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Delta denounces efforts to cite religion in refusing to serve gays E-mail

The Los Angeles Times
Feb. 26, 2014

Delta Air Lines has denounced legislation that would permit businesses to cite religion in refusing to serve gays, saying proposals in Georgia and Arizona would cause “significant harm” and “result in job losses.”

The company, which is Atlanta’s largest employer and one of the biggest private companies in Georgia, joins the likes of Apple, American Airlines and Marriott in opposing such measures.

Arizonans are awaiting Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision on whether to sign or veto legislation that would bolster business owners’ rights to cite their religion as a defense in discrimination lawsuits. Civil rights group have criticized SB 1062 for protecting businesses that refuse to serve gays and lesbians. Brewer has until Friday to decide. 

Similar measures are working their way through the Georgia Legislature.  A committee hearing on one of the bills, HB 1023, was scheduled for Tuesday but the hearing was postponed until Wednesday, then canceled altogether, according to gay rights group Georgia Equality. The other measure, SB 377, is awaiting a vote before the full Senate and must pass the chamber by Monday to stay alive.

Click here to read the entire article on the Los Angles Times' website, which includes this mention of the BJC's work in Georgia:

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, which said it supported the federal law, criticized HB 1023 for requiring an individual to face a “burden” rather than a “substantial burden.” SB 377 uses the tougher "substantial burden" standard.

 
Busy year ahead for religious liberty, BJC E-mail

By Jeff Brumley, Associated Baptist Press
This article originally appeared on ABPnews.com

In some ways, 2013 was a typical year for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, with legal briefs to file, politicians and Supreme Court justices to sway and religious liberty to defend. In other ways, it was a ground-breaking year for the Washington-based agency that saw expansion of its facilities, operations, staff and educational efforts.

Executive Director J. Brent Walker said that growth will continue in 2014, when the organization launches a new website and more aggressively promotes religious liberty both inside the Beltway and beyond. “Most of it will be an intensification of what we are already doing,” he said.

ABPnews interviewed Walker recently about the organization’s key actions this year and the big cases expected in 2014.

What’s the pace like in DC and at the BJC this time of year?

Things definitely slow down from Thanksgiving until the end of the year. Congress is normally out, and if we don’t have a case to be argued before the Supreme Court for that time period.... But like any nonprofit, the end of the year is very important to us for our fundraising efforts. We are very busy trying to make our budget for 2013 and talking to our donors.

Have you had time to reflect on 2013 — how was that year for the BJC?

It has been a very good year. We completed the first year in our new Center for Religious Liberty on Capitol Hill, which we had planned for and developed for several years now.... We have increased our staff size. Charles Watson Jr., has come on board as education and outreach specialist, and is in charge of our new center. He’s charged with expanding our base of support for religious liberty through networking…. We have always been very much involved in public policy issues in the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House, but it’s equally important for us to launch an education effort … on the importance of the separation of church and state.

Is there a practical, tangible benefit to this education effort?

Yes: we can’t do it all ourselves.... We need colleagues and advocates arguing at the local level and we need additional advocates in the cause. We can go to the Congress with our message and to the White House and the Supreme Court. But in the final analysis, it’s the people that decide the issues. Congress votes and justices decide, but they are there because of the votes of the people, and we need a populace educated on these issues.

What were some of the big legal issues for BJC in 2013?

We filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case of Town of Greece (v. Galloway), involving the city of Greece and legislative prayer at city council meetings. That case has not been decided yet and we will find out next year how that turns out....  We celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — the anniversary of its passage. It’s a very important piece of legislation restoring high level of free exercise of religion.

What major religious freedom cases do you expect to see in 2014?

The (Supreme) Court has agreed to hear the challenge to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act that will be heard this coming year and decided before the end of the summer. That will be a big case. That case deals with whether the exemption for churches and religious organizations in the Affordable Care Act should also extend to commercial, for-profit, non-religiously-affiliated corporations. The Court will decide whether corporations can exercise religion and … whether the owners of that corporation can suffer a substantial burden on their conscience if the contraception coverage is afforded to women employees — and, if so, whether the state has a sufficiently compelling interest to override the burden.

 
1993 religious freedom act is at heart of contraception case E-mail

By David G. Savage / Los Angeles Times

Click here to read the entire story online at LATimes.com

November 25, 2013

WASHINGTON — When the Supreme Court confronted the case of Native Americans who were fired for smoking an illegal drug during a religious ceremony, Justice Antonin Scalia called a halt to granting religious exemptions under the Constitution's protection for the "free exercise" of religion. It "would be courting anarchy" to permit "religious objectors" to ignore the law, he said.

But Democrats in Congress rose up to overturn his decision and to bolster religious freedom.

Backed by a broad coalition, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Christian Legal Society, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act became law 20 years ago this month. It declared that the government may not "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion" unless it had a "compelling" reason to do so.

Now, that little-known law is at the center of a major "religious liberty" challenge to President Obama's health insurance overhaul and its requirement that employers pay for full contraceptive coverage for their female employees.

Christian employers have gone to court, citing the 1993 law and saying they have a sincere religious objection to providing "abortion causing" drugs such as the "morning after" pill. And they have won before the U.S. appeals courts in Denver and Chicago.

The appeals court judges relied on the Supreme Court's much-disputed Citizens United decision that said corporations have the same right as people to make political contributions; they concluded that "for-profit corporations" can be considered "persons" with religious beliefs.

"We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation's political expression but not its religious expression," the 10th Circuit said in ruling for Hobby Lobby Inc., a nationwide chain of more than 500 crafts stores with 13,000 full-time employees. The company is owned by the Green family of Oklahoma City.

Obama administration lawyers appealed the Hobby Lobby case to the Supreme Court, calling the decision incorrect and unwise. The justices are likely to hear the case and may announce their decision to do so as soon as Tuesday.

"We are at a scary moment in our history if they say there is a constitutional right to shape benefits based on the religious beliefs of the owners," said Marci Hamilton, a Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law professor and a critic of the religious freedom law. "Why isn't this discrimination against women based on gender and religion?"

If so, it will put a new spotlight on an old and recurring question: When and under what circumstances can people cite their religious beliefs to avoid complying with the law? And thanks to the 1993 law, it will give the court's conservatives, including Scalia, a chance to deal a blow to Obama's healthcare law.

"It is a curious twist," said J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, which led the effort to pass the law. "I must say frankly that back then, nobody was thinking of whether a for-profit corporation could object to paying for insurance benefits."

Click here to read the rest of the article.

 
J. Brent Walker: State funding of religion will actually threaten religion E-mail

As published in the Tallahassee Democrat

April 22, 2010

Click here to read the article on the Tallahassee Democrat's web site.

As someone who was reared, educated, practiced law and lived the first 35 years of my life in Florida before following my calling to be an ordained Baptist minister and constitutional lawyer, I have a special interest in religious liberty developments in my home state. I am deeply concerned at the prospect of the state government gaining the power to deny religious liberty to all its citizens by using tax dollars to subsidize religion.

That is precisely what will occur if some legislators succeed in their attempt to take an ax to the religious freedom guarantee of the Florida Constitution's Declaration of Rights. This guarantee, commonly called the "No Aid Provision," forbids government funding of religious entities. House Joint Resolution 1399 and Senate Joint Resolution 2550 would put an amendment on the November ballot that would change the century-old principle and permit government funding of religion.

Much has been made of the fact that this would allow for the creation of a school voucher program, but the amendment's broad language would open the door for direct government funding of religion in virtually any area.

The current language in the Florida Constitution reflects a recognition by its drafters, like America's Founding Fathers before them, that church-state separation is the best means of protecting religious liberty. Authentic religion should depend on the persuasive power of the truth it proclaims and not on the coercive power of the state. Using the things of Caesar to finance the things of God is averse to true religion and violates the spirit of freedom on which it is based.

Beyond the unfairness of taxing Floridians to support a religion in which they may or may not believe — a proposition that Thomas Jefferson denounced as "sinful and tyrannical" — religious liberty is even further harmed by government funding because the government always controls what it funds.

Moreover, the prophetic voice of religion will, even if only subconsciously, be dampened by state sponsorship. Indeed, religion historically has stood outside of government's control, serving as a critic of government. How can religion continue to raise a prophetic fist against government when it has the other hand open to receive a government handout? It cannot.

Both the state and religious institutions are better off when neither tries to dominate or do the work of the other. The Legislature faces a clear choice: Adopt the proposed amendment and gut the constitution's protection of the vitality and independence of religious entities, or leave intact a constitutional provision that has protected religion from the shifting winds of politics and allowed generations of Floridians to worship — or not — according to the dictates of their own consciences.

I hope the state Legislature will make the right choice and preserve Florida's wise and time-honored protection of religion, guaranteeing that Floridians present and future will continue to enjoy the same religious liberty that has been indispensable and meaningful to me and so many others.

 J. Brent Walker is executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of Stetson University College of Law and the University of Florida and was a partner in the Tampa office of Carlton Fields.

 

 
Biggest threats to religious freedom: money, ignorance E-mail

South Florida Sun-Sentinel
February 14, 2010

PALM BEACH - What's the biggest threat to religious freedom?

Some might blame secular humanists, or maybe Al-Qaida. But for Baptist leader J. Brent Walker, the danger is as clear as George's face on dollar bills.

"What the government funds, it always regulates," said Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. "Government-sponsored religion is always bad for religion.

"How can we raise a prophetic fist with one hand and take government money with the other?"

Almost as threatening: ignorance. Walker said a recent poll found that only 17 percent of Americans even know that religious freedom is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Walker gave his comments recently in Palm Beach, where leaders of the Anti-Defamation League held their annual conference. His very presence -- a Christian leader at the dais of a prominent Jewish organization -- spoke to the progress in interfaith cooperation in recent decades, he told his 200 listeners.

But he said a new round of activism is vital, in order to explain and defend religious freedoms.

Even those who know the First Amendment -- including some Jews and Baptists -- don't always believe in separation of church and state, Walker said.

"They want to claim the benefits of Free Exercise but not the supposed inconvenience of No Establishment," Walker said. "This is entirely wrong-headed. Both clauses ensure religious liberty, but in different ways.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

 
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New Hampshire Supreme Court Debates Aid to Religious Schools Program
The New Hampshire Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments in a challenge to the state's tuition tax credit program. Businesses in the state are receiving tax credits for paying private school tuition through a scholarship incentive program. Because many of those funds are going to ...
 
New Police Commissioner Abandons NYPD Muslim Surveillance Program
A new police commissioner in New York has brought new policies. William Bratton put an end to the Demographics Unit, an undercover surveillance operation controversial for targeting Muslim communities, including maintaining files on individual houses of worship. (The BJC and others last yea...