Supreme Court

IN JUNE, THE U.S. SUPREME COURT ruled in favor of a Lutheran church in Missouri seeking state funding to replace the gravel yard of its playground with a softer surface made of recycled tires. But was it a victory for religious freedom or a violation of the principles separating church and state? Sojourners associate editor Betsy Shirley interviewed Charles C. Haynes, founding director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, to help sort it all out.

Sojourners: Let’s start with the basics: Where does the idea of “separation of church and state” come from?

Charles Haynes: The Establishment Clause—or, more accurately, the “no establishment clause”—is the part of the First Amendment that separates church from state, preventing the entanglement of religion and government that has been the source of repression and conflict for much of human history. But it also protects the right of religious groups and individuals to participate fully in the public square of America.

Oliver Thomas 7-26-2017

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY is very popular in the abstract. It’s only in its application that we begin shouting at one another.

Take the executive order on religious freedom that President Trump signed earlier this year: Depending on your perspective, the order was either “a welcome change in direction toward people of faith from the White House,” as Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore said, or it was a smokescreen for bigotry giving the U.S. government “license to discriminate,” in the words of Sarah Warbelow of the Human Rights Campaign.

So how did we get here?

The Editors 7-25-2017

IN THE TERM that begins this fall, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The nine justices will decide: Is a baker with sincerely held religious objections to same-sex marriage obliged—by anti-discrimination laws—to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple?

But underneath the frosting, the case exemplifies a much broader conversation in which religious liberty is pitted against civil liberties. In this ongoing fight, sides are often split down partisan lines, with conservatives championing religious liberty and liberals defending civil rights.

This religious-freedom-vs.-civil-liberties split is frustrating to many. After all, religious liberty isn’t just for conservatives; the First Amendment offers important protections to all people of faith, from Muslims who seek permits to build mosques to Christians who are conscientious objectors to war. At the same time, we care deeply about civil rights, especially in an era when so many Americans face discrimination because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. In a nutshell, we want to support religious freedom for all while also protecting the civil liberties of LGBTQ folks and other minorities. But is that even possible?

Baptist minister and constitutional lawyer Oliver Thomas is optimistic, but not naive. In “Clash of Liberties,” he explains how religious liberty laws morphed from bipartisan efforts to ensure religious liberty for all into tools used by conservatives and liberals alike to press their own advantage. If we’re serious about protecting both, Thomas writes, we’re going to have to do something that’s easier said than done: lay aside our ideological differences and work for the common good.

Lucy Hadley 6-27-2017

Image via Dhanya Addanki/ Sojourners 

Sessions v. Dimaya

This case concerns the scope and definition of a federal immigration statute that allows deportation of non-citizens who committed an “aggravated felony.” An immigration court ruled that burglary constituted a “crime of violence,” but the Ninth Circuit Court reversed the immigration court’s decisions, stating that the term “crime of violence” is unconstitutionally vague.

Alan Gomez 6-26-2017

Image via RNS/Reuters/Yuri Gripas

The court ruled that Trump may bar people from six majority Muslim countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — if they have no “bona fide” relationship to the U.S. Those that have established ties will be allowed to continue entering the country.

That means officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department will have to begin sorting through each application submitted by travelers from the six targeted countries to determine if they have enough of a link to the U.S. to enter.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Duncan Lock

The 8-0 ruling reverses lower court decisions that sided with hospital workers who argued that the exemption from pension laws should not extend to hospitals affiliated with churches.

President Donald Trump shields his eyes as he makes concluding remarks at the Ford's Theatre Gala, June 4, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

U.S. President Donald Trump urged his administration to seek a tougher version of his controversial travel ban proposal on Monday following a weekend attack in London, and pressed for an expedited judicial review by the nation's top court.

Richard Wolf 6-02-2017

Image via RNS/Reuters/David Ryder

The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to break its losing streak in lower courts and revive President Trump’s travel ban on immigrants from six predominantly Muslim nations.

The request came on June 1 in three separate petitions to courts in Richmond, Va., and San Francisco that blocked the president’s executive order barring most immigrants from countries deemed at risk for terrorism, as well as international refugees.

the Web Editors 5-22-2017

This decision is one of numerous lawsuits that accuse Republicans of discriminating against black and other minority voters who usually vote Democrat. The NAACP called this habit “apartheid voting districts” and claimed Republicans weaken and minimize the voting rights of black voters by packing them into one district and diluting their influence while surrounding them with more white voters that are likely to support Republican candidates. This practice is also known as racial gerrymandering.

The Supreme Court is seen ahead of the Senate voting to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch as an Associate Justice in Washington, DC, U.S. April 7, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

The case, which examines the limits of religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution, is one of the most important before the court in its current term. It also marks the biggest test to date for the court's newest justice, President Donald Trump's appointee Neil Gorsuch.

the Web Editors 4-18-2017

Image via Rainier Martin Ampongan / Shutterstock 
 

Rutledge claims that nothing is in place preventing the next five executions, according to the AP. She says she will continue to fight against any legal challenges hindering the executions.

Image via RNS/Adelle M. Banks

The pro-Trump evangelicals suffer from a spiritual crisis, not a political one.

Moore has challenged the foundations of conservative evangelical political engagement because they desperately needed to be shaken. For 35 years, the old-guard religious right has uncritically coddled, defended, and promoted the Republican Party.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

A Catholic priest who fled to the U.S. from war-torn Vietnam as a youth has written to President Trump, offering to surrender his American citizenship so that the president could confer it on a Syrian refugee, who would be barred under Trump’s controversial order banning travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries.

The Rev. Chuong Hoai Nguyen, a member of the Salesian order, also told Trump he would ask his religious superiors for permission to go live and work in one of the seven countries on the banned list.

Image via Rena Schild/Shutterstock.com

Lost amid the ongoing furor over President Trump’s travel ban, and the ecstasy (and agony) over his first pick for the Supreme Court, was another move on Jan. 31 that is starting to give social conservatives pause: Trump’s continuance of the executive order by President Obama’s policy that protects gay and transgender employees from discrimination while working for federal contractors.

And not only did Trump extend the protections, but he did so in powerful language that used the community’s own “LGBTQ” identifier, while vowing that Trump would be “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights.”

Image via RNS/Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

President Donald Trump had promised last week evangelical Christians would “love” his nominee for the Supreme Court.

And in fact, said evangelical author and president of The KAIROS Company Johnnie Moore, a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, “Evangelicals are ecstatic.”

On Jan. 31, Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to fill the open seat on the Supreme Court left by the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia nearly a year ago.

Image via StreetsofWashington/flickr.com

Calvary Baptist Church, a progressive Baptist landmark in the heart of downtown Washington, has named a gay couple as co-pastors.

Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen were presented to the congregation during worship services on Jan. 8 and will begin their new jobs on Feb. 26.

the Web Editors 11-16-2016

Image via mdgn/Shutterstock.com

The dismantling of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by the Supreme Court and conservative state elected officials may be a major reason behind Donald Trump's 2016 U.S. presidential election win, reports ThinkProgress. This was the nation’s first presidential election since the Voting Rights Act's implementation 50 years ago in which the act didn’t provide full protection to voters of color.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Joshua Roberts

Back when so many thought Hillary Clinton would be the next president, two dozen African-American leaders wrote to the Democratic nominee, asking her to explain her policies related to the poor and the police.

African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Frank M. Reid III said black clergy will make some of the same demands of President-elect Donald Trump.

Jim Wallis 10-27-2016

As a Christian who truly believes that abortion is a moral issue, I am deeply committed to dramatically reducing them. But criminalizing an often desperate choice is not the answer. We must also be deeply committed to the economic security, healthcare, and childcare choices that women need, which are critical to reducing abortion. I believe in the sacredness and dignity of life from womb to tomb. But a “consistent ethic of life” also ending poverty, human trafficking, the death penalty, ceaseless and senseless wars, and weapons of mass destruction.

Charles Camosy 10-20-2016

Image via RNS/Reuters/Rick Wilking

For the first time in three general election debates, a moderator asked the presidential candidates on Oct. 19 about abortion.

Given that abortion has rightly been described as the source of America’s second civil war, there has been a baffling lack of engagement with it this election cycle.

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