Supreme Court

Elmbrook Church was the site of multiple Elmbrook School District graduation ceremonies. Creative Commons image by Sergeantjoe.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand a lower court ruling that a Wisconsin high school acted unconstitutionally when it held its graduation ceremonies in a local megachurch.

The case, Elmbrook School District. v. Doe, involved a high school in a suburb of Milwaukee that rented the nondenominational Elmbrook Church for its graduation exercises in 2009. In 2012, the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called the event was “offensive” and “coercive.” The church’s banners, pamphlets, Bibles, and other religious materials remained in the sanctuary during the graduation.

As is their custom, the justices did not give a reason for declining to hear a challenge to the 7th Circuit ruling.

Monday’s decision may be a signal by the court that despite its approval of sectarian prayers at public meetings in the Town of Greece v. Galloway decision in May, it draws the line at exposing children to religious symbols when they have not choice about it.

Lisa Sharon Harper 06-03-2014

Can a vote outlaw equal protection under the law? The Court seems to think so.

C. Welton Gaddy 05-16-2014

The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy is president of Interfaith Alliance. Photo courtesy Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications.

The great rejoicing after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling on public prayer reminded me of the infamous line from an officer who commented on the destruction of a village during the Vietnam War: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it!”

There isn’t much to celebrate in the high court’s decision in Greece v. Galloway to allow sectarian prayers to be spoken in all kinds of public meetings. The big loser in this judicial decision was prayer itself — its uniqueness and its authenticity.

This most recent decision from the court, like many before it, has provided a “win” for conservative forces. But it comes at the price of a broadside against (if not a compromise of) religion. Why? Because prayer is a spiritual practice that’s better defined theologically rather than politically or legally.
Stephen Prothero 05-13-2014

The Book’s curriculum cover. Photo courtesy of Museum of the Bible

On April 14, the school board in Mustang, Okla., voted to institute an elective Bible course. This is not news. More than a thousand U.S. public schools offer Bible as literature courses.

But the curriculum for the Mustang course was developed by Steve Green, president of the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby craft store chain, which is committed, according to its website, to “honoring the Lord in all we do.”

In March, Hobby Lobby argued before the Supreme Court for a religious liberty exemption to the Affordable Care Act. Now Green is promoting the Bible curriculum the Mustang school board just adopted — a curriculum he predicts will soon be adopted in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of American public schools.

Nick Penniman 05-09-2014

The Supreme Court continues to dismantle campaign finance reform.

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, at the Reason Rally on March 24, 2012. RNS photo by Tyrone Turner.

This week’s Supreme Court ruling allowing sectarian prayers at public meetings dealt a body blow to atheist organizations.

That was the assessment of David Silverman, president of American Atheists, speaking Tuesday to a group of nonbelievers at Stanford University. He then described a scenario that may raise eyebrows among some atheists: working with religious groups to fight against the ruling.

“That’s what we have to do, not only organize the atheists, but the Satanists, the Scientologists,” he said. In a conversation before his talk, he added Muslims, Jews, and Hindus. “We as atheists have the responsibility to urge them and push them and get them in there to get their prayers” said at public meetings.

That’s a change for a man who has famously described religion as a “poison.” And it is emblematic, observers say, of the change that may result from the majority opinion in Greece v. Galloway, which found that prayers citing “the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ” are permissible before government business.

Other secularists are likewise convinced that now is the time for atheists to join forces with members of minority faiths.

Susan Galloway, a resident of the town, Greece, NY, who filed a lawsuit against the town. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess.

The Supreme Court Monday declared that the Constitution not only allows for prayer at government meetings, but religious prayer.

Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy held that the town of Greece, N.Y., did not violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which forbids the government from endorsing a religion — by sponsoring clergy who delivered sectarian prayers.

“To hold that invocations must be non-sectarian would force the legislatures sponsoring prayers and the courts deciding these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech,” Kennedy wrote for himself and the conservatives on the court.

Lawmakers and judges would otherwise have to police prayer, he wrote, involving “government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town’s current practice of neither editing nor approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their contact after the fact.”

Christian Piatt 04-11-2014
y3s0rn0 and Stephanie Frey/Shutterstock.com

y3s0rn0 and Stephanie Frey/Shutterstock.com

It started when the United States Supreme Court determined that corporations were people and, as such, had similar rights and protections as us oxygen-breathing types. And now, in another recent decision, the court has decided that people (individual human beings or corporations) have the right to donate to an unlimited number of political candidates — therefore removing the aggregate cap on total donation amounts — as such gifts should be protected as an exercising of free speech, as defined in the constitution.

So much for representative democracy.

It’s my understanding that the founders of our nation and the framers of our constitution held the notion of representative democracy fairly sacred.

Joey Longley 04-03-2014
Pillars of the Supreme Court, Brandon Bourdages / Shutterstock.com

Pillars of the Supreme Court, Brandon Bourdages / Shutterstock.com

Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down a law that limited the amount of money that an individual can contribute to political campaigns in a two-year election cycle, while upholding the limit that an individual can give to a single campaign in the same period. Previously, the law limited total individual contributions to all political campaigns to $48,600, while capping individual donations to a single campaign at $2,600.

The bottom line of yesterday's McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling is that there will be more money in politics, as the Court doubles down on the controversial 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling that allowed unlimited, anonymous expenditures by outside groups on election activities. Those with resources can now contribute up to $2,600 in all 435 congressional districts, more than 30 Senate races, and the presidential election, while at the same time giving millions more to Super PACs in support of these candidates.

The ruling will give more influence to corporate and labor lobbyists whose groups contribute to political campaigns. It is still illegal to give a donation that explicitly requests a legislative action in return for the contribution. But while politicians spend hours every week making phone calls soliciting contributions, they aren’t likely to forget who is funding their political future. When they hang up the phone and meet a lobbyist in their office whose group is funding their campaign, there is an unspoken understanding that the politician will be more open to the idea that lobbyist is presenting.

03-26-2014
As we near the March 25 arguments in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, it can feel as though men have the monopoly on religious activism in America. After all, 38 protestant theologians signed on to an amicus brief suggesting that a business owner’s religious beliefs should dictate the consciences and actions of female employees – none of those theologians were women... This article was originally published in Sojourners.
Joey Longley 03-25-2014
Photo by Joey Longley

Photo by Joey Longley

Today, the Supreme Court heard two cases that have major implications for the intersection of religious liberty and health care in America. While Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius were argued before the Court, hundreds of activists voiced their opinions outside the Court’s chambers.

The Court will decide whom the so-called “contraception mandate” law in the Affordable Care Act applies to. Both of the challengers to this section of the 2010 health law say that providing certain forms of birth control violates their sincerely held religious views. Though there are already exemptions in law for churches and some nonprofits, this case will decide whether for-profit corporations are offered protection under the religious liberty clause of the First Amendment to deny contraception coverage to their employees.

Carol Keehan 01-31-2014

Amid the political bombast, it’s easy to forget why we needed health-care reform in the first place.

Tracy Simmons 01-22-2014

Mary Wissink, pictured here with her dad, Al. Photo courtesy of Mary Wissink/RNS

Arriving home from school on Jan. 22, 1973, Mary Wissink noticed her mother was unusually animated.

The dining room table was pulled away from the wall for a festive meal. The linens were ironed. The smell of turkey, dressing, and sweet potatoes wafted through the house. Mom was polishing the silver.

Wissink, then a sophomore in high school, realized her mother had come home from work early to prepare a feast.

“Mary,” her mom said, “today you have the right to your own body.”

It was the day the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the legality of a woman’s right to an abortion. Wissink and her family have been celebrating Roe v. Wade anniversaries ever since.

Demonstrators hold signs in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess

The Supreme Court struggled Wednesday with a case that asks whether government bodies can open with prayers that some people find overly religious and excluding.

From their lines of questioning, it’s unclear whether the court is ready to write new rules on what sort of prayer falls outside constitutional bounds. And more than one of the justices noted that just before they took their seats, a court officer declared: “God save the United States and this honorable court.”

Few court watchers believe the justices will rule all civic prayers unconstitutional — the nation has a long history of convening legislative bodies with such language.

Rather, the question raised by Town of Greece v. Galloway is how sectarian these prayers can get.

Katherine Burgess 10-22-2013

Novices Joseph Eichorn, left and Dustin Bernard move a handmade wooden casket. Photo via RNS, by Ted Jackson/The Times-Picayune.

A group of Catholic monks can continue selling their handmade caskets after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from Louisiana funeral directors.

“We really can now move forward without worrying about being shut down,” said Deacon Mark Coudrain, manager of St. Joseph Woodworks in Covington, La. “This is going to affect a lot of other people. A lot of people are going to have opportunities to do things that are their legal right to generate revenue.”

In a little-noticed ruling on Oct. 15, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case between the brothers of St. Joseph Abbey and the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.

Photo by Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal – courtesy The Star-Ledger/RNS

Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday that he was dropping the fight against same-sex marriage in New Jersey by withdrawing his appeal of a major case that was being heard by the state Supreme Court.

Starting one minute after midnight, gay couples have been getting married after the Supreme Court refused on Friday to delay the first weddings while it heard Christie’s appeal of a lower-court ruling that legalized gay marriage last month.

Christie said the court, in rejecting his plea for a stay, had made strong statements that settled the larger case.

Richard Wolf 10-04-2013
hoto courtesy U.S. Supreme Court

hoto courtesy U.S. Supreme Court

After two blockbuster terms in which it saved President Obama’s health care law and advanced the cause of same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court appears poised to tack to the right in its upcoming term on a range of social issues, from abortion and contraception to race and prayer.

The justices, whose term begins Monday, could rule against racial minorities in two cases and abortion rights in one or two others. They also could uphold prayers at government meetings, ease restrictions on wealthy political donors, strike down federal environmental regulations, and take a first bite out of Obamacare.

Hobby Lobby store in Ohio. Photo via RNS/courtesy DangApricot via Wikimedia Commons

Federal officials have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the government mandate that private companies offer employees birth control coverage despite the business owner’s moral objections, with the company at the center of the suit owned by billionaire evangelical Christians.

Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit has been one of the most high profile of 60-some cases involving the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate. The arts and crafts chain was founded by David Green, whom Forbes called “the biblical billionaire backing the evangelical movement.”

In June, the Obama administration issued final rules for the mandate that requires most employers to provide contraception at no cost. While there are exemptions for religious groups and affiliated institutions, there are no carve-outs for private businesses with religious owners.

Dwayne D. Royster 08-13-2013
 Danny E Hooks / Shutterstock.com

Martin Luther King, Jr., quote at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala. Danny E Hooks / Shutterstock.com

I was born in 1969 and thus am in the first generation of African-Americans to grow up with laws and policies that say to the rest of America that I am equal. I saw housing opportunities open up for me as my parents “broke the block” and became the first African-Americans to move onto an all-white block in the East Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia in 1970. I saw educational opportunities open up such that I was able to attend a nearly all-white private, college-prep high school in the suburbs. This was the fruit of the Civil Rights movement in my life growing up in the 1970s and 80s.

Soon hundreds of thousands will gather on the National Mall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. That speech lived on for me in classrooms and in speech competitions and was etched on my heart so that I would carry that dream into the future.

The recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court to gut the enforcement section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the decision of the jury in the George Zimmerman trial have left me wondering about the dream, worried that it is under attack and worries that professed Christians are among those helping lead those attacks. 

Lisa Sharon Harper 08-02-2013

President Johnson hands Martin Luther King Jr. one of the pens used to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law.

More than 80 bills to restrict voter access were introduced in 2013.

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