A Statement from Center for Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod, Esq.
The Supreme Court has upheld religious freedom in every challenge brought against it this session, with two more victories today. The rulings today make it clear: The government cannot dictate hiring policies for religious entities, but it can provide for exemptions based on religious and conscientious objections.
The First Amendment indeed means the right to freely exercise one’s religion for both private religious schools and religious entities. That government cannot override that right for faith-based organizations.
In its ruling in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru St. James School v. Biel the Court rejected the notion that Catholic schools must allow teachers who do not hold to the faith.
Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion, stating in part, “The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission.” In referencing a previous case, he writes, “What matters is what an employee does. Implicit in the Hosanna-Tabor decision was a recognition that educating young people in their faith, inculcating its teachings, and training them to live their faith are responsibilities that lie at the very core of a private religious school’s mission.”
The Court also upheld First Amendment rights in the second case today, Little Sisters of the Poor and Paul Home v Pennsylvania. The Court held that the government cannot force the nuns to take part in insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortion inducing drugs, violating their religious beliefs.
It is the second time The Little Sisters of the Poor have successfully defended their faith at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Justice Thomas wrote the opinion in which Alito agreed, “I would hold not only that it was appropriate for the Departments to consider RFRA, but also that the Departments were required by RFRA to create the religious exemption (or something very close to it). I would bring the Little Sisters’ legal odyssey to an end”
The two opinions are lengthy and will take more time to fully digest and apply to AZ law.
But they do send a clear message: First Amendment protections of the exercise of religion are not only core to our country’s founding, but they remain relevant and crucial today in the face of much hostility.
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