Understanding Today’s Two Religious Liberty Supreme Court Decisions

The following is a transcript of the above video:

Hey guys, I just want to talk really quickly about the two Supreme Court decisions that came down today that affect religious liberties because I think they’re not being understood. One of them has to do with the extent to which religious organizations have to comply with anti-discrimination laws (Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Agnes Morrissey-Berru, No. 19-267, and St. James School v. Darryl Biel, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Kristen Biel, No. 19-348), which is one thing, I’ll talk about that in a moment. The other one has to do simply, with an actually pretty more basic question, which is the extent to which the President can exempt religious organizations from having to provide contraceptive access through their health insurance plans (Donald Trump v. Pennsylvania, No. 19-454, and The Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, No. 19-431).

In that case, the Supreme Court simply looked at the Obamacare statute, and did not gut it. They didn’t overturn any part of Obamacare. They didn’t disagree with any part of Obamacare. In fact, the Supreme Court just looked at it, and ruled seven to two, by the way, this wasn’t a five, four decision. They ruled, seven to two, that the Obamacare statute, on its face, permits the President, and by extension through the Executive Branch, to create exemptions for different organizations based on religious or moral reasons. This isn’t the Supreme Court becoming activist, this isn’t the Supreme Court saying, “Obamacare conflicts with the First Amendment,” or anything like that. This is simply the Supreme Court looking at the Obamacare statute, seeing this provision in it that permits the Executive Branch, in this case President Trump, to make these exemptions and saying, “Yeah, this is part of the law, there’s no problem here.”

That’s very different than the second case. I’m usually on the side of religious freedom, but the second case is kind of weird. The second case was actually two cases consolidated into one. The Supreme Court will do this every now and then, when two cases present a sufficiently similar issue. You basically had these two cases where one woman had to take medical leave because she had cancer, and by the way later died, but she had to take medical leave because she had cancer, and she sued that she was being discriminated against because of that. In the other one, a woman was suing on the basis that she was being discriminated against because of her age.

Whether or not those things are true, whether or not the religious organizations in this case were guilty of that is irrelevant, the issue is simply whether or not the lawsuits could proceed, or whether the religious organizations had some kind of protective immunity from these things. The courts ruled that there is what’s called a ministerial exception, that’s not new. There’s a ministerial exception that says religious organizations generally have pretty broad discretion when it comes to hiring and firing their employees who qualify as ministers, which is to say involved in some kind of religious teaching, a religious aspect, as distinct from say, like a janitor or someone like that, but like teachers who teach religion, and pray with the students, and things like that.

They say religious organizations have a broad exemption, or broad immunity, and broad discretion when it comes to the hiring and firing of these people, such that these various discrimination statutes, or really anti-discrimination statutes, don’t apply. It’s sort of weird because you understand if you’re, just by way of an example, a Jewish synagogue, and you just want to hire Jewish people to teach the Jewish faith, or to teach the students. That’s one thing. That Jewish synagogue arguably shouldn’t be required to hire a Scientologist or a Catholic. If a Jewish synagogue wants to hire a Jewish person to teach the Jewish faith, that’s fine. And you understand why normal rules that have to do with discrimination in the workplace, especially when it comes to religious discrimination, wouldn’t apply there, but this has nothing to do with religious discrimination one way or the other, even though it’s kind of being couched that way.

The issue here wasn’t that either of these people who were suing were claiming that they were discriminated against because of their faith or not. The religious organizations weren’t claiming that their employment was somehow contrary to their own faith. It was just the religious organizations were saying, “Because we are a religious organization, we have a ministerial exception, and that gives us broad discretion on hiring and firing that exempts us from these various statutes.” Which again, the Supreme Court ruled seven to two, so this wasn’t a very close case, but it does seem like an overly broad application of an admittedly well-established principle, but one that doesn’t seem to make all that much sense. Again, I’m almost always on the side of religious freedom and everything like that, but you know, it’s one thing to discriminate against someone because of their religion which doesn’t fit within that church, right? Like a Baptist church shouldn’t be required to hire a Satanist. Fine. It’s quite something else simply to say that we don’t have to comply with age discrimination laws, we don’t have to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, because of our faith. That’s rather peculiar.

But anyway, guys, that’s basically what happened at the Supreme Court today. In the first case, it wasn’t an act of the Supreme Court rebuking Obamacare. It was the opposite. The Supreme Court simply read Obamacare and said, “Here’s what it says, and this is a proper application of it.” And the second one, I thought, again, was a little bit weirder, because it’s applying religious exemption law to things that really don’t have much to do with religion, if anything.

Anyway, that’s today’s summary, hope you guys are doing well. Take care of yourselves.

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