How did the Supreme Court rule in religion cases in 2022?
Earlier this year, as Republicans and Democrats clashed over Christian nationalism, religious exemption claims and access to communion, the Supreme Court showed there was still room to tame tensions partisans that permeate debates on religious liberty. His rulings in the first two religion cases of the term were nearly unanimous, and presented a shared view of what the country owes believers, including those on death row.
But in June, as the court finished its last term, that cordial streak came to an abrupt halt. The final three rulings in religion-related cases pitted the court’s conservative justices against its liberals; each ended in a 6-3 vote.
In addition to having different ideas about how cases over school funding, abortion rights and school prayer should have played out, the two sides disagreed over what was at stake. In their dissents, the liberal justices repeatedly criticized the conservatives for downplaying each ruling’s potential impact on the country as a whole.
“The court relies on an assortment of pluralities, agreements and dissents from members of the current majority to effect fundamental changes in this court’s jurisprudence on religious clauses, while proclaiming that nothing has changed at all,” Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her CONTESTATION in the case of the praying football coach.
Meanwhile, in school prayer and funding decisions, conservative judges affirmed to uphold the status quo, as Sotomayor described it.
“The ‘unremarkable’ principles applied (in two recent religion cases) are sufficient to resolve this case,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion for the case of school financing.
Although it is common for the court to split along ideological lines in contentious religious freedom cases, liberal justices have sided with conservatives more often in recent years, and there has been no dissent in the court. the court’s biggest religion case in 2021. The term’s acrimonious ending may signal that the gap between conservative and liberal views of religious issues is widening — and that it may soon be too big to overcome.
Here’s a deeper look at the latest religion-related Supreme Court rulings and what they tell us about the coming conflict between church and state:
Carson v. Makin
In a decision released June 21, the Supreme Court made it harder for states to keep public education money away from private religious schools.
The majority justices said a Maine law barring students at sectarian schools from participating in a tuition assistance program violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.
“The state pays tuition for some private school students – as long as the schools are not religious. This is discrimination against religion,” Roberts wrote.
He added that the ruling simply reaffirms what has been exposed in several recent cases, including battles over a scholarship program in Montana and playground resurfacing grants in Missouri.
“We have repeatedly argued that a state violates the free exercise clause when it excludes religious observers from otherwise available public benefits,” Roberts wrote.
The court’s three liberal justices dissented, arguing that the majority ignored or undervalued the clear distinctions between Carson v. Makin and previous financing deals. There is a difference between preventing religious schools from receiving public money simply because they are religious and preventing them from accessing public money because they would use the funds for religious activities, said the Judge Stephen Breyer.
“It is religious activity, not religious labels, that is at the heart of this case,” he wrote in his dissent.
While the Supreme Court’s decision was a clear victory for religious schools, it may not change much of the situation on the ground in Maine, as Aaron Tang, a law professor at the University of California at Davis, in a column for The New York Times. Some Christian schools have said they will refuse the newly accessible public money because the institutions receiving the funds must follow LGBTQ anti-discrimination rules.
“The two religious schools involved in the Carson case, Bangor Christian Schools and Temple Academy, have said they will refuse public funds if … accepting such funds would require them to change their mode of operation or alter their “standards Admissions “to admit LGBTQ students,” Tang wrote.
Non-discrimination rules and related efforts to protect LGBTQ rights could lead to additional lawsuits, legal experts have said. In other words, Carson v. Makin likely won’t be the last we hear from the Supreme Court on religious school rights.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization
The long-awaited decision of the Supreme Court abortion decision finally arrived on June 24. For opponents of abortion rights, the decision was worth the wait.
The justices voted 6-3 to uphold a Mississippi policy banning most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. More importantly, five justices voted to overturn Roe v. Wade and return control of abortion access to individual states.
“It is time to respect the Constitution and return the question of abortion to the elected representatives of the people,” wrote Judge Samuel Alito for the majority.
In a concurring opinion, Roberts wrote that the court could have—and should have—upheld Mississippi’s abortion restrictions without overturning Roe v. Wade.
“The court’s opinion is thoughtful and thorough, but these virtues cannot outweigh the fact that its dramatic and consequential decision is not necessary to decide the case before us,” he said.
The three liberals on the court co-wrote a dissent in which they chastised their colleagues for upsetting the careful balance that previous rulings had established between women’s rights and states’ rights.
“Today the court rejects this balance. It says that from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights per se,” they wrote.
In anticipation of Roe’s downfall, several states have adjusted their abortion policies to dramatically reduce access to abortion, the dissent said, noting that in the future, many women will have no other choice than to carry even dangerous pregnancies to term.
“In a wide range of circumstances, a state will be able to impose its moral choice on a woman and compel her to give birth to a child,” the liberal justices wrote.
Although the case was not about a religious freedom claim, religious groups agreed it was morally — and religiously — significant. Several religion-related organizations filed briefs with the Supreme Court explaining their views on abortion rights and even more released statements after the ruling was delivered.
Some of the statements from pro-abortion rights advocates pointed to the possibility of using the Religious Freedom Act to push back on abortion restrictions. For example, people of faith who belong to a religion that requires abortion under certain circumstances might say that the restrictions interfere with their religious practice. Legal experts previously told the Deseret News that such lawsuits have every chance of going to court.
Kennedy vs. Bremerton
The Supreme Court resolved its latest term religion case on June 27, decision that a football coach from a public high school could pray on the 50-yard line after games.
The case stemmed from a dispute between coach Joe Kennedy and his former employer, the Bremerton School District in Washington state. Kennedy claimed school officials violated her rights to religious exercise and freedom of speech when they asked her to stop praying, while officials said her prayers violated the covenant of establishment of the First Amendment.
The court’s conservative majority said officials’ fears were unfounded and that praying in the field near students did not violate previous rulings barring schools from holding daily Bible readings or having a member of the clergy pray. at graduation ceremonies. Kennedy has the right to pray during the same time that other coaches check their phones or visit friends, Judge Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.
“This case is very different from those in which this court found that prayer involving public school students was problematically coercive,” he said. “The prayers for which Mr. Kennedy was sanctioned were not publicly broadcast or recited before a captive audience. Students were not required or expected to participate.
As in Carson v. Makin, the three liberal justices took issue with the majority’s description of the conflict. They said school officials were right to worry about how the coach’s prayers would affect impressionable young students.
“This decision does a disservice to schools and the young citizens they serve, and to our nation’s long-standing commitment to the separation of church and state,” Sotomayor wrote. in her dissent, which was joined by Breyer and Judge Elena Kagan.
Various organizations, including some faith groups, echoed the dissidents’ concerns in their statements on the case, predicting that the majority view would lead to more religion-related conflict in classrooms across the country.
“This court honors religious freedom but dismisses any concerns about avoiding government pressure on students,” Holly Hollman, general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said in a statement.
But other groups celebrated the decision and said all Americans are better off when religious speech enjoys strong protections.
“We are grateful that the Supreme Court recognized what the Constitution and the law have always said – Americans are free to live their faith in public,” said Kelly Shackelford, president, CEO and chief counsel of First Liberty, who represented Kennedy in the case. .