Conservative faith leaders and their allies, outspoken in recent years about infringements on religious liberties, celebrated Wednesday as the Supreme Court issued a pair of rulings that protected certain rights of religious employers.
In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the high court sided with two Catholic schools in ruling that certain employees of religious schools, hospitals and social service centers can’t sue for employment discrimination due to the autonomy of religious organizations.
And in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, also decided 7-2, the court upheld the Trump administration’s allowance for a religious or moral exemption from the Obama-era Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide free contraception.
Vice President Mike Pence reflected the victorious mood on the right, tweeting that “the Obama-Biden assault on religious liberty is over!”
Two Big WINS for Religious Freedom at SCOTUS today. All Americans of faith can be assured that under President @realDonaldTrump, the Obama-Biden assault on religious liberty is over! We will always stand with every American of every Faith! 🇺🇸
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) July 8, 2020
Others hailing the rulings included the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Family Research Council.
The decisions were decried by a number of secular groups, with pro-abortion organizations in particular assailing the contraception decision.
“This is part of a larger effort to use religious freedom as a cover for discrimination & restrictions on reproductive healthcare,” tweeted the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights.
Outrageous! This is part of a larger effort to use religious freedom as a cover for discrimination & restrictions on reproductive healthcare. Faith communities value religious freedom. It should not be manipulated to defend discrimination or impose one set of beliefs on others. https://t.co/3tdwngOeMv
— RCRC (@RCRChoice) July 8, 2020
The religious workplace ruling comes less than a month after the Supreme Court extended protections against employment discrimination for LGBT workers, a 6-3 decision that left the door open for future religious exemptions.
Eric Rassbach, a senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty who argued for the schools in the case, said that it should be viewed together with last month’s ruling.
The overall result “means the government is significantly limited and courts are significantly limited in how much they can intrude on the internal affairs of religious organizations,” Rassbach said.
He noted, however, that the question of whether the likes of gym teachers and other employees not involved in religious instruction would be covered by the ruling remains unresolved.
Charlie Camosy, a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University, welcomed both rulings, saying via email that they showed a respect for religious convictions at a time when American culture is increasingly secular.
“Religious freedom is really about carving out a space for all — whether religious or secular — to live according to their foundational beliefs and values,” he wrote.
“I welcome the Supreme Court’s rulings to protect religious individuals, so they can live out their faith without being forced to violate their conscience,” Arkansas GOP Sen. Tom Cotton said in a statement.
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