals under the threat of losing funding. Five states, as well as the Christian Medical Association and the Roman Catholic Franciscan Alliance, quickly filed suit out of their belief that the government was wrongly forcing them to perform sex change-related procedures violative of the tenets of their faith. Judge Reed O'Connor sided with the plaintiffs in the case, citing the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and concluding that "[p]laintiffs will be forced to either violate their religious beliefs or maintain their current policies which seem to be in direct conflict with the rule and risk the severe consequences of enforcement."
Last week's oral arguments in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer will decide whether a state can exclude a religious entity from a public grant program just because the entity is religious. These four entertaining moments from those arguments indicate the court will likely rule for the church in this case. When Missouri's counsel tried to argue that giving the churches public money entangled the government with religion because the grant conditions incentivized the recipients to publicly proclaim that the government helped them out, Justice Anthony Kennedy responded: "I mean, you could say the same thing . . . that the church is delighted that it has fire protection." Growing increasingly frustrated with the state's argument at one point, Justice Breyer animatedly asked: "[H]ow does it permit Missouri to deny money to [a church] for helping children not fall in the playground, cut their knees, get tetanus, break a leg, etcetera?" Justice Alito also asked whether it would be permissible to allow public money to be used for "security enhancements at schools where there's fear of shooting or other school violence," as a New York City program allows. The states' attorney again said it would not.
The Pew Research Center found in 2016 that 74 percent of the world's population lives in countries with high or very high restriction or outright hostility to religion. The Knights of Columbus in a 300-page report documented genocide against Christians in the Middle East - mass murders and deportations, torture, kidnapping for ransom, sexual enslavement and rape of girls and women, forcible conversions to Islam and the destruction of Christian churches, monasteries, cemeteries and artifacts by the Islamic State - and former Secretary of State Kerry designated last year the violence by ISIS against Yezidis, Christians, Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Syria as "ongoing genocide." The recent slaughter of Coptic Christians in Egypt during Sunday worship services is another tragic reminder that we must continue to speak up. International religious freedom is not a "Republican" or "Democrat" issue.
Much of the hostility seems to focus on the fact that people of faith often hold convictions on hotly debated topics like abortion, sex and marriage-convictions that differ from some people who do not share in that faith. So if you don't like those convictions, what is the easiest way to beat your religious opponents on these issues? Shut them up, marginalize them, exclude them from the public square. Make them the one group that it's okay to discriminate against. And I would suggest that that way of thinking has resulted in a concerted pressure to reduce religious freedom to something more like religious permission. Religious permission means, okay, you can believe whatever you want-but only as long as you keep it inside the four walls of your church, synagogue or mosque. Your religious views will not be allowed in public. Religious permission means you can sing your little religious songs, pray to whatever gods you imagine inside your head, talk about love and peace and sing around the campfire. But actually living out your religious beliefs, your conscience, your convictions in the public square? Well, that's where religious permission draws the line.
"You say this affects free exercise [of religion], you seem to be confusing money with free exercise," Sotomayor told Cortman. "I'm not sure how this is a free exercise question." Justice Samuel Alito soon after interjected and called out Sotomayor by name, prompting the equivalent of an intellectual food fight. Alito asked Cortman whether he agreed with Sotomayor's suggestion that the Missouri Constitution's provision prohibiting direct or indirect funding to churches represented an "admirable tradition," which gave Cortman the opportunity to talk about the provision's roots in "anti-Catholic bigotry. Alito questioned Layton at length with hypothetical examples from friend of the court briefs to see where Layton drew the line on who may receive government funding. Alito asked whether Missouri would approve of synagogues or mosques at risk as targets of terrorism receiving Department of Homeland Security grants to have security mechanisms in place akin to those at the high court. Layton answered "no." Layton's answer drew skeptical questions from Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, who asked how police and fire department services are provided to protect churches.
Now that raises an important constitutional question: May the government - having chosen to offer neutrally available, secular benefits to the public - withhold those benefits from faith-based groups simply because they're religious? Allowing the government to discriminate against religious groups when it provides nonreligious benefits raises some very concerning questions. For example, if a little girl is hurt on Trinity's playground, can the county hospital send an ambulance? Or if the city provides fire extinguishers to all preschools, can it give some to Trinity? How about if the state begins a program to remove asbestos from all public and private school buildings, can the government ensure that Trinity's students are safe from that dangerous substance? The late Justice Antonin Scalia already recognized that "when the State withholds [a neutrally available] benefit from some individuals solely on the basis of religion, it violates the [Constitution's] Free Exercise Clause."
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent a church that runs a preschool and daycare center, which was excluded from a Missouri program that provides grants to purchase rubberized surface material (made of recycled tires) for children's playgrounds. Although the state highly ranked the center as qualified for the program, it denied the center's application solely because a church runs the daycare.
In an opinion concurring with the majority, Judge Richard Posner wrote that changing norms call for a change in interpretation of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin or sex. "I don't see why firing a lesbian because she is in the subset of women who are lesbian should be thought any less a form of sex discrimination than firing a woman because she's a woman," wrote the judge, who was appointed by Republican Ronald Reagan. The dissenting opinion - written by Judge Diane Sykes, a conservative who was on Trump's list of possible Supreme Court appointees - said the majority were stretching the meaning of the law's text too far. "We are not authorized to infuse the text with a new or unconventional meaning or to update it to respond to changed social, economic, or political conditions." The dissent alludes to the judicial philosophy of Trump's high-court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, who advocates sticking with the original legislative texts in deciding legal disputes.