Fixing the Cracks in Philly’s Liberty Bail
The Supreme Court ruled that the city can’t sideline ministries just because they have biblical values.
For Sharonell Fulton, it was her faith that led her to become a foster mom in the first place. “As a single woman of color,” she said, “I’ve learned a thing about discrimination over the years.” But never in her life, she tells people, has she experienced the kind of cruel religious prejudice that’s been on display from Philadelphia’s politicians. When the city tried to shut down Catholic Social Services for believing what the Bible says about marriage, she was speechless. What kind of people would be more concerned with an intolerant agenda than they are about children? Not the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, it turns out. Yesterday, they sent a unanimous message to the city of un-brotherly love: Stand down!
As far as local Leftists were concerned, it was worth shutting down the largest and most effective adoption and foster care agency in the state to make a political point. The Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the city can’t sideline ministries just because they have biblical values. “…[That] imposes a burden on CSS’s religious exercise,” the justices agreed, and, as far as they’re concerned, the city “offers no compelling reason” why it treats the Catholic group differently than other groups. Justice Samuel Alito, in his concurring opinion, has a good guess. Clearly, he writes, the “fundamental objective of city officials is to force the Philadelphia Archdiocese to change its position on marriage.”
Their ultimatum, Alito writes, is this: “Either engage in conduct that the church views as contrary to the traditional Christian understanding of marriage or abandon a mission that dates back to the earliest days of the church.” That’s unacceptable, he agrees. The organization is only asking for an accommodation to keep serving the children of Philadelphia in a way that’s comparable with their religious beliefs. “It does not,” the justices point out, “seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else.” In fact, if anyone’s trying to impose their beliefs on another, it’s intolerant city officials! This entire court battle is the result of woke city officials wanting to strong-arm Christians into embracing their radicalism — at the expense of children who’ve just lost everything and everyone they know. That’s not an anti-discrimination policy, the justices point out, that’s a violation of the First Amendment.
Unfortunately for Christian adoption services everywhere, the court didn’t take the opportunity to say much more than that. Instead of applying this decision across the board and finally drawing a bright line in the battle between religious freedom and the LGBT revolution, the court sidestepped the question altogether. Noticeably frustrated, Alito warns that their inaction could continue to put Philadelphia’s groups — and many others — at risk. “This decision might as well be written on the dissolving paper sold in magic shops,” he vented. “The city has been adamant about pressuring CSS to give in, and if the city wants to get around today’s decision, it can simply eliminate the never-used exemption power. If it does that, then, voilà, today’s decision will vanish — and the parties will be back where they started.”
“This case,” he argues, “presents an important constitutional question that urgently calls out for review: whether this court’s governing interpretation of a bedrock constitutional right, the right to the free exercise of religion, is fundamentally wrong and should be corrected.” The fate of tens of thousands of children, Alito says, is largely in the hands of organizations just like this one: private and religious charitable organizations. We aren’t doing them any favors, he argues, by not providing clearer direction. Cities like Philadelphia don’t care that CSS has never “interfered in the slightest with the efforts of a same-sex couple to care for a foster child,” he writes. Or that a same-sex couple has never approached the group about fostering. Or that the city’s other 28 adoption agencies are happy to place children in non-traditional homes. “None of that mattered to Philadelphia,” Alito explained. What mattered to them was punishing non-conformists. And that will continue to happen, he insists, until the court steps up and defends America’s “deep-rooted commitment to religious liberty.”
Harkening back to Obergefell, Alito reminds his colleagues that “the majority made a commitment.” “[I]t promised that ‘religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.’” Today’s ruling was a chance to live up to that promise and provide the broad protections that Christian ministries and Catholic services have been waiting for. Instead, the court issued another opinion that’s a win for religious freedom, but a lost opportunity to do more.
Religious groups across the country deserve the “fresh look” at the Free Exercise Clause that Alito calls for. “Only we can fix [this],” Justice Neil Gorsuch agreed. “Dodging the question today guarantees it will recur tomorrow. These cases will keep coming until the Court musters the fortitude to supply an answer. Respectfully, it should have done so today.”
Are we grateful for the decision? Absolutely. At least for now, foster moms like Sharonell can go back to pouring love and compassion into the lives of children who desperately need it. But we continue to pray for a day when Christians across America have the freedom to minister and serve as Scripture compels them.
Originally published here.
Baker Battered by Leftist Mob
If you think Christian persecution doesn’t exist in America, talk to Jack Phillips. The longsuffering baker, who’s made more trips to court than most lawyers, was back in a judge’s chambers this week. Unfortunately, winning at the Supreme Court hasn’t made the road any easier for the Colorado Christian, who’s been dragged through the legal mud for nine years — risking jail, his business’s ruin, and his livelihood just to live out his faith doing what he loves.
Caught in the crosshairs of the Left’s stampede for same-sex marriage — and now, gender transitions — Jack has been a persistent target of LGBT extremists. Like so many Christian businesses, the war on religious freedom came to the Phillipses’ front door when two men visited Masterpiece Cakes in 2012 and asked for a same-sex wedding cake. Jack was kind — but firm — in his conviction that he wouldn’t participate in a ceremony that violates his faith. Dave Mullin and Charlie Craig offered a choice gesture and stormed out. Later that day, they turned to social media, launching a campaign to force Phillips into submission. It didn’t work. “We would close down our bakery before we would compromise our beliefs,” Phillips told reporters. As it was, they endured death threats, vandalism, and abuse.
That nightmare was supposed to end in 2018, when seven justices ruled that the state’s treatment of Masterpiece Cakes was unconstitutionally hostile to religious freedom. Apparently, Jack’s opposition didn’t get the message. People hostile to Jack — and everything he stands for — seem intent on making the baker’s life miserable. This time, a customer came knocking with another set-up: a request for a gender-transition cake. It was a trap — and Jack knew it.
“This case started the day the Supreme Court decided they were going to hear our case. It was a very busy, very crazy day at the shop,” Phillips told reporters in March. “In the middle of all of this chaos, we got a phone call from an attorney in Denver [Autumn Scardina] asking us to create a cake pink on the inside with blue icing on the outside.” As he has from LGBT themes to Lucifer cakes, he told the caller that he couldn’t create it because of the message associated with it. Autumn sued. That was three years ago.
Kristen Waggoner, his attorney from Alliance Defending Freedom, knew this “was an obvious type of setup.” “At the trial, and in other testimony, this attorney confirmed that Jack was contacted in an effort to make a test case and to ‘correct the errors’ of Jack’s thinking.” Regardless of Autumn’s motives — and the Supreme Court’s precedent with Masterpiece — the case went on. And in a bombshell ruling this week, a judge declared that Jack’s refusal to make this case is a violation of state law.
“Anti-discrimination laws are intended to ensure that members of our society who have historically been treated unfairly, who have been deprived of even the every-day right to access businesses to buy products, are no longer treated as ‘others.’ This case is about one such product — a pink and blue birthday cake — and not compelled speech,” Judge Bruce Jones wrote.
Like most people, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was appalled. “This is religious persecution. Naked and unabashed. And it is lawless disregard of binding Supreme Court precedent.” Jack’s attorneys at ADF were equally horrified. “Radical activists and government officials are targeting artists like Jack because they won’t promote messages on marriage and sexuality that violate their core convictions,” Kristen argued. And even more incredibly, they’ve openly admitted: they won’t stop.
In 2020, when he tried to persuade Autumn to drop the case, she was shameless about her intentions. “If the case were rejected or dismissed,” he was warned, “they would be back the next day to request another cake order and then sue me and charge me again.” So who, exactly, is being “unfairly treated” here? Who is the injured party? This judge would have us believe that a plaintiff whose stated goal is to teach Jack Phillips a lesson is the victim! That’s not justice, Kristen insists. That’s weaponizing the courts to “ruin those with whom the activists disagree.”
These are the same LGBT activists who, a handful of years ago, said all they wanted was recognition, autonomy, and co-existence. Now, most people have learned: they couldn’t be less interested in any of it! This isn’t about “live and let live,” it’s about “conform or be punished.” And unfortunately, there are a lot of well-intentioned people out there — including Christians — who don’t want to believe that the agenda of LGBT activists is a hostile takeover, bent on pounding the bedrock of religious freedom into powder. Let this be a wake-up call that they will not compromise — and neither should we.
Originally published here.
This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.
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