Supreme Court cases of this term include disputes over religion, gay rights


This article was first published in the State of the Faith Newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox every Monday evening.

Ready or not, a new Supreme Court term has arrived.

The justices heard their first cases of the fall on Monday, and they will have their hands full of speaking, arguing and writing decisions for at least the next nine months.

However, I have a much shorter to-do list than normal, since the court has so far only dealt with one religion-related case. 303 Creative v. Elenis centers on a website designer who claims the state of Colorado cannot force her to design sites for same-sex marriages because it would violate her religious beliefs.

“(Lorie) Smith doesn’t want to design websites for same-sex marriages, and she wants to post a message on her own website explaining that. ‘announce their intention to do so’, SCOTU Blog reported in February when the court agreed to hear the case.

Interestingly, the judges refused to consider Smith’s religious freedom claims and instead chose to focus on freedom of speech. But many faith groups are still watching the matter closely as communities across the country struggle to balance religious freedom and LGBTQ rights.

There are many other religious cases that demand the Supreme Court’s attention, but the justices have yet to agree to hear one. Mark Rienzi, President and CEO of the Becket Religious Freedom Fund, told me last week that it would be fascinating to see what ends up on the record for this term, and I can only be d ‘OK.

Here is an overview of other cases that the Supreme Court may hear this term:

Cases at the gates of the Supreme Court

Gerald Groff, an evangelical Christian, believes that working on Sundays is against his religion. He quit his job with the U.S. Postal Service rather than take Sabbath shifts, then sued, alleging religious freedom violations.

After losing in the lower courts, Groff appealed to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to review a 1977 ruling that severely limited denominational protections offered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. SCOTU Blog reported.

The judges received Groff’s request to hear the case in August, but they are still awaiting a response from the US Postal Service — it’s scheduled for Oct. 26 — before deciding whether to hear the case.

Like 303 Creative, this case centers on the rights of marriage-related business owners. Melissa and Aaron Klein, who owned a bakery before closing it amid the legal battle, say the First Amendment protects them from designing cakes for gay weddings.

The Supreme Court was previously asked to review the case, but sent it back to lower courts for reconsideration after ruling in a similar case in 2018. The Last of the Kleins ask for help is currently awaiting the action of the judges.

In 2006, a government highway project in Oregon resulted in the destruction of sacred burial grounds. The Slockish case was brought by Native American leaders seeking to remedy this hallowed ground.

“The government could allow them to rebuild the stone altar, replant native vegetation and resume their religious practices at the site,” attorney Luke Goodrich told the Deseret News last year.

Native American leaders filed their ask for help with the Supreme Court on Tuesday, October 3, so it will be some time before the justices intervene.

Cases that may be appealed to the Supreme Court

This battle for a sacred piece of land in Arizona pits a coalition of Native Americans called the Apache Stronghold against the US government. Members of the first group say officials violated their religious freedom rights when they agreed to transfer the land, called Oak Flat, to a mining company.

After losing in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Apache Stronghold announced plans to appeal to the Supreme Court this fall.

A group of religious organizations filed the lawsuit to push back against a New York law requiring employers to cover abortion in their employees’ health insurance plans. In its current form, the law offers only a narrow religious exemption.

Last December, the Supreme Court dismissed this case to the lower courts for reconsideration in light of his 2021 ruling in favor of a Catholic foster care agency.

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Term of the week: Kirpan

A kirpan is one of the five articles of faith that Sikhs are required to carry with them (the physical objects) or maintain (the uncut hair covered with a turban) at all times. It looks like a dagger or a sword, but it’s not necessarily as sharp as one, depending on The Sikh Coalition.

The kirpan “reminds its wearer of the solemn duty of a Sikh to protect the weak and promote justice for all,” the Sikh Coalition’s fact sheet states.

Because the kirpan looks like a weapon, carrying one can get Sikhs in legal trouble. Just last month, a University of North Carolina student was arrested by police after officers received a report of someone with a knife in the student center, while USA today reported. University officials eventually apologized for the incident, according to the article, noting that such an outcome is typical for Sikhs who experience kirpan-related issues.

“In all the cases we have handled, we have been able to resolve them favorably, because the courts of the country recognize that kirpans are first and foremost articles of faith, and in this country, we allow people to practice their faith,” said said Harsimran. Kaur, lead attorney for the Sikh Coalition, told USA Today.

What I read…

Over the past few decades, New Jersey’s Catholic population has declined, leading to the closure of churches, community centers and schools. Now, with the help of religious and secular leaders, some of these buildings are given a second life as restaurants, affordable housing and event spaces, reports.

Coming from an Orthodox Jewish background, New York Times editorial assistant Michal Leibowitz knows better than anyone faith-based courtship rituals. In a recent column, she argued that such “old-fashioned” practices could improve the love lives of singles.

The Public Religion Research Institute has published a fascinating investigation last week on the American perspective on the destruction of Confederate monuments. As Religion News Service pointed out in its coverage, religion helps predict feelings towards the Confederacy. “The majority of Protestants, Catholics, and Latter-day Saints support such efforts to preserve Confederate monuments and memorials, with white evangelicals outnumbering all others at 76 percent,” the article said.


I enjoyed a great surprise at the aquarium this weekend.


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