Quite a Fortnight, with more religious-liberty questions than before

It’s appropriate, no matter which side one supports, that the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage came down during Fortnight for Freedom. It also came just a couple of days after this blog linked to a provocative speech on the difference between freedom of worship and freedom of religion.

Liberty Bell replica, New Hampshire State House (E. Kolb photo)
Liberty Bell replica, New Hampshire State House (E. Kolb photo)

The marriage decision seems to bump into that difference. Here’s something from Justice Kennedy’s opinion, addressing dissenters from the decision. Substitute “abortion rights” or “contraceptive mandate” for “same-sex marriage” and see how it sounds. This statement is now part of constitutional law. If it applies to differing beliefs about marriage, it ought to apply to other issues as well.

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. 

So if “it must be emphasized,” I’ll do so:

…religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocateThe First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths …

So does “proper protection” mean protecting freedom of worship or freedom of religion? Do “advocate” and “teach” refer to speech and action in the public square, or merely the right to advocate and teach within the walls of a house of worship or a private home?  Just how does all this translate into the daily give-and-take of civic action?

It’s not lawyers who have to make these decisions in the first instance. Ordinary citizens (and I count myself as one) going about their business day-to-day are the ones wondering if they have what the Court calls proper protection. It’s fitting that long before the marriage decision came down, the country’s Catholic bishops chose “freedom to bear witness” as the theme of this year’s Fortnight for Freedom.

Marriage

The Fourteenth Amendment now covers marriage between any two consenting adults. The First Amendment covers religion (or is it worship?), presumably including the religions that hold to one-man-one-woman marriage. So what happens when lawsuits and criminal charges are filed against business owners who decline on religious grounds to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies? Early signs are not encouraging for the business owners. One can take either side of the proposition that Jesus would bake the cake, and still see that for the people who are now marriage dissenters, Justice Kennedy’s reassurance that they may “advocate” for their view is a little shaky.

Abortion

Abortion rights rest on a “penumbra” of constitutional rights adding up by some judicial calculus to “privacy.” Abortion dissenters have the First Amendment, including, for those who so choose, a right to pray outside abortion facilities – or do they? New Hampshire legislators seeking to discourage pro-life presence outside abortion businesses could have resorted to any of several methods that have been found to be constitutional. Instead, in 2014, with the full cooperation of the governor, the legislature made it illegal for most people regardless of intention or behavior to stand on public property outside an abortion facility for any reason, at times and locations to be determined by the abortion facilities’ management. Legislators actually left the interpretation and implementation of the buffer zone law up to abortion providers.

To the surprise of no one but the law’s sponsors, the law has been enjoined by a federal judge. It has not yet had a full hearing in court. It’s still on the books, and a repeal effort failed this year. I have yet to hear any of the buffer zone’s fans in New Hampshire announce a change of heart on the basis of Justice Kennedy’s assurance that advocacy of dissent may continue. What’s to stop any legislative body from following New Hampshire’s egregious example of supporting a law to suppress peaceful demonstrations?

The HHS mandate

Obamacare’s HHS/contraceptive mandate is in place, buffeted but not bowed. The President and the members of Congress who passed Obamacare allowed HHS regulations to define contraception as “preventive care.” There are people who own businesses and who out of religious belief do not wish to participate in the provision of contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs to female employees. In the face of the HHS regulations enforcing the Affordable Care Act, they hold the dissenting view that women aren’t broken and that it’s not “preventive care” for women to be chemically altered. The Administration has issued accommodations in a piecemeal manner to certain institutions dissenting from the mandate, and Hobby Lobby won at the Supreme Court on behalf of owners of closely-held businesses.

Yet litigation goes on, because religious institutions still must wait for a determination that they’re religious enough to be covered under one of the Administrations “accommodations,” and it’s still an open question whether those accommodations are adequate. Are owners of public-stock corporations going to be accommodated? Fines will be punitive for anyone who dissents, sues, and loses. Are dissenting business owners being given proper protection for their advocacy of their beliefs? Or so Justice Kennedy’s words mean must that advocacy remain private?

The Court majority that gave us Obergefell left Americans with much to think about beyond a definition of marriage. At the end of another Fortnight for Freedom, only days after a landmark Supreme Court decision, the religious-liberty landscape remains unsettled. Are Justice Kennedy’s words true reassurance that each American is free to exercise a religion, publicly as well as privately?

There’s a way to divert attention from this question: call marriage dissenters bigots. Say that people opposed to the Affordable Care Act want to deny health care to their neighbors. Claim that opponents of buffer zones are endangering women (never mind that six of the seven plaintiffs challenging the New Hampshire buffer zone law are women). Say anything – just keep that pesky First Amendment offstage.

Justice Kennedy won’t let me. He says the First Amendment gives us all proper protection. We have yet to see what that means.


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