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Six years ago, Justice Samuel Alito issued an “ominous” warning that the then status of U.S. Supreme Court decisions on religious liberty in America were a “cause of great concern” for those who value our first freedom.
Fortunately, in the courts, since that day, religious freedom in our nation has increased.
Just this year, the Supreme Court issued two opinions that set historic precedents in two major cases restoring faith in our nation.
First, First Liberty Institute client and high school football Coach Joe Kennedy’s victory not only restored his right to quietly pray at the 50-yard-line after games, but it also strengthened constitutional protections for religious liberty across the country, overturning an anti-religious freedom precedent and giving Americans more religious freedom than they’ve had in a half century.
Second, the Court overturned a Maine law that unjustly banned families from participating in a student-aid program if they chose to send their children to religious schools. This decision has national impact for parental choice and religious freedom for all people of faith who seek to participate in government programs.
SHACKELFORD: TEACHERS AND COACHES DESERVE TO HAVE THEIR CIVIL RIGHTS PROTECTED
But as we approach 2023, it is becoming increasingly clear that those who oppose freedom—both people in the populace and in our own government—have not gotten the Court’s clear message that religious liberty must be respected. In fact, they continue to exhibit blatant and at times dangerous hostility toward religious Americans. Sacrificing freedom of conscience is horrible idea for everyone, even those who are not religious.
Earlier this month, a Richmond, Virginia restaurant barred members of a pro-family organization from receiving service simply because of their religious beliefs regarding unborn life and marriage, even though this violates federal and state law!
In several communities, government officials mistakenly banned nativity scenes from their Christmas displays after an anti-religion organization sent letters making the ridiculous claim that such displays are unconstitutional.
Then, Congress passed, and President Biden signed, a law that can be weaponized to punish the free exercise of religion. The so-called “Respect for Marriage Act” lets radical activists harass faith-based institutions in court because of their religious beliefs about marriage. No American should be punished for holding a faith-based view on marriage, even if that view conflicts with the government’s current preferred definition. And no American should change their religious convictions about marriage just because a few politicians changed theirs.
At the same time, while Congress repealed the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for those entering the military, thousands of active-duty personnel, and some who have been forced out of service, who have a religious objection to the vaccine continue to face hostility from military leaders. First Liberty won the first court case against the vaccine mandate early in 2022, blocking the U.S. Navy from punishing 35 Navy SEALs because they sought a religious accommodation from the vaccine. Yet, these brave warriors are still being prevented from defending our nation.
It is time for President Biden and his military leaders apologize to our troops for the religious hostility they’ve endured. If our nation and our military are to remain the greatest on earth, service members of faith must be treated with dignity, tolerance, and respect, not forced to choose between their faith and serving their country.
Even those serving our veterans are facing religious hostility from this administration. Recently, a nurse practitioner, Stephanie Carter, sued the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) when her request for a religious accommodation from participating in abortions at the VA facility where she works was essentially rejected – twice! While it is abhorrent that the Biden administration is putting the health and well-being of our veterans at risk to pursue its extreme pro-abortion agenda, it’s equally despicable that they want to force religious health care workers into violating their consciences.
We will do all we can to assure that religious liberty will prevail in these cases in 2023.
The Supreme Court itself has several opportunities before it to again put Justice Alito’s concerns in the past if it decides to take two cases where government officials have punished religious Americans for their beliefs.
In Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, the Justices can review a decision by the Oregon Court of Appeals allowing the BOLI to penalize Aaron and Melissa Klein because they could not express a message celebrating a same-sex wedding in violation of their religious beliefs. BOLI’s initial fine of $135,000 forced the Kleins out of business, and harassment from the left drove them out of Oregon.
In another important case, Groff v. DeJoy, the Court can overturn a decades-old decision, TWA v. Hardison, that that favors corporations and the government over the religious rights of employees. In this case, former United States Postal Service employee Gerald Groff is challenging a lower court decision that allowed the USPS to force him to work on the Sabbath or lose his job.
Today, Americans enjoy more religious liberty than any time in the past 50 years. But now we must exercise that freedom or risk fulfilling Justice Alito’s warning. As we begin 2023, my prayer is that religious Americans will resolve to stand up against the hostility and live out their faith in public, at work, and in their schools.
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