The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for a monumental religious liberty case on April 18th. Groff v. DeJoy is an important opportunity for the High Court to affirm the right of employees to honor their religious beliefs and the duty of employers to grant reasonable religious accommodations.
Christian mail carrier Gerald Groff requested the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for a religious accommodation that would excuse him from working on Sundays after they started doing Amazon package deliveries so that he could observe the Sabbath and live by his Christian faith. The fact that regular mail isn’t delivered by the USPS on Sundays was a major factor in Groff’s choosing to work there over a decade ago. USPS refused to grant him the accommodation and Groff chose to resign rather than be fired.
Groff is appealing to the Supreme Court in hopes it will overturn its erroneous 1977 precedent in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, which enabled employers to deny religious accommodations.
Liberty Counsel filed an amicus brief in the case asking the Supreme Court to restore Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which provides protection against religious discrimination.
“This Court should overrule the interpretation in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison that Title VII does not require an employer to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs if doing so would impose more than a de minimis burden on the employer. Hardison’s de minimis standard—found nowhere in the Title VII’s text or legislative history—has led to absurd results, allowing employers to discriminate against religious employees with impunity, thereby forcing workers to choose between their religious beliefs and their jobs,” reads the amicus brief.
The Supreme Court justices spent much of the hearing debating the exact meanings of “undue hardship” and “de minimis.”
Groff’s attorney, Aaron Streett, recommended that the justices “construe undue hardship according to its plain text to mean significant difficulty or expense,” which would be consistent with the language in the accommodation standard of the “Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Arguing on behalf of the Biden administration, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the court that Hardison adequately protects religious exercise, to which Justice Samuel Alito responded, “I’m really struck by that because we have amicus briefs here by many representatives of many minority religions, Muslims, Hindus, Orthodox Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and they all say that is just not true, and that Hardison has violated their right to religious liberty.”
Chief Justice John Roberts spoke about changes in religious liberty case law since the Hardison ruling, arguing that religious protections had been expanded.
Thankfully, it appears that the conservative justices are poised to rule in favor of Groff and the religious liberty of every employee. The Supreme Court is expected to rule over this case by the summer.
At the state level, another religious liberty case will soon be heard by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. After the state refused to grant a Catholic charity legal recognition as a religious organization, the charity filed a lawsuit. Without legal recognition as an organization “operated primarily for religious purposes,” the charity is unable to use a Church-run unemployment system and instead must provide funds to the state-run unemployment system.
Although the Diocese of Superior operates the charity, the state refused to grant it its legal rights because it does not consider providing services to the poor, disabled, and elderly to be a primarily religious function. Catholic Charities Bureau is arguing that caring for those in need is central to the practice of the Catholic faith. WFA has filed an amicus brief in support of Catholic Charities Bureau.
Please pray that our justices make decisions informed by the Constitution and our nation’s founding principles in both of these cases. If religious liberty is to be truly honored in Wisconsin and the nation at large, the justices must rule accordingly in these cases.
This past Monday was officially recognized not just as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but also as Religious Freedom Day. In 1993, Congress passed a resolution that directs the president to annually publicly declare January 16 as Religious Freedom Day, and that’s happened every year for the past 30 years.
Religious liberty protections in the United States were first established on January 16, 1786, when the Assembly in the Commonwealth of Virginia enacted into law the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Thomas Jefferson had drafted it in 1777 and introduced it into the Virginia Assembly in 1779. The statute, for lack of a better word, “disestablished” the Church of England in Virginia and guaranteed religious freedom to people of all religious faiths or of no faith.
These are the opening words of this statute:
“An act for establishing religious Freedom. Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free; That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do….”
I hope you are immediately struck by the references to Almighty God, Lord, “holy author,” and “Almighty power.” Yes, there was a day when elected officials were not afraid to invoke God in a powerful, direct way, even in lawmaking.
Jefferson included a lot of verbiage about the importance of such a statute and the necessity for it and then gets to the enactment portion, which reads:
“Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.” (Emphasis added.)
I hope you caught that last part because it is incredibly significant. Jefferson notes that future legislatures can override current legislation. Therefore, he notes that it would be of no effect to declare this act irrevocable.
He goes on to say that there is a law that is higher than manmade law, known as natural law. The right to hold and practice publicly and privately one’s religious beliefs is a natural right—in other words pre-existing human government, God-given. He says if a future legislature repeals the law the 1786 legislature passed or even made it narrower, then they will be infringing on a natural right. He wanted to be sure succeeding generations of elected officials understood the importance of natural law, in particular as it relates to religious freedom.
The original statute as passed in 1786 is still in Virginia’s statutes, and In 2016, the Virginia legislature reiterated its support for the original Religious Freedom Act.
One year later in 1787 when the constitutional convention convened, this Religious Freedom Statute became the foundation for what we know today as the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
Jefferson and the vast majority of our founders understood that religious liberty is an unalienable, God-given natural right. Unfortunately, far too many government officials don’t understand this today.
Over the past several years, religious liberty has been under relentless attack, especially under the Biden administration.
Christian cake shop owner Jack Phillips and graphic designer Lorie Smith are fighting for their religious liberty in court, representing all artists and business owners. A district court of appeals and the Supreme Court will soon weigh in on these monumental cases.
President Biden’s so-called Inflation Reduction Act, which was signed into law last August, expanded taxpayer funded abortion, a clear violation of Americans’ religious liberty and conscience rights.
Of course, the so-called Respect for Marriage Act, which was recently signed into law, undermines the religious liberty of those who hold a biblical view of marriage. These are just a few of many recent examples.
If religious liberty prevails it won’t be because of our politicians, but because of our parents and pastors. So in honor of Religious Freedom Day, take time to talk about this Congressionally designated day and what it means to someone in your life who is 25 or younger. Ask if they know about this day. Inquire about what they know and think about religious freedom. Take some time to inform and encourage at least one person in the younger generation to understand what religious freedom is and isn’t, and what Religious Freedom Day is about. To preserve this freedom that our founders called our First Freedom because it is foundational to all other freedoms, we are going to have to take seriously our personal responsibility to teach and defend this incredible liberty.
In a tremendous victory for the religious liberty of healthcare professionals, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the Biden Administration’s transgender mandate.
In Sisters of Mercy v. Becerra, a group of Catholic hospitals, nuns, and a Catholic university that operates medical clinics for the poor, sued the Biden administration over a mandate that would have forced religious doctors and hospitals to perform mutilative gender surgeries on any patient, including children.
In May 2021, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it would expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation and gender identity” in Title VII’s provision against employment discrimination. The new rule did not contain any religious liberty protections.
In August of this year, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the government could not force doctors to perform gender “transition” surgeries if it contradicted their beliefs. The Court upheld a permanent injunction against the HHS rule for another group of Catholic health care providers.
This week, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the Fifth Circuit’s decision and protected the First Amendment rights of medical professionals. It relied heavily on the Fifth Circuit court’s ruling, noting that the Eight Circuit Court found “instructive the Fifth Circuit’s recent decision in Franciscan Alliance.”
“We agree with these courts and therefore conclude that the district court correctly held that ‘intrusion upon the Catholic Plaintiffs’ exercise of religion is sufficient to show irreparable harm,’” wrote the Eighth Circuit in its decision.
While this decision does not apply to all states, it sets a crucial precedent for future religious liberty cases.
“Today’s victory sets an important precedent that religious healthcare professionals are free to practice medicine in accordance with their consciences and experienced professional judgment,” said Luke Goodrich of Becket Law. “The government’s attempt to force doctors to go against their consciences was bad for patients, bad for doctors, and bad for religious liberty.”
Extensive research shows the detrimental effects of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormone administration, and bodily mutilation. These procedures have been linked to loss of fertility, cardiac disease, loss of bone density, and increased cancer risk.
Further, the puberty blockers that doctors give to children suffering from gender dysphoria are the same substances used to castrate sex offenders. This is not healthcare;it’s child abuse.
The good news is that the majority of Americans recognize how radical and abusive these procedures are. According to a recent Trafalgar Group/Convention of States Action poll, almost 80% of likely voters believe that children should not be able to receive puberty blockers and permanent sex change procedures.
Our job is to continue to expose clinics that are participating in this child abuse and share the ugly truth about gender “transition” procedures. Children suffering from gender dysphoria deserve real help, not harm. Moreover, doctors should never be forced to harm children and provide a service that violates their conscience.
We are hopeful that the Eighth Circuit’s ruling will set a lasting precedent for other courts and that religious liberty for healthcare professionals will be upheld all across the country, including here in Wisconsin.
Christian cake shop owner Jack Phillips and graphic designer Lorie Smith are fighting for their First Amendment rights in court. Hopefully their cases will reaffirm the right of every American to live or run a business according to their deeply held beliefs without fear or retribution.
In 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court heard Phillips’ case after a couple sued the baker for refusing to bake them a cake celebrating their same-sex wedding. The court ruled in Phillips’ favor and found that the state of Colorado had discriminated against him.
However, before the court gave its ruling, another complaint was filed against Phillips, this time for refusing to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition.
On the same day that the Supreme Court announced it would hear Phillips’ original case, Colorado lawyer Autumn Scardina called Phillips’ bakery to ask for a cake celebrating his transition from male to female. Scardina admitted that he only wanted to “challenge the veracity” of Phillips’ claim that he would serve LGBT people. Phillips’ family told Scardina they could not make the cake because the message it conveyed contradicted their personal beliefs.
Phillips has frequently served LGBT customers. He is not discriminating against the customers themselves. He simply refuses to make cakes with messages that contradict his religious beliefs such as Halloween cakes, sexually explicit cakes, and demeaning cakes, as is his God-given right.
A district court ruled against Phillips in this case, but Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys appealed the decision to the Colorado Court of Appeals.
ADF Senior Counsel Jake Warner says, “No one should be forced to express a message that violates their beliefs and conscience. Activists and state laws have threatened artists like Jack and graphic artist Lorie Smith because they can’t express messages on marriage and gender that violate their core beliefs. In this case, an activist attorney demanded that Jack create expressive cakes to test him and ‘correct the errors’ of his thinking. The attorney even promised to sue Jack again if the case is dismissed for any reason. Free speech is for everyone. The Constitution protects the freedom of every American to express ideas even if the government disagrees with those ideas.”
Warner is absolutely right. Phillips is completely within his rights to refuse to serve a same-sex wedding or bake a cake with an anti-Christian message. Hopefully, the Colorado Court of Appeals makes a decision informed by the Constitution.
In Jack’s first case, the US Supreme Court granted Phillips a partial victory, but failed to address the heart of the issue: Does the Constitution protect freedom of speech and the freedom not to speak, as well as religious freedom, or does the LGBTQ agenda trump those rights?
The good news is that the high court has a case this session similar to Jack’s, giving them another opportunity to get this issue right. Lorie Smith, a Christian graphic designer, is challenging the same law that brought Phillips to the Supreme Court.
Smith designs websites for weddings as long as they align with her belief that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. However, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act forces her to create websites for same-sex marriages.
This is an opportunity for the Supreme Court to affirm every artist and business owner’s right to refuse to send a message they don’t agree with. Let’s pray the court gets it right this time.
Even WFA has been denied graphic design services more than once because of who we are and what we believe- even by vendors who say they are Christians. While we could sue, we never have, because as Christians, we really do believe business owners should have the right to refuse any business they wish.
At the core of human dignity is our right to live in accordance with our deeply held beliefs. No one has the right to an artist’s services. Only the artist has the right to determine which services he or she will provide. While this First Amendment right is under severe and constant attack, Phillips and Smith’s cases give us a chance to realign the law with the Constitution and prevent more unwarranted complaints against Christian business owners.
In a deeply concerning decision, a federal judge ruled that the distress someone may feel due to gender dysphoria is to be considered a disability that must be accommodated under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Williams v. Kincaid involved an imprisoned male who identifies as a female in Fairfax County, Virginia. The man wanted to be housed with the female inmates, but the prison’s policy states that “male inmates shall be classified as such if they have male genitals,” and “female inmates shall be classified as such if they have female genitals.”
The ADA itself explicitly excludes:
“(a) Homosexuality and bisexuality
For purposes of the definition of “disability” in section 12102(2)? of this title, homosexuality and bisexuality are not impairments and as such are not disabilities under this chapter.”
Therefore, the court was tasked with overcoming a major hurdle to reach their illogical conclusion. Still, the majority opinion argued that gender dysphoria was not actually a gender identity disorder. “A close parallel to their logic would be that trucks are not sedans, and therefore a ‘no cars allowed’ sign does not apply to them,” writes Joshua Arnold of the Daily Signal. This case is an excellent example of why interpretation of the law based on the original meaning of the words is so important.
In a much more reasonable dissent, Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum asserted that the case was really a matter of statutory construction, and that the law’s text does not support the majority opinion. He wrote that “…linguistic drift cannot alter the meaning of words in the ADA when it was enacted. And at that time, the meaning of gender identity disorders included gender dysphoria as alleged by Williams … Under basic principles of statutory construction, Williams’ ADA claim should be dismissed … [W]hen the ADA was signed into law, gender identity disorder was understood to include what Williams alleges to be gender dysphoria.”
The ADA prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals in all areas of public life, including employment, education, transportation, and in public places. This means that if the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision is left to stand, anyone who identifies as transgender would be eligible to receive public accommodations in bathrooms, locker rooms, prisons, same-sex housing, and more. This clearly opens the door for abuse of the law and infringements upon religious liberty and privacy rights.
For example, religious institutions could be forced to hire individuals who do not share their respect for natural law and God’s design. Further, women could be forced to share bathrooms and locker rooms with biological men, which we’ve already seen has disastrous consequences.
While this ruling only directly covers states within the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the laws and ideas found within other states can certainly make their way to Wisconsin. We need to be aware of these ideas and refute them before they reach our communities.
Our rights and liberties are more important than an individual’s feelings (and individuals suffering from gender dysphoria need true help, not harmful “affirmation”), and the way that our public institutions are run needs to reflect biological realities.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a major win in Carson v. Makin in a ruling that says the state of Maine cannot bar parents from using state funds to send their children to a religious school.
In 2018, parents sued Maine after it banned families from sending their children to private schools using state tuition assistance.
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “a neutral benefit program in which public funds flow to religious organizations through the independent choices of private benefit recipients does not offend the Establishment Clause.”
The high court’s decision reverses the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
This is excellent news for school choice and religious liberty throughout the country. Parents should never be prevented from directing their children’s education and sending them to whichever school best suits their needs.
School choice is really educational freedom and is a parent’s right and should not be determined by the state. Every child is different, and we should let parents, who know their children best, decide where to send them to school.
Wisconsin is currently a national leader in school choice. Parents can choose the public school in the district where they live, or they can opt for open enrollment and enroll in a school in a different district, with some exceptions. Charter schools and virtual charter schools are also included under the public-school umbrella.
Wisconsin also offers the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the Racine Parental Choice Program, and the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program—all of which are part of the “voucher school” option. These programs allow income-qualified families to send their children to private schools participating in Choice (voucher) Programs. Parents can apply to be part of a school choice program.
This voucher program, which was first-in-the-nation, years ago went to the WI Supreme Court over allowing religious schools and received a favorable decision. At the time of the court case, only the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was in place.
The decision to expand the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program to include private religious schools “places on equal footing options of public and private school choice and vests power in the hands of parents to choose where to direct the funds allocated for their children’s benefit,” wrote Justice Donald Steinmetz in the majority opinion.
Wisconsin also has some of the best homeschooling laws in the country. Parents are encouraged to homeschool and are not burdened by overbearing restrictions as they are in some states.
While Wisconsin is leading the nation in educational opportunities, we have more to do. We need universal choice in Wisconsin. Incomes and zip codes should not determine who gets to take advantage of our educational options. However, our current governor is no fan of school choice.
We are currently in an election cycle, and this fall we have the opportunity to hold Gov. Evers accountable and elect leaders who will uphold parents’ right to school choice.