It seems like every day we hear about another assault on our First Amendment right to free religious exercise. From the silencing of prayers at high school graduations and government meetings to nondiscrimination policies intended to thwart religious activity, the message of leftist elites is clear — you can believe what you want (for now) but keep it to yourself. It makes us all the more thankful that we have advocates like the Alliance Defense Fund on our side. Yesterday, The Family Foundation joined ADF to co-host a luncheon briefing for attorneys and pastors on a religious liberty case that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next Monday. This case (Christian Legal Society v. Martinez) arose when the University of California Hastings College of Law in San Francisco denied recognition to CLS, including equal meeting space and most means of communicating on campus. The reason? Although CLS welcomes everyone to all its events, CLS would not agree to eliminate its Statement of Faith requirement for officers and its voting members.
Hastings deemed CLS' Statement of Faith and its interpretation that Christians should not engage in extramarital sexual activity to violate the religion and sexual orientation portions of its nondiscrimination policy. Hastings has since interpreted its rule as prohibiting all groups from excluding anyone from voting membership or leadership on the basis of beliefs of any kind. The Ninth U.S. Circuit of Appeals, widely recognized as the most radical appeals court in the country, upheld Hastings' decision in a two sentence, unpublished decision.
Casey Mattox, legal counsel to the Alliance Defense Fund, and co-counsel on this case alongside CLS attorneys, told luncheon attendees about the impact this case may have on university campuses as well as the far-reaching impact it may have on any Christian ministry. In essence, if the left gets its way, any organization or church that receives state support — including tax exempt status — would be discriminated against if it does not accept behaviors that are contrary to their beliefs.
At the same time, The Family Foundation is working with ADF in seeking legislators who will sign onto amicus briefs it has drafted in a religious liberty case in Forsyth County, N.C. There, a lower court decreed that all prayers at government meetings must be so-called "non-sectarian." If the lower court is not overturned by the Richmond-based Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, it could mean that — for the first time in American history — prayers offered before sessions of legislatures, city councils, and all other public bodies in at least the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, must be censored to exclude all references to a particular deity (e.g., Jesus). The lower court opinion ignores the instruction of the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal appellate and district courts that previously considered this issue and upheld the cherished American tradition of uncensored legislative prayer.
Meanwhile, our policy team is focusing much of our summer research efforts on how we can best protect our First Amendment right to religious expression through the legislative process. We still have yet to see the General Assembly remedy the situation for state police chaplains who remain prohibited from praying publically according to their beliefs, and too many of our local governments have censored prayers at their meetings under the bullying of radical secularists at the ACLU. This must stop.
It is safe to say that our constitutionally protected right to freely exercise our faith in public is in peril. For many of our political leaders the Constitution itself is a nuisance. We must continue to work to ensure that the rights of all religious Americans are protected — and we will.