Free Exercise

The Supreme Court released its opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby on Monday, holding that the HHS contraception mandate violates an employer’s rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, even when the employer is a for-profit corporation closely held by individuals who object to the mandate on religious grounds. Following the decision in McCullen v. Coakley, the abortion clinic buffer zone case, Hobby Lobby is the second case in a week where the Court told us how much each side of a fundamentally divided issue can ask of the other, under the law. They are hard cases to talk about without questioning the good faith or good sense of the other side. Nearly everyone thinks either Hobby Lobby or McCullen was a bad decision.

The only thing more frustrating than a bad high-profile Supreme Court decision may be the public’s response to any high-profile Supreme Court decision. For proof, one need only look as far as some of the tweets on SCOTUSblog’s Twitter feed….

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Is belief in old St. Nick unreasonable?

One of the great things about religious liberty is the ability to believe unreasonable things.

– Professor Andrew Koppelman of Northwestern Law, speaking yesterday at the Federalist Society National Lawyers Convention, on a panel about religious freedom.

(If you’re curious, a little explanation appears after the jump.)

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At the end of August, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in Elane Photography v. Willock that a Christian wedding photographer violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA) when it refused to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. (New Mexico does not currently permit same-sex marriage, though all the parties and the court frequently refer to the ceremony as a wedding.) This week, one of the parties in a similar controversy in Oregon, Sweet Cakes Bakery, announced that it would be closing shop, citing its opposition to baking wedding cakes for same-sex couples.

Elane Photography argued that it did not violate the NMHRA but, if it did, this application of the law violated the photography business’s Free Speech and Free Exercise rights under the First Amendment. The court disagreed, writing that “when Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the NMHRA in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.”

Personally, I’d vote for same-sex marriage if I lived in a state considering such laws. Polygamy too, for that matter. If you are listening for a full-throated defense of traditional, heterosexual marriage to the exclusion of state recognition of any other arrangement, you won’t hear it here. I’m inclined to support religious understandings of traditional marriage, but I’m libertarian enough to let everyone — straight, gay, or otherwise — suffer through the headaches of having the government divide your assets when you get divorced.

Still, using anti-discrimination laws to mandate that all businesses operating as public accommodations provide services to same-sex couples’ weddings sounds like an unnecessary imposition on the sincere religious beliefs of others — and a great way to end up with lousy wedding photos….

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