The U.S. Supreme Court went out of session this morning and did so with a bang. The high court took three actions that affect church-state separation.
Here’s a rundown on what happened:
Trinity Lutheran v. Comer: Americans United has been warning for more than a year that it could erode the church-state wall. The ruling is harmful – but not as bad as it might have been.
Ruling 7-2, the court said that officials in the state of Missouri violated the religious-freedom rights of a church by denying it a taxpayer-funded grant to resurface the playground at its preschool. The court held that since the funding is generally available to a wide array of community organizations, religious entities could not be excluded.
Trinity Lutheran Church: Now taxpayer funded. (Photo by Beatriz Costa-Lima)
No doubt, this is a disappointing ruling, as I made clear in a statement to the media. But it’s unclear how wide its scope is. A footnote in the opinion reads: “This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”
Certainly, some will push for a broad reading of the decision. AU will fight that every step of the way.
Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission: The high court has agreed to hear this important case during its next term, which begins in October. The case deals with a bakery in Lakewood, Colo., that refuses to make cakes for the weddings of same-sex couples, citing the owner’s religious beliefs as justification for the refusal.
When a couple was denied service, the Colorado Civil Rights Division found that the bakery had violated the state’s anti-discrimination statute. The bakery was ordered to stop discriminating against same-sex couples. The bakery took the matter to the Colorado courts and lost. Now the U.S. Supreme Court will give it a look.
The Colorado bakery isn’t alone in making claims like this. In recent years, we’ve seen several businesses and even government clerks – remember Kim Davis in Kentucky? – insist that they have a religious-freedom right to refuse service to members of the LGBTQ community.
Religious freedom, while a crucial value in American life, grants no one the ability to injure others. That includes refusing service in a store, hotel, restaurant or government office. We settled this principle during the Civil Rights era, and nobody should be disputing it now.
This case could be a blockbuster. AU’s Legal Department has closely monitored it and filed briefs in the Colorado courts. We’ll do the same before the high court, making the argument that religious freedom is not a license to discriminate.
Trump’s Muslim Ban: Finally, the Supreme Court announced that in October it will review President Trump’s Muslim Ban. This was no surprise. The ban was challenged in several courts – including in a case brought by Americans United and its allies – and all the courts that have ruled on it have stricken it down. Given the importance of the issue, it was inevitable that the high court would weigh in.
October is a long way off, so what happens to the ban in the meantime? The court addressed that issue today, too, ordering that the ban “may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”
What this means is that Muslims from the countries on Trump’s list who want to enter the United States to visit family members, study at universities, deliver lectures, accept offers of employment or take part in some other type of formal relationship with an entity in the U.S. can still come here. Refugees and tourists may have a tougher time of it.
But remember, this is not a definitive ruling by the court. That won’t happen until after the case is argued in the fall. You can be sure that Americans United will remain involved in this case as well. Our legal team will file a brief arguing that no one should be denied entry to this country simply because of his or her religious beliefs.
In short, we saw quite a whirlwind at the high court today. We have a lot of work to do to defend the church-state wall. And with your help, we’ll get it done.