Supreme Court

Justices to Take Up Abercrombie & Fitch Headscarf Case

Is Abercrombie & Fitch guilty of religious discrimination? Photo via RNS.

The Supreme Court granted 11 new cases for review Oct. 2, agreeing to rule on controversial topics such as religious freedom, child abuse, immigration, housing discrimination, congressional redistricting and campaign fund-raising by judicial candidates.

While they delayed any decision on same-sex marriage, the justices filled out their docket through January and into February with civil rights cases and others likely to command attention.

Here’s a look at what the justices chose from among some 2,000 cases that accumulated through the summer:

Muslim Inmate Takes His Case for a Beard to the Supreme Court

Should Gregory Holt be allowed to grow a beard? Photo courtesy of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, via Arkansas Corrections/RNS.

It’s not every day that a coalition of legal minds is rooting for a violent inmate convicted of stabbing his girlfriend in the neck.

When Gregory Holt’s case arrives at the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 7, lawyers won’t be arguing about what landed him a life sentence in an Arkansas state prison, but rather what he wanted to do once he got there: grow a beard in observance of his Muslim religious beliefs.

The state of Arkansas says he can’t. Holt — a convert to Islam who now calls himself Abdul Maalik Muhammad — says he would keep his beard no longer than half an inch. But prison officials, backed by the state’s attorney general, argue that even such a short beard poses security risks.

“When it comes to making prison policies, the stakes are high; lives can be lost if the wrong decision is made,” according to the state’s legal brief, which describes Holt as a violent self-declared fundamentalist. “The ADC takes religious freedom seriously, but it takes seriously its paramount interests in safety and security, too.”

The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Ray Hobbs, the director of the Arkansas Department of Correction. But it’s hard to find too many others who think that the prison’s case for security trumps Holt’s right to exercise his religion.

Utah to Appeal Gay Marriage Case to Supreme Court

Creative Commons image by Lbrcomm

Sean Reyes is the 21st Attorney General of Utah. Creative Commons image by Lbrcomm

The Utah attorney general announced Wednesday that he will go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge an appellate ruling that declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Attorney General Sean Reyes decided to leapfrog the full 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver after a three-judge panel last month upheld a lower-court ruling and declared that the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process extend to gay men and lesbians who want to marry. It was the first time a federal appeals court had ruled on the issue.

Besides Utah, the June 25 decision applies to Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, but the circuit court put its ruling on hold, pending appeals.

A License to Pray

Illustration by Ken Davis

THE RECENT Supreme Court ruling permitting prayer at government functions holds many ramifications for our day-to-day life, such as getting a comfortable seat at the city council meeting before the clerk starts reading the entire book of Revelation.

In writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy held that public prayer is “deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country” and should be permitted as a ceremonial practice. Like, maybe at the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles:

Driver: I’m here to renew my driver’s license.

DMV clerk: Let us pray.

Driver: Excuse me?

DMV clerk: With every head bowed, and every eye closed, we pray to the Lord Jesus Christ that his love will pour out on this driver, and by the grace of the Living God, he will always come to a complete stop, when appropriate.

Driver: Amen, I guess. Now, will I need to take a new photo?

DMV clerk: God knows who you are and what you look like. Because, his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches you.

Driver: You’re going to sing, aren’t you?

DMV clerk: I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, for his eye is ...

Driver: Got it. God is always watching me.

DMV clerk: And we have several traffic cameras throughout the city to help God in that regard.

Driver: Be that as it may, do I have to do anything else to renew my license?

DMV clerk: Are you washed in the Blood of the Lamb?

Driver: Um, I’m not sure. I showered this morning, but ...

DMV clerk: We’ll let it go this time. Okay, that’ll be $47.

Driver: That’s a lot higher than last year.

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How Soccer Differs from the World of Partisan Politics

Brazil fans watch World Cup quarterfinal at the São Paulo Fan Fest - Brazil v Colombia on July 4, 2014. ©Ben Tavener via Flickr.

After the final whistle ended a hard-fought World Cup match, Brazilian star David Luiz consoled Colombian star James Rodriguez.

They exchanged jerseys to show their mutual respect, and Luiz held Rodriguez close as the losing player wept in frustration.

This poignant moment was much more inspiring than a string of fouls, some intentional, that sent Brazil’s Neymar to the hospital and left players on both sides shouting in agony.

During play, soccer seems eerily like the world outside: opposing forces collide, do anything to gain advantage, bamboozle the game’s referees, shout in mock pain and real pain, challenge joints and muscles beyond their capacity, give everything for their nation’s cause — all while spectators whoop and holler in the safety of the stands.

Wheaton College Gets a Pass from Supreme Court on Contraception Mandate

The United States Supreme Court. Image courtesy Orhan Cam/shutterstock.com.

The United States Supreme Court. Image courtesy Orhan Cam/shutterstock.com.

The Supreme Court offered a further sign that it favors letting employers with religious objections avoid the Obama administration’s so-called contraception mandate.

Over the vehement objection of its three female justices, the court late Thursday blocked the administration from forcing evangelical Wheaton College to sanction insurance coverage for emergency birth control, even though it would not have had to offer the coverage itself.

In doing so, the court made clear that it’s not done with the religious liberty issue following the court’s June 30 ruling that closely-held, for-profit corporations with objections to certain contraception methods do not have to offer this type of coverage to their employees.

Hobby Lobby, Rivalry, and Choosing Grace

A Hobby Lobby store in Jacksonville, FL, at night. Image courtesy Rob Wilson/shu

A Hobby Lobby store in Jacksonville, FL, at night. Image courtesy Rob Wilson/shutterstock.com

It is an identical claim to moral superiority which matters and which is in fact the cause of the apparent conflict. The underlying issues, whatever you think they may be, whether religious freedom, women’s reproductive rights, creeping restrictions on abortion or loosening of civil rights protections—all these issues are things we can talk about and solve together through discussion and compromise. ...Unless we begin from a position that says, "We refuse to talk with you or compromise." 

The Cross on Mount Soledad Can Stay — For Now

The Mount Soledad cross was installed on public land in San Diego in 1954. Creative Commons image by Jun Pinili

The decades-long battle over a cross erected on public land in California will drag out even longer now that the Supreme Court declined Monday to hear the case.

In the last full day of the current session, the court said the case must first go to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before the high court will consider it.

The conflict in Mount Soledad Memorial Association v. Trunk, is over a 43-foot cross that sits atop Mount Soledad on public land in San Diego. The cross was erected in the 1950s and has since become a veterans’ memorial.

Five Takeaways From the Hobby Lobby Case

The nine Supreme Court justices, public domain

The nine Supreme Court justices, public domain

Five things to know about one of the most anticipated Supreme Court decisions of the year:

1. Corporations can’t pray, but they do have religious rights.

Hobby Lobby isn’t a person. It’s a chain of crafts stores owned by a religious family. And though the evangelical Green family objects to parts of the Affordable Care Act’s emergency contraception mandate, it’s not the Greens but the company that writes the check for employees’ health insurance. The first question the justices had to answer was this: Does Hobby Lobby have religious rights? To many Americans, this sounds a little nutty. Does a craft store believe in God?

A majority of the justices held that a closely held company such as Hobby Lobby does have religious rights. The court didn’t apply those rights, however, to publicly held corporations, where owners’ religious beliefs would be hard to discern.

But well before the justices had delivered their verdict on this question, many legal scholars said they wouldn’t be surprised were they to affirm the company’s religious rights. American corporations do have some of the rights and responsibilities we usually associate with people. And in the 2010Citizens United campaign finance case, the justices overturned bans on corporate political spending as a violation of freedom of speech — corporations’ free speech.

Awaiting Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby Ruling, Public Favors Contraception Mandate

Supporters and opponents of ACA’s contraception mandate rallied outside the Supreme Court, March 25. RNS photos by Adelle Banks.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to finally issue its ruling this week in the highly anticipated case of the craft companies vs. Obamacare.

Technically, it’s Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a showdown over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate. The core legal question is whether a private company can have religious rights.

But to the general public, this is seen as a showdown between employers — the evangelical Green family behind Hobby Lobby and the Mennonite Hahn familythat owns the Conestoga cabinet company — and the employees’ personal reproductive choices under their insurance.

While conservatives have cast the battle as one for religious freedom, the general public may see it as a showdown over personal health choices.

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