Earlier this month the federal Department of Justice filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting a baker in Colorado in an important religious liberty case.
Jack Phillips is a baker and cake designer. He is also a Christian. In 2012 he was asked to design a custom cake for a same-sex ceremony. Phillips declined and was promptly sued for discrimination under the state’s public accommodation law.
It’s important to note that Mr. Phillips sells cakes and baked goods to people regardless of their sexual-orientation. However, he does not prepare cakes for every occasion, based on his Christian beliefs. For example, according to documents filed with the court, Mr. Phillips does not operate his business on Sundays; does not sell products containing alcohol; and does not provide goods related to Halloween.
His case has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and earlier this month the federal Department of Justice filed an amicus brief in the case supporting Mr. Phillips.
Attorneys at the DOJ write, “Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights . . . . Colorado has not offered, and could not reasonably offer, a sufficient justification for that compulsion here.”
Mr. Phillips’s case highlights a growing threat to religious liberty: State and local “nondiscrimination” policies. While these laws are often touted as ways to protect people from discrimination, they can run roughshod over religious liberty and force people to say or do things that violate their deeply-held religious beliefs.
Fortunately the federal government is standing with Mr. Phillips, but ultimately this case rests in the hands of the nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last month a public school teacher in Indiana sent notes home informing families that her classroom was not the “appropriate time or place” for students to talk about religion.
The truth is, students have a constitutionally-protected right to talk about God and share their faith at school as long as they are not being disruptive. That means students can talk about their faith, read the Bible, or pray during free time.
It also means they can tie their faith into class assignments; for example, many students assigned essays along the lines of, “What person has influenced you the most?” have written about Jesus Christ.
Fortunately in this case the school district informed the teacher that the school cannot squelch students’ free speech or religious liberty.
And don’t forget October 5 is Bring Your Bible to School Day. We are partnering with our friends at Focus on the Family to encourage students across Arkansas to take their Bibles with them to school on this day.
This is a simple way students can exercise their religious liberty and celebrate God’s Word at the same time.
This October, don’t go to school without your Bible. You can find out more about Bring Your Bible to School Day by clicking here.
Last week Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office issued a good opinion in support of religious liberty.
The opinion has to do with publicly-funded grants offered to private organizations in Russellville.
In short, the City of Russellville collects tax revenue in order to fund grants for private organizations conducting activities that promote tourism–such as competitions and sporting events.
Questions have arisen concerning whether or not the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitutions prohibits religious organizations from receiving these grants in order to conduct secular events that do not have a religious element.
The A.G. writes,
Simply providing this funding to a sectarian (religious or church) group for the secular events . . . would not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Indeed, declaring a particular sectarian group ineligible for the funding based on that group’s religious status would likely violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
In writing the opinion, the Attorney General’s office cites a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court: Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer.
In that case, a Missouri preschool was denied a state grant to make safety improvements to the preschool’s playground. The state denied the grant simply because the preschool is affiliated with a church. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the state could not refuse to award the grant to a qualifying organization on this basis.
Attorney General Rutledge’s opinion underscores that state and local government cannot and should not discriminate against religious organizations.