Tag Archives: religious accommodation

How Far Should The State Accommodate Religious Beliefs?

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image showing an Amish Buggy on a road with the slow moving trangle on the backDuring the debate over the government requiring employers to provide coverage for birth control, we’ve heard one argument, false as it is, that in doing so would infringe on religious beliefs. Although that isn’t a valid argument it does bring up the question about how far does a state go to accommodate religious beliefs? The real debate is where is that line between the public good and a person’s beliefs. When can that line be crossed? The simple answer is the line can be crossed when the religious beliefs might harm other people like those needing access to birth control.
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Religious Exemptions To Laws Could Lead To Honor Killings

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image of Hole in the wall leads to troubleThe Catholic church and other religious conservatives are suing the government to invalidate the new health care regulation that forces them to provide insurance coverage for birth control for non-clergy workers. This follows the recent history of legal religious accommodation like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But these attempts to knock down the wall of separation of church and state leads down a road I don’t think most people have thought about in trying to roll back religious neutrality.
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Putting Reagan’s Church & State Quote In Context Shows A Hypocrisy

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quote image of President Reagan supporting separation of church and stateI had a Facebook friend post the image to the right of this text that shows a quote from President Ronald Reagan that seems to support the separation of church and state. I like to check these kinds of things out because I don’t want to pass on a false quote. When I found out where the quote came from, the story is a lot bigger than this small 300×300 image. Learning the full story shows a classic politician speaking out both sides of his mouth.
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Campus groups can’t exclude people and still get funding

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The US Supreme Court ruled today that college groups can’t discriminate in its membership if the college has a non-discrimination policy. The Christian Legal Society, which excluded gays from membership, sued a law school after it refused to give it official campus funding and recognition.

The vote was 5 to 4. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion:

“In requiring CLS – in common with all other student organizations – to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition, we hold, Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the 5-4 majority opinion for the court’s liberals and moderate Anthony Kennedy. “CLS, it bears emphasis, seeks not parity with other organizations, but a preferential exemption from Hastings’ policy.”

Christian Group Can’t Bar Gays, Get Funding At Hastings College, Court Says

Basically the college’s rule didn’t prevent the Christian Legal Society from keeping its beliefs. The group has to allow everyone in if it wants funding and recognition just like every other campus group.

US Supreme Court rules cross generic

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Last week the US Supreme Court ruled that a transfer of land, holding a cross erected in the Mojave National Preserve in California then sold to a private group after a lower court ruled that the cross violated the 1st amendment, needed to be reassessed in light of their holding that a Latin cross is a generic symbol of war dead. The ruling opens a can of worms that neither believers or non-believers might enjoy.

On April 28th, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Salazar v. Buono that a lower court ruling on a law enacted by Congress to transfer 1 acre of land under a Latin cross to a private group should be reconsidered.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority:

“A Latin cross is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies would be compounded if the fallen are forgotten.”

Salazar v. Buono

When the case was heard back in October 2009, the following exchange took place:

Peter J. Eliasberg, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said many Jewish war veterans would not want to be honored by “the predominant symbol of Christianity,” one that “signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins.”

Justice Antonin Scalia responded that the symbol in the context of a war memorial carried a more general meaning. “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead,” he said.

Mr. Eliasberg said, “There is never a cross on the tombstone of a Jew.”

Justice Scalia, who is usually jovial even in disagreement, turned angry. “I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that the cross honors are the Christian war dead,” he said. “I think that’s an outrageous conclusion.”

Justices’ Ruling Blocks Cross Removal

So basically the court set aside the lower court ruling, that the land transfer was an attempt to evade the 1st amendment issue, because the Latin cross was a generic war memorial.

Kennedy wrote again:

“It could not maintain the cross without violating the injunction,” he wrote, “but it could not remove the cross without conveying disrespect for those the cross was seen as honoring.”

He added, “The land transfer-statute embodies Congress’s legislative judgment that this dispute is best resolved through a framework and policy of accommodation for a symbol that, while challenged under the Establishment Clause has complex meaning beyond the expression of religious views.”

This illustrates how Christian privilege can blind a person into a bad decision. The majority of the court assumed that the cross was a secular symbol of war dead and not the sectarian symbol everyone else sees. The Latin cross simply does NOT include everyone.

Justice Stevens wrote in his dissent:

“Making a plain, unadorned Latin cross a war memorial does not make the cross secular,” he added. “It makes the war memorial sectarian.”

Making the cross secular also bothers some religious folks:

“I think that most American evangelicals would acknowledge that it probably is, in our culture, more than a Christian symbol,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

That’s fine, he said, “as long as it’s not less than a Christian symbol.”

Land said he’d rather have the cross stay up under Kennedy’s line of argument than have authorities eradicate crosses from cemeteries.

When a Supreme Court justice says the cross is not just about Christianity, it diminishes Jesus’ charge to his followers to “take up their cross and follow me,” said Read Churchyard, an expert on symbolism and iconography at Wheaton College in Illinois.

Is Supreme Court’s Cross Ruling Good For Christians?

The fact is that the court rulings on crosses isn’t an attempt to “have authorities eradicate crosses from cemeteries”. It is to protect the 1st amendment and keep the government from favoring a particular sect when building a memorial to a group of people like war veterans. No one has ever complained about what individual families use to mark their dead in a public cemetery.

Ignoring the fact that not all people are Christian is as disrespectful as erecting a Nativity scene on the lawn of City Hall during holiday season.

Update on Campus Christian Group Supreme Case

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The Associated Press published an update to the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law vs. Christian Legal Society that I posted earlier about. It includes some of the questions and responses during the US Supreme Court session.

Alito asked Garre what the practical effects of Hastings’ policy will be for groups. Say “there is a small Muslim group; it has 10 students. If the group is required to accept anybody who applies for membership, and 50 students who hate Muslims show up and they want to take over that group, you say First Amendment allows that?” Alito said.

Garre said that has never happened to a group.

“CLS obviously thinks this is a real threat,” Alito said. “Now, what do you propose that they do?”

Garre said the members who are now outnumbered can leave the group.

“If hostile members take over, former members of CLS can form CLS 2?” Alito asked skeptically.

The Christian group could require knowledge of the Bible to join, Garre said. “There is a fundamental difference between excluding people on the basis of merit and excluding people on the basis of status or belief that has no connection to merit,” he said.

Court Splits Sharply On Campus Christian Argument

Just as I wrote earlier, these Christian groups that have issues with excluding people who don’t subscribe to their beliefs are worried about having their groups taken over by their opponents. That has never happened as far as I know.

The problem is if you want state recognition and funds you can’t exclude people based on beliefs.