With American Christians and religious institutions facing discrimination both in the marketplace and by governments, religious liberty issues have unsurprisingly taken center stage at the U.S. Supreme Court.
In fact, the Court’s dockets for the past several years have included more religious liberty cases than any time prior. The good news is that religious claims are winning, so much so that secular critics are falsely complaining that the Court is transforming religious liberty into religious privilege.
A Landslide of Recent Victories
The Court’s rulings include a 2014 decision allowing the Hobby Lobby company to claim an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to provide birth control to employees and a 2018 decision in which the Court sided with a Colorado baker who refused to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding.
More recently, the Court has rejected Covid-19 restrictions on religious worship and ruled that the city of Philadelphia cannot deny contracts to Christian social-service agencies that refuse to certify same-sex or unmarried couples as prospective foster parents.
In the area of education, the Court has reaffirmed that judges may not second-guess religious schools’ employment decisions and invalidated the exclusion of religious schools from public-benefit programs offered by the state.
School prayer also got a healthy reprieve from the Court. In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District (2022), the majority opinion upheld the right of a public-school football coach to offer a prayer on the 50-yard line after a game. The decision is likely to have far-reaching repercussions for future interpretations of the free exercise, establishment, and free speech clauses of the First Amendment.
This is a welcome change from just a few decades ago when the Court showed either hostility or reluctance to protecting the rights of religious claimants.
Much of the credit for this success goes to Christian lawyers’ groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom that shepherd these cases from initial filings to oral arguments before the Supreme Court.
It is encouraging to see the Supreme Court taking a broad view of religious freedom in these key cases and rejecting older, erroneous interpretations of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause that were often read to countenance religious discrimination. After all, freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion.