Welcome to Family Policy Matters, an engaging and encouraged and inspired by what you hear on Family Policy Matters, and that you will feel better equipped to be a voice of persuasion for family values in your community, state, and nation. And now here is our host of Family Policy Matters, Tracy Devitt-Griggs. Chief among them, several decisions on religious liberty. Well, here to discuss these today is our friend Matt Sharp, Senior Legal Counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he directs the Center for Legislative Advocacy. Matt Sharp, welcome back to Family Policy Matters.
Thank you so much for having me. All right, so the U.S. Supreme Court considered multiple cases that ask questions related to religious freedom this term. Are you finding a pattern to the kinds of religious liberty cases the court has been accepting? Yes, and I think it's a very encouraging pattern we're seeing coming from the court that it is increasing its protection for religious liberty and for those that seek to exercise their faith in a variety of contexts. And so we saw it, for example, in the case of Coach Kennedy. This was the high school football coach that was wanting, after the football games, to be able to go out and silently pray on the field to thank God for watching over the players, for being with them, and yet was censored from doing so and told that he couldn't do so because he was a school employee, because he was a public employee. And we saw the court step up there and protect Coach Kennedy's rights, his rights to exercise his faith there when he's got free time in between his job duties. And I think that's a very encouraging sign that we're seeing between Coach Kennedy and some of the other cases, a strong pattern of the court recognizing that religion is central to so many people's lives and that our Constitution clearly requires the government to respect that central role that religion plays for people. So in the Coach Kennedy case, what was the key to that?
What made the difference? Because obviously the prayer is a very public prayer, but you're saying that it was private, right? That's exactly right.
I think there was two keys there. Number one, this was not a situation where Coach Kennedy was forcing students or others to join his prayer. This was something he did voluntarily.
Others could or could not join. It was entirely up to them. This was during post-game free time when players could interact with other players, go see family and friends. And so this was just a very non-coercive private act by Coach Kennedy. And then I think the second thing was the recognition that because this is free time, the right to exercise religion is as fully protected as everything else. So the court talked about how Coach Kennedy during this time could have gone to visit with family, could have made a phone call to a friend, could do a lot of things. And the only thing that was being censored was his ability to pray.
And the court said you can't do that. Religion has to be given as good a treatment as anything else that you allow during this time. And I think that's an important recognition that religion is not a second-class right. Why do we always get this wrong?
Somebody's always getting it wrong. On one side of the issue or the other, it seems like we seem to go to extremes. I think a lot of this flows from religion losing the place of prominence that it held during our nation's founding. I think there used to be a deep respect, not just for religion, but for the good that religion did to society. I think they saw religion as something that helped promote human flourishing, that led to charitable actions. And I think we've lost that recognition of the important role that religion does, despite there being more charities and religious organizations than ever serving people.
And so I think when we get a proper recognition that religion is a good for society, just like we believe speech is good, that different viewpoints are good, so too is religion is a good for society and that's why it needs to be protected. Well let's talk about an education case. There was a case, Carson v. Macon, out of Maine.
What happened there? So Maine has a program whereby families that live in rural areas where there's not a local public school can actually get money to go attend a nearby private school. And this is a way to accommodate these families.
Again, they live far from high schools, from cities where there may be schools. Well, the only schools that were excluded from this program were religious schools. So they were telling these families, you can go to any private school you want to as long as it's not religious. And so here we saw the government taking a real hostile view towards religion, targeting it and excluding it from being able to participate in this broad program.
And the court said you can't do that. When the government makes a benefit available, whether it's school choice funding or anything else, it can't single out and discriminate against religious organizations because they're religious or even because they do religious things like teaching their faith to the next generation of children attending their schools. And I think that's, again, an important principle, recognizing that religious people, religious organizations are not second-class citizens. They have the same right to participate in public life and government programs and benefits as everyone else.
And that includes when they are doing explicitly religious things like educating the next generation in the doctrines of that faith. How did the court vote on that? Was it split?
Was it unified? So these were actually very good cases. So I think both of them had strong majorities. The Carson case, I believe, was a 6-3 decision. So you had six of the justices strongly ruling there. I think the Coach Kennedy case may have been the same.
But again, it was strong majorities on both of them, recognizing the importance of protecting religious exercise. You know, this is not the first time. Actually, it's probably the third time that I've heard recently about people working across the aisle to come up with reasonable solutions or rulings. Do you have a sense that we're coming out of this extremely highly polarized time that we've been in, or is this just a surprise to you two? No, I think we are. I think we're starting to see how a lot of these government regulations are crossing the line and really hurting people of faith and the organizations in which they serve.
I think we saw this during COVID. At the beginning of all of that, there was this clamp down on churches and religious organizations where the government just went too far. And they were treating religion as a second-class right, saying, well, look, you need food, you need jobs, that's great, but you don't really need religion.
You don't need that time of gathering. And we saw numerous court decisions rolling back those government regulations. So now, when we're talking about states of emergency and other things, there's not this effort to target religion anymore. I think there's a recognition that we have to allow people to live out their faith, to worship together, to meet together with religious organizations.
And I think that's an encouraging sign. And people of faith are doing a much better job articulating their beliefs and helping to show that they're just wanting the same right to live out their beliefs and values as other people have. I think a great example of this is the case of Baronelle Stutzman, the Washington State florist, who for years had a gay customer that she served, Rob Ingersoll, knew he was gay and didn't care. But then when Rob asked her to do custom floral arrangements for his same-sex union, Baronelle politely declined.
I explained why her faith wouldn't allow her to do that because marriage was something sacred and even offered referrals to other florists that would do a great job. And I think Baronelle traveling the country, including to North Carolina, and sharing her stories helped people see she is a beautiful, kind woman that loves everybody. And all she is asking for is the same right to live out her beliefs that Rob and his partner did, that they were allowed to live out their beliefs about marriage as being open to same-sex couples and things like that. And Baronelle is just asking for the same right that they had.
And I think when people understand that and they see there is room for people to live and let live, for there to be true tolerance, which respects and allows other views and other ideas and beliefs to flourish and thrive, I think people see that that is possible and that we actually can find some common ground on the need to have tolerance for a variety of views, including the views of people of faith. I love that you are crediting her with kind of changing some of the way we're talking about these issues because it didn't end well for her, right? I mean, it was not a success story, but the Supreme Court has another shot at that question with Laurie Smith.
Tell us about that. With Baronelle's case, she ultimately entered into a settlement, never required to use her floral design for same-sex union, but she was ready to retire. And I think one of the successes of her case is that it did inspire other creative professionals to stand up and to sort of pick up that mantle and continue to carry it. And one of those is Laurie Smith. Laurie is a graphic artist, designer, does custom websites and a variety of other things in the state of Colorado. The same state and the same law that's being used to go after Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker, threatens Laurie Smith and is telling her that if she wants to do websites to promote marriage, custom websites for couples, she has to do websites telling the stories and celebrating same-sex marriages.
And again, Laurie says she's happy to serve everyone but just doesn't want to be forced to celebrate specific events that violate her faith. And although the Supreme Court did not take Baronelle's case, it has taken Laurie's case. It's actually going to be argued sometime this fall. And it is directly to this question of whether sexual orientation, gender identity laws that violate people's free speech, that violate their religious rights, can be misused to go after people like Laurie Smith, like Jack Phillips and others. And so it's an encouraging sign, again continuing this trend from the Supreme Court, to take up cases where laws are being misused, misapplied to hurt people of faith, to hurt free speech. The Supreme Court issued a ruling on a case that was heard in 2021 that has to do with free speech issues on college campuses.
Talk about that a bit. Yes, so this case involved a student in Georgia, his name is Chike Uzibunam, who was prevented by a local university policy from sharing his faith on campus. In fact, the college there where he was sharing it viewed his speech as being akin to like threatening speech, that it was harming others by him just simply standing out on campus, sharing his faith with people walking by, sharing his belief in Jesus Christ with them. And so we saw this great ruling from the Supreme Court upholding his right to free speech and recognizing that university officials cannot punish and silence students for sharing their faith, for sharing their beliefs without consequences. And so we got a great ruling for Chike and ultimately the university, the college there, Georgia Gwinnett College was held accountable for its actions to censor Chike from being able to share his faith peacefully on campus. Looking forward, what are some cases the court either plans to hear or that you see making their ways through lower courts that we ought to keep an eye out for?
Sure. So number one, I would go back to the Laurie Smith, the 303 Creative case that's going to be argued this fall. That's going to be an important case to build on Jack Phillip's win a few years ago at the Supreme Court and others like him, like Barron L. Stutzman and other creative professionals to uphold their right to live out their faith and to speak freely. I think some other interesting issues bubbling up in the courts are one dealing with these safe women's sports laws, these laws that say males are not eligible to compete on female teams and to preserve the integrity of female sports. So we've now seen 18 states pass these laws, which is a great move.
Just two years ago, zero states had these laws and we saw a big push of states recognizing the need for these. But unsurprisingly, the ACLU and groups like them have challenged these in Idaho, in Indiana and Florida and other states. And several of those are working their way through the courts right now, including the Idaho case, which is at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. And so I think within the next year or two, we'll hopefully see the Supreme Court take up one of these cases and uphold these commonsense laws that protect fairness in women's sports. I think one other issue at flag is we're starting to see more and more efforts and attacks on medical rights of conscience, telling doctors, nurses and others that they must participate in specific procedures like abortion, like gender, so-called gender transition procedures or sterilization on young kids that violate the conscience of medical professionals. And we're starting to see that even come into play with the Biden administration pushing efforts to undermine conscience in federal law. And so I think we're starting to see some lawsuits bubbling up on that issue. And again, I hope to see the Supreme Court take up a case and rule on the importance of protecting the medical professionals' right to do no harm and practice medicine consistent with their beliefs.
Well, we're just about out of time this week. Before we go, Matt Sharp, where can our listeners go to follow the cases we've discussed today and all of your good work there at ADF? They can visit our website, adflegal.org, where they can learn more about our cases, learn how to support the work that we're doing, and specifically to help us pray for a lot of these cases. So again, that's adflegal.org.
Matt Sharp, Senior Legal Counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom. Thanks so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters. You've been listening to Family Policy Matters. We hope you enjoyed the program and plan to tune in again next week. To listen to this show online and to learn more about NC Family's work to inform, encourage, and inspire families across North Carolina, go to our website at ncfamily.org. That's ncfamily.org. Thanks again for listening, and may God bless you and your family.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-14 14:49:34 / 2023-03-14 14:55:33 / 6