Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Free rein for free exercise?

Religious Liberty | Religious liberty advocates celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision to hear Colorado baker’s discrimination case appeal
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 6/27/17, 11:00 am

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who is accused of discriminating against a gay couple when he declined to create their wedding cake in 2012. Phillips’ case could resolve the tension between an “exceedingly harsh view of so-called equity laws and an extremely limited view of free speech and the free exercise of religion” said Mike Farris, Alliance Defending Freedom president.

Small business owners who service the wedding industry are looking to Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission for relief from the threat of crushing lawsuits brought against them for violating state civil rights statutes that protect LGBT residents but offer no exception for religious liberty objections. One such case, Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers, is next in the queue of cases making their way to the Supreme Court. ADF attorneys representing the Washington florist in that case will file her appeal July 14.

Speaking to reporters in a conference call Monday, Phillips said “the government has prevented me from being able to create and design cakes for any wedding ceremonies. Not only that, the government’s actions have forced me to lose 40 percent of my business, a crushing loss for us.”

He fears he will lose his business of 23 years.

Religious liberty attorneys are optimistic the addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the bench will strike an ideological balance on the court. Gorsuch’s concurring opinion in the Trinity Lutheran case, also released Monday, provided a spark of hope for ADF attorneys, including Dave Cortman. Gorsuch questioned the presumption of an underlying principle in the Free Exercise Clause that distinguishes between someone’s “religious status and religious use that they’re involved in,” Cortman said.

Gorsuch wrote, “After all, [the Free Exercise] Clause guarantees the free exercise [sic] of religion, not just the right to inward belief (or status).”

That has been a key argument in Masterpiece and similar cases. Attorneys argue state nondiscrimination laws that prioritize sexual autonomy over First Amendment Freedoms violate their clients’ freedom to act and speak according to their convictions.

“Americans disagree about sex and religion. That’s nothing new,” Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told me. “But this case is about whether the government will allow people who disagree to live side-by-side in peace, or whether the government will instead pick one ‘correct’ moral view and force everyone to conform.”

Facebook Facebook Greg Seltz

Lutherans take The Hill

After a 17-year hiatus, conservative Lutherans are back in Washington, D.C., defending religious liberty, Biblical marriage, and the sanctity of life with the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty.

The conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has had a “small presence” in Washington, D.C., said Greg Seltz, newly appointed LCRC executive director. But with the creation in 2015 of the new religious liberty center, the synod expanded that influence to address issues of growing concern within the denomination and the church at large.

Missouri Synod President Matthew Harrison’s 2012 congressional testimony regarding the Health and Human Services contraceptive and abortifacient mandates served as a prescient moment for the denomination, making it “clear the time was right to move forward,” Seltz said.

The center will offer a “uniquely Lutheran, two-kingdom” perspective on public policy for Missouri Synod congressmen and lay members. Seltz said a Christian’s ability—and right—to exercise their faith in the public square is foundational to the Christian faith but is sorely misunderstood. 

“When [Christians] exercise those rights, they do not impose their faith on the culture, rather they engage the culture from the perspective of a Christian-moral worldview,” he said. “Critics tend to be confused by this distinction, sadly at times seeking to unconstitutionally deny Christians the right to engage the culture at all.” —B.P.

Associated Press/Photo by Nam Y. Huh Associated Press/Photo by Nam Y. Huh Mark Zuckerberg

Defining an awkward relationship

In five years, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg believes his social media platform will join 1 billion people in “meaningful communities,” according to an interview he gave CNN Tech last week. But who gets to monitor the speech within and between Facebook groups and their virtual communities? Zuckerberg recognizes social media and free speech form an awkward symbiotic relationship. He told CNN free speech should “be able to get close to offensive” as long as “it’s not hate speech or way over the line.” Unfortunately, when people at the top of the communication chain get to define hate speech and determine what constitutes a hate group—virtual or real—Christians tend to get pegged as offenders. GuideStar’s recent use of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “hate group” designation offers a good example. Where will Zuckerberg draw that line? —B.P.

Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie reports on First Amendment freedoms for WORLD Digital.

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