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February 24, 2014 0

Governor Jindal’s Dubious Comments on Religious Liberty

Accord­ing to Louisiana Gov­er­nor Bobby Jin­dal, there is a “Silent War on Reli­gious Lib­erty” in America. 

In recent remarks at the Ronald Rea­gan Pres­i­den­tial Library, the Gov­er­nor claimed that this war is being “waged in our courts and in the halls of polit­i­cal power.”  Although “churches in Amer­ica are not being burned to the ground, and Chris­tians are not being slaugh­tered for their faith,” he con­tends that this blood­less war “threat­ens the fab­ric of our com­mu­ni­ties, the health of our pub­lic square, and the endurance of our con­sti­tu­tional governance.”  bobby-jindal

Exhibit A in the Governor’s speech evi­denc­ing this pur­ported silent war is the Hobby Lobby case cur­rently pend­ing before the U.S. Supreme Court.  In that case, the Gov­er­nor is sup­port­ing own­ers of for-profit, sec­u­lar cor­po­ra­tions who are chal­leng­ing the Afford­able Care Act’s con­tra­cep­tion man­date on reli­gious free­dom grounds.

The man­date would require these cor­po­ra­tions to pro­vide employ­ees with com­pre­hen­sive health insur­ance, inclu­sive of pre­scrip­tion birth con­trol, or pay a mod­est tax.  From the Governor’s per­spec­tive, these cor­po­rate own­ers should be allowed to impose their reli­gious beliefs about con­tra­cep­tion on thou­sands of employ­ees who likely have diverse reli­gious views on the subject.

Exhibit B is a series of legal cases against bak­eries, florists and other wed­ding ser­vice providers who have refused on reli­gious grounds to pro­vide ser­vices to same-sex cou­ples.  Here too, Gov­er­nor Jin­dal over­looks the fact that many of these cou­ples find sup­port for their mar­riages in their reli­gious tra­di­tion, and could legit­i­mately claim that their reli­gion is being denigrated.

In his speech at the Rea­gan Library, the Gov­er­nor also said “… the fact is that our reli­gious lib­er­ties are designed to pro­tect peo­ple of all faiths.”  Stand­ing alone, this would be a forth­right state­ment on our nation’s cher­ished con­sti­tu­tional val­ues.  How­ever, given the con­text of his speech, this remark lacks cred­i­bil­ity.  The Governor’s appar­ent sup­port for cer­tain Chris­t­ian view­points being imposed on our plu­ral­is­tic work­force, mar­ket­place, and soci­ety erro­neously sup­ports the use of the Con­sti­tu­tion as a sword to advance the majority’s reli­gion rather than a shield to pro­tect the rights of reli­gious minori­ties or the non-religious.  It is unfor­tu­nate that the Governor’s sup­port for reli­gious free­dom seems selec­tive rather than universal.

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June 14, 2013 0

ADL Marks 20th Anniversary Of Wisconsin v. Mitchell Decision

This week marks the 20th anniver­sary of the land­mark Supreme Court deci­sion in Wis­con­sin v. Mitchell uphold­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of Wisconsin’s hate crimes law, which was based on ADL model leg­is­la­tion drafted in 1981.supreme-court-hate-crimes-adl

Con­gress, forty-five states, and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia now have laws based on our sim­i­lar to the ADL model statute.  ADL’s Wash­ing­ton Coun­sel Michael Lieber­man described the sig­nif­i­cance of this week’s anniver­sary in an op-ed, “Pun­ish­ment to Fit the (Hate) Crime,” pub­lished today in The Hill’s Con­gress Blog.

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November 30, 2012 1

Renewed Concerns About “Legislative Prayer”

As we approach 2013, the 30th anniver­sary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s deci­sion on leg­isla­tive prayer, the issue has come alive again.

Thirty years ago, in an ami­cus curiae brief sub­mit­ted to the U.S. Supreme Court oppos­ing the Nebraska Legislature’s prac­tice of des­ig­nat­ing a chap­lain to open its ses­sions with a prayer, ADL noted that the prac­tice was not only uncon­sti­tu­tional but unwise, because it would be polit­i­cally divi­sive.  The Court nev­er­the­less upheld the prac­tice in Marsh v. Cham­bers, carv­ing out a lim­ited excep­tion to the First Amendment’s Estab­lish­ment Clause, which man­dates the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state, for non-sectarian prayers.

Ever since, lower courts have wres­tled with whether and how prayers can be non-sectarian, and recently there has been a new wave of cases.  Courts in at least five states are now con­sid­er­ing var­i­ous forms of prayers before state and local leg­isla­tive bod­ies, county and/or city com­mis­sions, and it may just be a mat­ter of time before the U.S. Supreme Court revis­its the issue.   It has, in fact, become polit­i­cally divi­sive.  When and if a case reaches the Supreme Court, the Court should pro­hibit such “leg­isla­tive prayer” once and for all.

Over the past three decades, courts have already issued widely diverg­ing opin­ions, essen­tially con­firm­ing that a prayer can never truly be non-sectarian.  Some courts have deter­mined that prayers in the name of Jesus, Abra­ham, or Mohammed are not sec­tar­ian or do not advance reli­gion.  Of course, even a seem­ingly non-denominational prayer is likely to cause divi­sions among Chris­tians, Jews and Mus­lims.  And most courts have failed to con­sider that any such prayer would exclude adher­ents of  poly­the­is­tic or East­ern faiths such as Hin­duism or  Bud­dhism, not to men­tion the grow­ing seg­ment of Amer­i­can soci­ety that iden­ti­fies as human­ist or atheist. 

Leg­isla­tive prayer is not only divi­sive, but also a dis­trac­tion from the job of gov­ern­ing that can end up in costly lit­i­ga­tion.  If leg­isla­tive bod­ies deem it nec­es­sary to sol­em­nize their ses­sions, the best prac­tice would be a moment of silence.  It allows offi­cials and cit­i­zens to silently pray or med­i­tate in the faith or beliefs of their choos­ing, with­out gov­ern­ment offi­cials con­vey­ing any actual or per­ceived mes­sage of reli­gious pref­er­ence or exclusion.

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