Our Calendar
May 2021

Transgender Mandate Not So Mandatory After All

                                                                                                                                        February 26, 2021
Dear Friend, Back in 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate that would force doctors to perform gender transition procedures on any patient referred by a mental health professional, even if the doctor believed the procedure could harm the patient. Becket stepped in and stopped this rule from taking effect through a nationwide court order vacating the rule. But the agency won’t back off and insists that it still has the power to coerce healthcare providers. So now, it’s once more up to the judges—and thankfully federal courts are striking down the legality of the mandate on religious liberty grounds, protecting the conscience rights of religious medical professionals and institutions around the country.

This was a huge Becket victory, let me explain. Becket has two cases on this matter, one in North Dakota and another in Texas. The Texas case is the one that provided the nationwide protection in 2016. Last month, a North Dakota federal judge once again struck down the federal transgender mandate, becoming the second federal court to decide that healthcare decisions surrounding gender transition procedures should remain free from government interference, and shouldn’t target healthcare professionals who cannot perform these procedures because of their deeply held faith convictions. Now the Texas case is back up to bat, with oral argument coming up next Wednesday. I’ll keep you in the loop on that.

The Transgender Mandate is disturbing on many levels. To begin with, it threatens the integrity of medical professionals whose duty is to weigh all risks and benefits and decide, with their patients, on the best course of action. I think we should all be wary of government stepping into that space, especially when it comes to controversial medical procedures (and there is currently plenty of debate among doctors about gender transition procedures). Of more relevance to Becket, though, is the threat to religious liberty. A healthcare worker with no conscience protections will be forced to forfeit either their livelihood or their faith. What will they choose? We are more aware than ever that healthcare workers are essential. Do we really want to thin their ranks?

What’s happening at Becket: COVID edition From a big outlier to a small one. Up until a few weeks ago, California maintained the strictest COVID restrictions on houses of worship of any state in the union, enforcing an all-out ban on indoor worship. Unsurprisingly, Governor Newsom wasn’t able to make a compelling public health case for keeping Californians out of church while throwing open the doors of shopping malls. On February 5, the Supreme Court knocked Governor Newsom off his high horse, ordering him to reopen houses of worship like every other state. The very next day, California changed its unconstitutional worship restrictions. But Santa Clara is the new hold out, refusing to recognize the essential nature of worship and religious freedom.

“Please, court, stop me from discriminating!” In a bizarre move only attributable to the collapse of the New York Health Department regime, Governor Cuomo asked a federal court to rule in favor of Agudath Israel, the Orthodox Jewish advocacy organization suing him over his discriminatory “cluster action initiative” aimed at restricting worship for New York City’s Jewish community. The court did just that, issuing a permanent injunction protecting the right to worship on February 9. New and improved COVID tracker map. Just when you thought Becket’s research team couldn’t get any more sophisticated, it launched a new and improved version of the COVID tracker map. This map tracks state government restrictions on in-person worship across the country and has been cited in major publications such as the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, and used by courts across the country to evaluate the constitutionality of COVID policies. In its most recent iteration, the map even more clearly reflects the types of restrictions (or lack thereof) imposed in each state.

Becket in the News You can’t cancel baby Jesus! Better late than never, last month the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit protected a nativity scene outside of an Indiana county courthouse from the predations of the Indiana ACLU. This latest victory for religious symbols in the public square, and blow to the notorious Lemon Test, received coverage in The Hill.

Planning for the future. Becket senior attorney Eric Rassbach spoke with Plough, the publishing house of the Bruderhof community, about emerging religious liberty issues in the new presidential administration. The courts, the Equality Act, and RFRA were topics du jour, as well as the role that Americans of faith must play in making the case for religion in society.

The clergy and the condemned. Despite Texas’ strong record on religious liberty, it falls short in one important area—prisoners’ rights. Becket attorneys Eric Rassbach and Chris Pagliarella published an article in NRO calling on Texas to allow members of the clergy into the death chamber to pray with prisoners in the moments leading up to their death. The timely article was published just a couple of weeks before Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief at SCOTUS in defense of an Alabama prisoner’s right to the comfort of the clergy, the result of which was a win for religious liberty!

What we’re reading:

“Self-government requires self-government, and the freedom of religious institutions to form individuals in virtue is crucial to that end.” For a fascinating read on our namesake Saint Thomas Becket’s life and the true meaning of freedom, see this excellent piece by Becket lawyer Will Haun.

Does federal law allow censorship by big tech? It’s not so clear. Philip Hamburger, constitutional law scholar, Columbia Law School professor, and president of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, explains why the oft-cited federal statute Section 230 shouldn’t be considered carte blanche for big tech companies to censor whoever offends the idea of the day.

Religious liberty isn’t enough? Ryan Anderson calls on conservatives to argue their “culture war” points based on the truth of the beliefs, not the protections of religious liberty. It’s precisely because of these cultural disagreements that religious liberty is of the utmost importance. When people cannot agree on morality—when people can’t even agree whether a hot-button topic is a question of morality or science or a combination of the two—religious liberty is the one defense that can safeguard minority viewpoints. We will never stop fighting for it, and people of faith should continue both to fight for their religious liberty and to exercise it by making their arguments about fundamental truths in the public square. Gratefully,        

Montse Alvarado
Executive Director                             


         A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
                                                                                                                                           January 22, 2021
Dear Friend,   It seems fitting that my first message of the year should fall just days after National Religious Freedom Day and the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In one of his many inspiring sermons, Rev. King wrote that “[t]he church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.” This attitude toward the relationship between religion and government is fundamentally American. In this nation, the right to religious liberty has long stood shoulder to shoulder with our other first freedoms. That pride of place is why Rev. King’s words ring true: churches can only be guides and critics if they are allowed to act freely, without fear of government interference. Indeed, religious freedom in America has been the foundation for some of the best social movements and activists in history—Rev. King among them.   That’s why, in addition to principle, it’s knowing the good that religion can do that keeps me fighting for religious liberty. 2020, while turbulent in many ways, was a good year for religious freedom law. Becket ushered in a sweep of victories, including three at the Supreme Court. We reflected on the transformation of the judicial composition, a shift we expect to have a positive long-term impact on religious liberty. We published our second annual Religious Freedom Index. And, most importantly, we kept up our case momentum. (Our top 2021 case to watch will be Fulton, which Becket’s Lori Windham argued at the Supreme Court in November; watch for a decision this spring).   2020: A Review Religious liberty and the pandemic Houses of worship targeted with COVID-19 restrictions— Becket stepped up to protect the right of houses of worship to safely operate amidst the pandemic, despite targeted orders by state governments that unreasonably and unscientifically restrict churches over other types of organizations. Becket at the Supreme Court Blaine, Blaine, go away— For many years, Becket has advocated the dismantling of discriminatory state laws (known as Blaine Amendments) that treat religious organizations as second-class citizens. In Espinoza, the Supreme Court dealt a crushing blow to Blaines when it ruled that Montana children cannot be banned from participating in state scholarship programs because they attend religious schools. Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. A Day to Remember: Becket’s double win at the Supreme Court— On July 8, 2020, Becket history was made with two 7-2 Supreme Court victories for religious freedom. In Our Lady of Guadalupe School, the Supreme Court affirmed that church schools have the right to choose who will teach their religion classes (building on Becket’s landmark 2012 unanimous Supreme Court win in Hosanna-Tabor). And once again, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor in their fight for an exemption to the federal contraceptive mandate. Becket asks Supreme Court to protect faith-affirming foster agencies— In November, Becket’s Lori Windham argued at the Supreme Court in our case Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. The Supreme Court will decide if Catholic Social Services and its families can continue to serve kids in need without abandoning their deeply held beliefs. A Thanksgiving gift from SCOTUS— On the Eve of Thanksgiving, the Supreme Court granted emergency protection to New York City synagogues from Governor Cuomo’s discriminatory restrictions on their right to worship in Becket’s ongoing lawsuit Agudath Israel of America v. Cuomo. Becket’s win was touted by the Ninth Circuit as a “seismic shift in Free Exercise law.” Holding government accountable— The Supreme Court ruled in Tanzin v. Tanvir that, under RFRA, government officials can be held financially accountable for violating individuals’ religious freedom. The Supreme Court’s decision was consistent with the friend-of-the-court brief Becket filed in the case, arguing for broad RFRA protections. Americans see religion as stabilizing force— Data from Becket’s second annual Religious Freedom Index shows that religious liberty continues to be widely supported. Some highlights: More than three quarters of respondents said that religion is a stabilizing force in society during times of social unrest, and more than 60 percent said that faith and religion had been personally important during the COVID-19 pandemic.   2021: A Preview Restoring employment rights for religious minorities— Sitting atop Becket’s watch list is our next Supreme Court hopeful, Dalberiste v. GLE Associates. Dalberiste presents the Court with an opportunity to correct an infamous precedent from the ’70s, Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, which eroded employment protections for religious minorities. The Court has been kicking Mr. Dalberiste’s cert petition down the road, but we’re hopeful the Justices will see this case as a good vehicle for overturning Hardison. Protecting the right of churches to communicate freely with their ministers— On February 9, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument in Demkovich v. St. Andrew the Apostle Parish. Demkovich is another ministerial exception case—this time about protecting a Catholic Church’s right to decide who may plan and participate in the liturgy. We are hopeful that the Seventh Circuit will use this case as an opportunity to bolster ministerial exception law in light of the problematic precedent set by the Supreme Court last term in Bostock. Faith-affirming foster care awaits vindication from the High Court— The team is optimistically awaiting a decision in last November’s blockbuster case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. A win would not only mean that Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia would be allowed to continue serving foster families and children as it has for the past 200 years, but that religious foster care agencies across the country would have the backing of the Court as they continue to perform their vital service in accordance with their religious mission. A decision could come down anytime this spring but is most likely in May or June. Securing religious exemptions to the transgender mandate— On Tuesday, Becket won a great victory for the conscience rights of medical professionals. In Sisters of Mercy v. Azar, Becket defended Catholic institutions from a provision of the Affordable Care Act that would have forced religious doctors and hospitals to perform gender transition procedures—even when they believed it would cause harm to their patients—or face fines and job loss.   2021 promises some changes, but Becket’s mission remains the same. I am thankful for your fellowship and support as we move forward.

Gratefully, Montse Alvarado
Executive Director                 

2020 Resolution: More Supreme Court Wins!

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
January 24, 2020

Becket rang in 2020 grateful for the last ten years. In those ten years, we achieved six Supreme Court victories, three of them unanimous.

Now it’s a new year and we have already hit the ground running, ready to create a similarly stunning new decade’s worth of victories. We already have three Supreme Court cases granted—Our Lady of Guadalupe v. Morrissey-Berru, St. James Catholic School v. Biel, and Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And there are still three more cases pending at the Supreme Court!

This week, the Court heard oral arguments in a landmark case where Becket has filed a friend-of-the-court brief: Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. The Montana Supreme Court refused to allow families to use a privately-funded scholarship program toward education at religious schools. At the heart of the case are Blaine Amendments, historically bigoted laws that allow religious discrimination—and which, as Becket consistently argues, are unconstitutional. Their negative effects are broad, affecting people from low-income and minority families to prison ministries to children with disabilities and special needs—and in the Espinoza case, a single mother who simply wants to send her daughters to a school where they won’t struggle or be bullied. As I mentioned in the Chicago Tribune this week, it’s time for this discrimination to stop.

There is no shortage of opportunities to make good law, and we are always at the ready to defend our constitutional right to religious liberty. Stay tuned—this year promises to be an exciting one!

What’s happening at Becket

Little Sisters back at the Supreme Court. The bad news? The Little Sisters of the Poor are still battling for their right to run their homes for the elderly poor according to their faith convictions. After the government followed the Supreme Court’s prior order and fixed its rules to protect the Little Sisters, activist state AGs sued to roll back those protections. The good news? The Supreme Court will hear their case again—hopefully, for the last time.

Espinoza oral arguments: Justice Kavanaugh sees “grotesque religious bigotry.” Becket’s Eric Baxter writes on the Espinoza oral arguments at the Supreme Court Wednesday, and why we hope the Court will strike down discriminatory Blaine Amendments.

Becket in the news

Religious Freedom Day: “Rights mean nothing unless we use them.” Nicole Russell’s piece in the Washington Examiner explains why religious freedom matters, and why it makes sense to have a day to acknowledge this fundamental right.

Yes, a seminary can hold its members to religious standards. Becket’s Eric Baxter appeared on CBN News to discuss Maxon v. Fuller, where Becket is representing Fuller Theological Seminary’s right to hold voluntary members of its community to religious and moral standards.

Defending faith-based adoption agencies. Becket is defending faith-based adoption agencies from lawsuits and regulations that would force them to shed their faith convictions—or shut their doors. Read this account of why faith-based agencies are critical to the current foster care crisis, and why Becket is representing a Texas archdiocese to challenge a federal regulation.

What we’re reading

White House welcomes prayer in schools. In honor of Religious Freedom Day, President Trump amended federal guidelines to encourage prayer in schools and to provide a clear process for individuals to claim that their right to pray has been violated.

Are we about to see the end of Blaine? The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board gives their two cents on Espinoza, Blaine Amendments, and whether they expect the Supreme Court to banish Blaines for good.

New federal rules will aim to remove “discriminatory regulatory burdens.” The White House has ordered nine federal agencies to amend their policies, rolling back some of the previous administration’s rules, to protect religious liberty.

Conscience Rule should stand. Becket client Dr. Regina Frost gives an impassioned defense of the federal Conscience Rule, which protects physicians from being forced to perform procedures against their beliefs.

Montse Alvarado
Executive Director


A Message from Becket’s Executive Director

September 24, 2019
Dear Friends,

School is back in session, and Becket’s word of the week is: education.
There is a disturbing nationwide trend of curbing students’ speech, particularly religious speech, on college campuses. Stripping student organizations of the right to choose leaders who reflect their beliefs is just one way of doing it. In 2017, Michigan’s Wayne State University effectively kicked InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) off campus for asking its leaders to share its faith—a requirement the University deemed “discriminatory.” After Becket stepped in, Wayne State tried to backtrack. But last week, a federal court gave us a battle win, saying that the case should continue.

Wayne State is not alone in its targeting of religious students. On September 25, Becket will have oral argument in a similar case against the University of Iowa, which kicked the InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship off campus in 2018. Dozens of other religious student groups were deregistered for the same reason, with the University claiming it was “discrimination” for student groups even to “encourage” their leaders to embrace the groups’ religious beliefs. This trend plays into an even wider assault on individual liberties, one that uses education as a weapon. Whether it’s censoring college students—in the name of tolerance—or using state laws crafted by 19th-century religious bigots to deprive families and students of generally available public resources, education can be a powerful tool for those who are hostile to religious liberty.

That’s why this issue is going to be at the Supreme Court in prime-time early next year. Becket’s amicus brief in the Espinoza case (learn more about it here) features a series of images that reflect a period of religious discrimination that gave rise to religiously bigoted state restrictions called Blaine Amendments. Religious intolerance may be old, but it’s far from dead. It’s time to put Blaine Amendments in their proper chapter in the textbooks: Ancient History.

What’s happening at Becket:

Let them play—and pray. On August 27, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) gave a partial victory to Becket clients Joelle and Joseph Chung, avid high school tennis players and Seventh-day Adventists who were penalized for not playing on the Sabbath. The WIAA changed its rules to now allow tennis players like Joelle and Joseph to sit out matches that happen during the Sabbath without being penalized. Still, the WIAA continues to insist that it cannot change its match schedules to fully accommodate Sabbath observers. We will take that to the court!

Court to atheists: a non-prayer is not a prayer. On August 23, the Third Circuit ruled in our favor in our case defending legislative prayer in the Pennsylvania House. The ruling went against atheists who claimed that the House had violated the Establishment Clause by excluding them and their non-prayers from the legislative prayer practice. The court’s ruling affirmed the “legitimate place of religion in our history and culture.”

Adopt our case, Supreme Court. Back in April, the Third Circuit ruled against Catholic Social Services and Sharonell Fulton in Becket’s case defending religious foster-care and adoption organizations in Philadelphia. Now, we are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. Ten states and 44 members of Congress have joined a friend-of-the-court brief on our side.

Becket in the news:

The New York Times can’t get enough of Becket. Linda Greenhouse’s piece is chock full of Becket references. Here’s my favorite: she calls us “a highly effective religious-rights law firm that commands a great deal of respect at the Supreme Court.”

Why Ricks could be a pivotal case. Deseret News writes up Becket’s case defending George Ricks. Ricks is an independent contractor in Idaho who is religiously opposed to using his Social Security number—and who is unable to find work because of his belief. Now his case could be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kids deserve more. The City of Philadelphia’s decision to suspend its contracts with a Catholic foster care and adoption agency is ideological, but the consequences are all too personal. The Federalist gives profiles of two incredible foster mothers and the children they raised—and shows why it’s children who will lose the most if Philadelphia continues doing what it’s doing.

Montse Alvarado
Executive Director


A Message from Becket’s Executive Director

October 31, 2019
Dear Friends,
Some people love October because of Halloween or the coffee shops suddenly selling pumpkin-spiced-everything. But at Becket, we love it for an even better reason—the Supreme Court is back in session, and everyone paying attention can tell that this will be a blockbuster term, with religious liberty front and center.

Becket has asked the Supreme Court to take up six—yes, six—of our cases, with issues ranging from whether an employee can be fired for keeping the Sabbath, to whether governments can refuse to work with faith-based foster and adoption agencies, to whether an independent contractor in Idaho must violate his deeply held religious beliefs or forego work altogether, to whether religious schools have the right to choose their own religious teachers. (As for that last one—Becket’s 2012 Supreme Court case already decided that unanimously, so the answer should be a resounding “yes.”)

There’s more. The Supreme Court has already taken two cases where Becket filed friend-of-the-court briefs. In these cases, the Supreme Court will be weighing whether the government can prevent children in religious schools from accessing generally available state resources and whether the definition of “sex” includes “sexual orientation.”

We’re hoping the Supreme Court will say “treat” and take up our cases. As Becket President Mark Rienzi told reporters, the Court has the chance this term to issue clear rulings that could “stem the tide of religious liberty cases it’s been getting in recent years.” That would be a win for everyone.

What’s happening at Becket—Becketeers Publish

Free to Believe. Becket’s senior counsel and vice president, Luke Goodrich, who has litigated religious liberty cases for over a decade, combines frontline experience with faithful attention to Scripture and offers a groundbreaking book that shows that threats to religious freedom are real—but they might not be what you think.

When Islam Is Not A Religion. Asma Uddin, former Becket attorney, looks at how faith in America is being secularized and politicized, and the repercussions this has on debates about religious freedom and diversity.

Making good on America’s promise of freedom. Religious expression does not look the same for all of us, and that’s what makes America’s promise of religious freedom so profound. I wrote a piece for the Dallas Morning News on why a Texas school district should allow two high-school-aged brothers to keep a braid of their hair uncut, in obedience to a religious oath they took.

Becket in the News

Spooked by Religion? United States Attorney General William Barr gave a speech on religion in society at the University of Notre Dame’s de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture earlier this month. Bill McGurn of the Wall Street Journal takes secularists to task and comments on the reaction to AG Barr’s speech.

Déjà-vu…again. Though it seems like a cruel trick, the Little Sisters of the Poor are still fighting their case in court. The State of Pennsylvania continues to reject their exemption from the contraception mandate, so Becket has asked the Supreme Court to weigh in—again.

In Espinoza, the Supreme Court could erase a history of bigotry. The Atlantic writes up why the school funding case at the Supreme Court this term is of such great importance, including an explanation (plucked from Becket’s friend-of-the-court brief) of historically prejudiced Blaine Amendments.

What we’re reading

What’s worth dying for? What’s worth living for? Archbishop Chaput’s thoughtful essay (adapted from a speech) delves into the concept of sacrifice and how it, sadly, seldom features in our current society.

Maybe the Sabbath-keepers are onto something. Take a read through this Atlantic piece on how “flexible” schedules are killing our social lives. Maybe a day of rest isn’t such a bad idea.

Cardinal Dolan talks Yom Kippur. In a perfect example of the great positives that can come from a truly pluralistic society, Timothy Cardinal Dolan explains why he admires—and what others can learn from—the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

Foster Care Case Up To Bat, And A Summer Of Important Wins

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director

August 29, 2019
Dear Friends,
Michigan has a foster care and adoption crisis: there are more children in the system than there are willing parents to foster them. That’s why Melissa Buck goes beyond her role as mother to five children, all adopted out of foster care, to recruit other parents to foster and adopt. Melissa’s motivation to recruit goes deeper than a desire to fix a problem—it has become her ministry. But Melissa doesn’t know how she can continue to recruit other parents if she can’t entrust them to an agency that will support them, like the one her family has relied on, St. Vincent Catholic Charities.

The State of Michigan’s decision to sever contracts with faith-based agencies is threatening Melissa’s personal ministry and exacerbating the foster care crisis, making it harder for kids in the system to find permanent, loving homes. On August 22, Becket went to court for Melissa Buck and St. Vincent, asking the court to allow faith-based agencies to continue doing what they do best—and what’s best for kids in Michigan’s foster care system.

This oral argument came on the heels of a victorious summer. On August 8, we won our case at the Third Circuit defending religious imagery in a historic Lehigh, Pennsylvania government seal, dealing a blow to the notoriously bad “Lemon test.” On the same day, the Seventh Circuit ruled for a Chicago Catholic church, agreeing with Becket’s friend-of-the-court-brief and bolstering the principle of “ministerial exception.” Out with the bad precedent and in with the good—now let’s build on it!

What’s happening at Becket:

Ministerial exception for the win. On August 8, the Seventh Circuit handed down an important victory in Sterlinksi v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago. The ruling affirmed the principle of “ministerial exception,” made famous by Becket’s 2012 Supreme Court Hosanna-Tabor case. Ministerial exception strengthens church autonomy, recognizing that churches have the right to choose their own leaders.

SCOTUS, kids deserve more. In July, we asked the Supreme Court to take our case representing children, families, and Catholic Social Services, a Catholic foster agency in Philadelphia. You’ll remember the case—the City of Philadelphia abruptly suspended its contract with Catholic Social Services because of its religious beliefs, even though the city is in dire need of foster families. Dozens of homes of willing foster parents remain empty, while hundreds of kids remain in the system, because of the city’s actions.

Hair’s the thing. When Cesar Gonzales was an infant, he was seriously ill—so ill that his parents made a religious promise to God that, if their son recovered, they would keep a strand of hair on his head uncut as a sign of their faith and gratitude. Cesar got better, and he and his brother Diego both continue to keep their hair uncut and have adopted the promise to God as their own. Their Texas elementary school accommodated their faith, but that changed in seventh grade. Now, the Gonzales brothers are banned from participating in school activities like band performance, robotics team, and athletics⁠—just because of their hair. Becket has stepped in to ask the school to accommodate the Gonzales brothers’ religious exercise.

Becket in the news:

Lehigh win “a victory for common sense.” The Morning Call hails Becket’s win defending the Lehigh, Pennsylvania seal against what it calls one of Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “cockamamie attempts to stir up controversies.”

Discriminatory state law on trial at the Supreme Court. The Washington Examiner featured Becket’s Eric Baxter in its preview of a Supreme Court case on the docket this fall. In Espinoza v. Montana, SCOTUS will weigh in on whether the State of Montana can exclude families and students from educational benefits because they attend religious schools.

“No student-athlete should be kept from competition because of their faith.” Read about Becket’s case representing Joelle and Joseph Chung, siblings and Seventh-day Adventists who are standing up for their right to both compete in athletics and observe their Sabbath. Watch a clip of their dad on Laura Ingraham’s show here.

What we’re reading:

“[P]olitical liberty and economic liberty are the guarantors of religious liberty.” The Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn writes up Fr. Sirico and his work at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

The calm before the storm at the Supreme Court. Becket’s President Mark Rienzi gives a recap of Supreme Court religious liberty cases and a preview of what might come.

“If we want our communities to heal…we need churches.” Read Jacqueline Rivers’ moving piece to see why minority and poor congregations benefit the most from the parsonage allowance, and why Becket’s victory in Chicago is so important.

Religious liberty in the execution chamber. In April, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas cannot allow chaplains of some faiths, but not others, to attend to inmates during execution. The State’s response was to change their policy—now, no chaplains are allowed in the execution chamber. Houston Chronicle’s editorial board is looking to change that.


Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

Portraits of Courage – 25 Years of Defending Freedom for All!

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
June 11, 2019

Dear Friends,
Twenty-five years ago, on May 13th, Seamus Hasson saw a threat to religious liberty that few others recognized. In 1993, Congress had passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), signed into being by President Clinton, in a huge display of bipartisan cooperation. Protections for people of faith seemed to be getting stronger. What could go wrong? As it turned out, a lot. Seamus had the acute sense that a storm of religious liberty threats was brewing. He founded the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty exclusively to defend the most fundamental human right—religious liberty—for people of all faiths. Becket would defend religious rights for people from A to Z: Anglican to Zoroastrian.

The last 25 years have proved Seamus’ sixth sense to be correct. The threats to religious freedom have not let up. Becket’s earliest cases included defending a schoolboy’s right to bring his Bible to class and a military chaplain’s right to freely preach. Over the years, Becket has fought for the rights of a faith-based homeless shelter; a Native American’s right to possess eagle feathers; Sikhs’ right to practice their faith and serve in the U.S. military; prisoners’ rights to kosher diets and religiously mandated beards; and Catholic nuns’ right to opt out of an unconstitutional federal mandate. And these are just a sampling of Becket’s many successes.

What’s the common thread? In all its cases, Becket relies on the same sound legal philosophy—an approach so principled, thorough, and consistent that it has remained relevant for two decades and counting. I wish I could say Becket’s work was no longer needed, but it is, critically so. For now, I’ll be grateful for the last 25 years of victories that have strengthened religious freedom for people of all faiths. Thank you for defending religious liberty with Becket!

What’s happening at Becket:

Did you miss the Canterbury Medal Gala? Here’s our recap of the gala that honored U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, a man who provides spiritual guidance to our nation’s leaders.

Upholding medical consensus—and common sense. After two different courts struck it down for infringing on religious freedom, the Department of Health and Human Services has officially proposed a fix to its transgender mandate. Under the original regulation, doctors would be forced to perform gender transitions on any patient, even if they thought it would be harmful. Under the proposed new rule, those decisions would remain between doctors and their patients, free of government interference.

Free the feathers. In 2006, an undercover federal agent infiltrated a sacred powwow and confiscated eagle feathers from Native American Pastor Robert Soto. The agent’s authority? A federal rule that prohibits anyone from possessing feathers of protected birds, including eagles. After ten years of litigation and some help from Becket, Pastor Soto got his feathers back. Now, the federal government is considering a petition that would expand religious liberty protections for Native Americans who possess and use eagle feathers in their religious exercise. (For more on Pastor Soto’s story, listen to the Feds and Feathers episode of Becket’s Stream of Conscience podcast.)

Becket in the news:

Hot topic: the polarizing transgender mandate. The Atlantic ran a piece on the controversial transgender mandate and the proposed new rule, featuring a quote from Becket’s Lori Windham: “Now patients can be reassured knowing their doctors are free to follow their best medical judgment.”

Free Exercise vs. Establishment: when lawyering turns political. Becket alum Asma Uddin poses a question: why do some religious liberty lawyers leave strong arguments on the table? Read her take on why some favor Free Exercise arguments and others favor the Establishment Clause—and why it’s their clients who “bear the burden.”

Hypocrisy abounds as politicians drag the Little Sisters of the Poor to court (again). The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman points out the hypocrisy of politicians with dubious pasts claiming moral high ground against the Little Sisters of the Poor on contraception. “For such esteemed public servants, it seems that allowing nuns to decline to provide the week-after pill is simply beyond the pale.”

“I agree with attorneys at the Becket Fund …” Two death row inmates requested to have their own religious leader present at their execution, but only one inmate won at the Supreme Court. The LA Times explains why Becket had the winning approach.

What Becket is reading:

“We need the spiritual.” Deseret News writes up Canterbury medalist Chaplain Black and the compelling story of how he came to be who he is today. Spoiler alert: memorizing scripture saved his life—literally.

Deserving of recognition. WORLD Magazine nods to Chaplain Black and the Canterbury Medal.

When the New York Times mentions Becket. NY Times opinion writer Linda Greenhouse fears that religious liberty protections are turning America “into a theocracy that would have appalled our Founding Fathers.” I don’t think our Founders thought we would be defending the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Maybe Linda’s fears are largely unfounded.


Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

Good Tidings for Christmas, and a SCOTUS New Year!

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
December 21, 2018

Dear Friends,

It looks like the New Mexico Supreme Court’s heart just grew three sizes. Last week, the Court rejected a previous (very Grinch-like) ruling and decided that children in religious schools should have equal access to a state textbook lending program.

The program provides essential educational materials to kids in need—especially for kids in low-income and rural areas. But back in 2012, a few activists sued the state because the program was open to all kids, including those in religious schools. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran, which confirmed that religious schools shouldn’t be excluded from state programs just because they are religious, the NM Supreme Court got it right on the second try. Merry Christmas, kids—you can have your textbooks back!

But before we break out the eggnog, brace yourself. Just last week, a similar (non-Becket) case lost in Montana. With two polar decisions like this, it’s possible that one or both cases will end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The New Mexico Supreme Court may have had a change of heart, but what about this year’s biggest Scrooge? Read on to find out who receives Becket’s 2018 Ebenezer award.

What’s happening at Becket:

Ninth Circuit loss could lead Little Sisters to Supreme Court—again. After the State Attorney General of California sued to take away the Little Sisters’ hard-won victory at the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit just issued a decision against the Little Sisters in California. It’s a move that feels more Groundhog Day than A Christmas Carol, since it looks like it could land us at the Supreme Court with the Little Sisters again. But we all know how this movie ends, so we look forward to a future victory.

And this year’s Ebenezer Award goes to … a local Durham, New Hampshire administrator who banned a menorah (requested by a local Chabad) from the town’s holiday display that features Christmas trees renamed “holiday” trees. The menorah was denied because it wasn’t “secular” or “inclusive” enough for the annual “holiday” tree lighting in a local park.

Equal access for Christmas? Becket represents InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship, one of more than a dozen student religious groups
were purged by the University last summer for asking their leaders to affirm their respective faiths. Just last week, InterVarsity asked a federal judge for a permanent fix that would end the university’s discrimination against religious groups. A final decision may arrive by March.

Becket in the news:

“No two people…believe the same thing in exactly the same way.” Deseret News features thoughts from “top faith leaders, policymakers, and religious freedom advocates” on the current and future landscape of religious liberty. Read my take, and see some other familiar faces, including Becket’s 2013 Canterbury Medalist President Dallin H. Oaks and Becket alum Asma Uddin.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—for atheist groups, too. Americans United for Separation of Church and State devotes its Decembers to fighting religious displays on public property. Becket continues to set the record straight on this issue, with Becket’s Eric Baxter explaining that the Establishment Clause is not “a government censorship tool.”

Why method matters. Becket’s Luke Goodrich gives a great explanation of the different ways the Supreme Court has handled Establishment Clause cases, and why what he calls “the path of history” is the best approach. In short: it “avoids both government promotion of religion and government hostility toward religion.

What Becket is reading:

Religious liberty cases are “battles with real consequences.” Read CEO Michael Warsaw’s take on EWTN’s seven-year battle against the federal government, and why—now that their case is finally won—they’re standing with other people of faith who are defending their religious liberty.

“[M]y own life has been blessed in ways I could never have predicted.” Becket alum Bridget Lappert opens up about her journey into the adoption process in a beautiful piece for Aleteia.

What is religion? And does everybody have one? Andrew Sullivan’s piece here is worth a read. He first explores the idea that all human beings must have religion, meaning that even those who think they don’t really do, and then applies it to America’s heated political divisions.

Stanford Law School Religious Liberty Clinic: high quality legal work with students in “the driver’s seat.” Now in its fifth year, the religious liberty law clinic has become a major attraction for potential and current Stanford Law students. Its best attributes? The breadth of the cases, the hands-on nature of the work, and the commitment to protecting religious liberty for people of all faiths.


Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

Gratitude, and Why We Fight!

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
November 21, 2018

Dear Friends,

As Thanksgiving comes around each year, we are grateful—grateful for our friends, for the work we do, for our victories, and for our freedom. This year, we are especially grateful to see the victorious end in sight in our original cases against the HHS mandate. Earlier this month, the government finally issued an official exemption from the rule for religious non-profits like the Little Sisters of the Poor. After years of persistent litigation, the government has officially recognized that there are ways for them to provide contraceptive services to women that don’t involve Catholic nuns. (Now, state governments like California and Pennsylvania must simply accept the facts and leave the nuns alone too.)

It’s tempting to revel in such a hard-won fight, but this victory is far more than a tally point on a scoreboard. For the Little Sisters of the Poor, this fight was not about winning. It was about serving God to whom they are grateful—no matter the cost, no matter the outcome. This is true of all Becket clients, and it’s why our work is so important. They are not fighting because they want to be champions. They are fighting because their faith requires it.

As Becket founder Seamus Hasson reminds us, we can’t just be “grateful” on our own. I am grateful to our clients. And I am grateful to you, for partnering with us in the 6-year battle that transformed the defense of religious liberty in America.

What’s happening at Becket:

“What’s being done here is forcing them to, in effect, endorse something they don’t believe in.” These are the words from one of the Third Circuit judges who heard our oral argument in our case defending Catholic Social Services foster families against the City of Philadelphia. The City has suspended all foster care referrals to Catholic even though there are hundreds of children in need of loving homes—just because of the agency’s religious beliefs about marriage. For more on this issue, see our website.

25 years on the books: Religious Freedom Restoration Act. On November 16, 1993, President Clinton signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). RFRA has gone on to protect people of all faiths, including the Green family and Native American Pastor Robert Soto. Becket is the authority on this issue (RFRA database here) and produced a short documentary.

Becket in the news:

“An Unnecessary Culture War” The WSJ Editorial Board weighs in on the new HHS rules that finally include an exemption for the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Keeping the Peace (Cross) Read about the Supreme Court’s decision to take up a case pitting the American Humanist Association against the “Peace Cross,” a WWI memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland—and look for a quote from Becket’s Luke Goodrich.

Cecilia Paul’s “campaign of love.” Kathryn Jean Lopez gives a beautiful tribute to the late Cecilia Paul, Becket’s client in our Philadelphia case defending Catholic Social Services foster agency.

What Becket is reading:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” If you’re looking for a brief lesson on democracy, its Greek origins, and why our current understanding of freedom is better (hint: we have rights that the state cannot take away), read here.

“Grateful vigilance.” In this Crux article, religious liberty advocates emphasize that we must be just as attentive to upholding religious freedom as an absolute right in countries like the U.S. as in countries with more extreme human rights violations.

Celebrating religion. On Nov. 13th I had the honor of attending the Templeton Prize Ceremony. Since 1972, the Templeton Prize has celebrated the deep and enduring significance of religion and the values that it promotes. His Majesty King Abdullah the Second is the 2018 laureate for his conviction that religious belief and the free exercise of religion are among humankind’s most important callings.

Does Religion Scare You?

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
October 31, 2018
Dear Friends,

What scares you? Ghosts? Witches? Goblins? If you’re the American Humanist Association, what scares you is a memorial shaped like a cross.

In 1941, the citizens of Pensacola erected a cross in a public park as the U.S. stood on the verge of World War II. For over 70 years, the Bayview cross stood as a reminder of how the community came together during troubled times, and a reflection of the city’s history and culture—until the American Humanist Association sued to force the city to remove the cross. The Eleventh Circuit ruled against the cross, but the ruling was remarkable—two of the three judges said the precedent that bound them is “wrong” and “needs to be reversed.” Becket is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

At the heart of this case—and other cases like it—is the “Lemon test,” a legal test that distorts the original purpose of the Establishment Clause. The Lemon test ignores the reality that our nation’s founders recognized religion as a natural piece of human culture, not something frightening that needed to be hidden away. (In fact, one of the Senate’s first moves was to create the office of the chaplaincy, before they even wrote the Bill of Rights). But despite being periodically discredited, the Lemon test persists. The late Justice Scalia likened the Lemon test to “some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried.”

We’re combating the irrational fear of religion with the common-sense truth: religion is a natural part of human culture. A cross that reminds the community of its history? That’s not the stuff of nightmares. But a bad court precedent that refuses to die? Now that’s scary.

What’s happening at Becket:

“Nevertheless, she persisted.” On October 19, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument in the California Little Sisters of the Poor case. Refresher: the Little Sisters won their case against the contraceptive mandate at the U.S. Supreme Court, but then the State Attorneys General of Pennsylvania and California sued to take that victory away. Becket is working to ensure the Little Sisters stay protected from the mandate.

Defending the parsonage allowance and underserved communities.

Last week, we took our case defending the parsonage allowance to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for oral argument. The parsonage allowance means that church leaders can live in or near the communities they serve, and it’s especially important for congregations in poor and underserved areas. In 2011, the Freedom From Religion Foundation went after the parsonage allowance—threatening churches with billions of dollars in new taxes—and Becket has been defending it ever since.


Next week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument in our case defending Catholic Social Services, a faith-based foster placement agency in Philadelphia. Back in March, Philadelphia suspended all referrals to the Catholic service provider because of its religious beliefs about marriage—even though hundreds of kids in the foster care system need homes, and Catholic Social Services currently has 35 willing foster parents with homes sitting empty. This is a case to watch—depending on how the Third Circuit rules, it could be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Becket in the news:

“[A]n open-and-shut case…” That’s what the New York Post’s editorial board calls Becket’s case defending a New Jersey historic preservation fund that allows both secular historic buildings and historic churches to receive grants.

Political points at kids’ expense. National Catholic Register features Becket’s case defending Catholic Social Services, the Catholic foster agency in Philadelphia. As Becket’s Lori Windham, senior counsel, says, the city is “trying to score political points at the expense of kids.”

The Little Sisters in court—again. Becket gave EWTN the scoop on why it’s still defending the Little Sisters of the Poor in court.

What Becket is reading:

A case for “confident pluralism.” Eboo Patel explores the complicated issues and ramifications at play in Becket’s case representing BLinC, a Christian student group kicked off the University of Iowa’s campus for requiring its leaders to share and adhere to its religious mission.

Dr. Russell Moore reminds us, we need each other. Kathryn Jean Lopez reviews Dr. Moore’s book The Storm-Tossed Family, seeing in it an acute reminder of our common ground in a time of deep division.

Curious about judicial appointments? For a breakdown of judicial appointments and vacancies, take a look at Reuters’ interactive graphic “Courting change,” which gives a by-the-numbers look at the nation’s judiciary.


Montse Alvarado
Executive Director