Thomas Gallatin / July 9, 2020

SCOTUS Delivers Wins for Religious Liberty

The two rulings further protect our First Amendment rights to religious liberty.

In two 7-2 rulings yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered significant wins in defense of Americans’ First Amendment religious freedoms. In the first and most high-profile of the cases, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, SCOTUS ruled that the Trump administration’s expansion of an exemption for religious organizations to the contraception mandate in ObamaCare was legal for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. This expansion had allowed employers, on the basis of religious conviction and conscience, to opt out of covering contraception in their employees’ health-insurance plans.

In writing the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas observed, “For over 150 years, the Little Sisters have engaged in faithful service and sacrifice, motivated by a religious calling to surrender all for the sake of their brother. But for the past seven years, they — like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rulemakings leading up to today’s decision — have had to fight for the ability to continue in their noble work without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Pennsylvania had argued that the Trump administration had failed to follow the appropriate guidelines when it expanded ObamaCare’s religious-exemption clause, an opinion the Court rejected. As Justice Thomas explained, “We hold today that the Departments had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption. We further hold that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects.”

The White House praised the ruling. “As the Supreme Court has previously stated,” said Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, “protecting the ability of people to worship and live according to the dictates of their conscience is part of ‘the best of our traditions.’ The Court’s decision today carries forward that noble tradition.”

Unsurprisingly, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing the minority opinion, blasted the decision as harmful to women’s rights: “Today, for the first time, the Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree. Destructive of the Women’s Health Amendment, this Court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets.”

Apparently, Ginsberg is outraged that in a free country, people often have to pay to obtain a service. Ginsburg’s understanding of “rights” clearly does not comport with that of the Founders nor the Constitution, but we digress.

In a move that further raises the stakes come November, Joe Biden declared that should he win the election, “I will restore the Obama-Biden policy that existed before the Hobby Lobby ruling.”

The second decision — and arguably the more consequential of the two — protects the right of churches and religious schools to be exempted from federal employment discrimination laws. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito stated, “Judicial review of the way religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way the First Amendment does not tolerate.”

In the wake of the Court’s abysmal ruling on Title VII, in which it redefined the term “sex” in order to expand anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation, this latest ruling helps to provide needed protection for churches and religious institutions so they can freely employ those they deem consistent in maintaining and upholding their religious practices and convictions.

These are both wins for Americans, no matter their religious or non-religious convictions, as they both support individual Liberty over and against the heavy hand of government.

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