High Court dismisses cases over religious freedom and transgender rights

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By TOM STRODE, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON (BP) —The United States Supreme Court said Monday it would not rule on cases offering it the prospect of strengthening religious freedom or clarifying transgender rights in schools.

Judges refused to accept a petition from an Idaho construction worker regarding the state’s refusal to heed his religious beliefs. In that case, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) joined with other religious organizations in a friend of the court brief that urged the High Court to reconsider a three-decade-old ruling that it said she has reversed free exercise. of religion.

The Supreme Court also declined to review a decision requiring a Virginia school district to allow a student who identifies as a male to use the boys’ washroom. The ERLC and other organizations had previously urged judges to overturn a lower court or “unleash disputes over religious freedom resembling disputes over same-sex marriage” and potentially marginalize people of faith.

The ERLC expressed its regret at these actions.

“We are disappointed that the judges refused to take up these cases which offered significant opportunities to bring constitutional clarity to important questions of religious freedom,” said Daniel Patterson, Acting President of the ERLC. “Nonetheless, we will remain tireless in our efforts to speak out about cases that protect religious freedom and uphold the sanctity of human life precisely because we do this work in the service of Christ, who rejoices in life and fulfillment. human.

“At the same time, we remain grateful to see how the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Fulton earlier this term strengthens the foundations of our nation’s first freedom,” Patterson told Baptist Press in written comments.

In their June 17 opinion, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia judges upheld the right of a faith-based adoption and fostering agency to minister according to its beliefs by agreeing that Philadelphia, Pa. Violated the First Amendment’s protection of liberty. exercise of religion by refusing to contract with the Catholic Social Services (CSS) for foster care. The city halted referrals to the agency because CSS does not place children in same-sex couples due to its beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

In the Idaho appeal, George Ricks, a longtime construction worker, sued the Idaho Contractors Board because he refused to heed his religious belief that he should not furnish his social security number to register as an independent entrepreneur. He was prepared to provide his birth certificate and other identification, but the board demanded his social security number, according to Becket, a religious freedom organization representing him. The Idaho Supreme Court refused to accept his case, leading Ricks to seek a ruling from the nation’s highest court.

In their 2019 brief in support of Ricks, the ERLC and five other faith-based organizations asked the Supreme Court to correct its 1990 employment division opinion against Smith, which they called a “revolution. undesirable ”in its decision-making regarding free religious exercise. .

While the First Amendment bars Congress from passing a law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, the 1990 High Court ruling changed the way the clause was interpreted. The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution does not require accommodation for the free exercise of religion in the case of a neutral law that is generally applicable to the public.

Prior to the Smith ruling, the Supreme Court “consistently applied the free exercise clause to protect religious practice from any substantial government interference that could not be justified by a compelling state interest,” according to the ERLC’s brief and others. Since that ruling, the result in many circumstances has been that Smith “effectively stripped the free exercise clause of its constitutional force,” the brief said.

Smith’s opinion, according to the memoir, resulted in a lack of protection for religious freedom in areas such as dress and dress requirements for religious minorities, church zoning restrictions, and limitations on religious practice by churches. and other religious organizations.

The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, The Church of God in Christ, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Synod of the Lutheran Church of Missouri, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America joined the ERLC on the case.

In announcing its decision not to reconsider a case involving a transgender student from Virginia, the Supreme Court said Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito have granted review of a decision by the Richmond Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals . The appeals court ruled in favor of a federal judge in ruling that the Gloucester County School Board in eastern Virginia had violated Title IX and the 14e Equal protection clause of the amendment by denying a high school student who is biologically female but identifies as male from using boys’ toilets.

The school district had provided a separate toilet for the student who brought the suit, but she said being forced to use the alternate toilet stigmatized her further. She took hormone treatment, legally changed her name to a male name – Gavin Grimm – and asked to be treated like a man before her sophomore year of high school in 2014.

In January 2017, the ERLC and five other faith-based organizations asked the Supreme Court, in a friend of the court brief, to overturn a Fourth Circuit opinion that the ban on gender discrimination in the amendments to 1972 on education in Title IX includes gender identity. The National Association of Evangelicals, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Synod of the Lutheran Church-Missouri and the Christian Legal Society joined the ERLC on the case.

The ERLC and other signatories to the brief said their faith and other religious traditions believe that “a person’s identity as male or female is created by God and unchangeable.”

“It is therefore not surprising that interpreting ‘sex’ to include gender identity would create thorny conflicts between federal civil rights law and widely held religious beliefs,” according to the brief. “[R]religious Americans could find themselves increasingly marginalized because they believe gender is immutable and divinely ordained.

The Supreme Court overturned the appeal court’s decision in March 2017, about three weeks before judges heard oral arguments in the case. The High Court action came after the Trump administration overturned an Obama-era policy that Title IX encompasses gender identity – a position the Biden administration also took. The case ultimately returned to federal court and the Fourth Circuit.

When the school board requested the Supreme Court review in the last appeal, the ERLC and its allies chose not to submit a new brief, contenting themselves with their arguments in the previous case while maintaining the same position.


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