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Religious Freedom

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


A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
September 27, 2018

Dear Friends,

A good Supreme Court victory is a gift that keeps on giving—or, sometimes, a bulwark that keeps on repelling government’s creeping tentacles. Earlier this month, Becket won a 3-0 victory at the Third Circuit for Sixth Mount Zion, a historic black congregation known for providing faith, fellowship and crucial resources to its community in one of the poorest areas of Pittsburgh. The court confirmed that churches are free to make their own hiring decisions and choose their religious leaders without government interference. They based their ruling on—you guessed it—Becket’s 2012 victory at the Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor.

This is not some stroke of luck. At Becket, we defend religious liberty through setting lasting precedent at the highest courts. In 2012, we won Hosanna-Tabor with a 9-0 landmark decision that protected churches’ ability to choose their own ministers and religious teachers. And now we’re bringing more cases that will strengthen that precedent in the lower courts—and we’re winning. First it was the Fratello case in New York in 2017 protecting a Catholic archdiocese, and now it’s the Sixth Mount Zion case in Pittsburgh protecting a historic black congregation. Each victory makes a stronger case for the next. And each win strengthens other areas of religious liberty and protects more and more people. All of which shows why ours is a winning strategy. And we expect rulings in at least five more related cases in upcoming months, where protection for religious liberty will continue to grow.

What’s happening at Becket:

Becket to Supreme Court: Fix this “hot mess” in Pensacola. Becket is defending the City of Pensacola and its historic Bayview cross, a memorial erected in a public park in 1941 as a symbol of unity as the U.S. prepared to enter WWII. An atheist group sued to force the city to remove the cross, and the Eleventh Circuit ruled against the city—but only because its “hands [were] tied” by bad previous rulings, which the court said are “a hot mess.” Now Becket has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to fix the mess.

State of California v. The Little Sisters of the Poor. On October 19, the Ninth Circuit will hear oral arguments in our California Little Sisters of the Poor case. After the Little Sisters won their case against the contraceptive mandate at the U.S. Supreme Court, the State Attorneys General of Pennsylvania and California sued to take that hard-earned victory away. They’re hoping the Third and Ninth Circuit courts will rule their way, but Becket is working to make sure that doesn’t happen. If it does, we may end up with the Little Sisters at the Supreme Court—again—in 2019.

Becket asks Supreme Court to hear historic preservation case. Unlike vampires, historic structures age. But like vampires, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is trying to suck the life source out of important historic buildings—just because they are churches. Becket is representing Morris County, NJ in its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to protect its neutral preservation grant program, which allows historic buildings—secular and religious alike—to apply for funds to repair damaged structures and mechanical systems.

#StreamofConscience. If you haven’t listened to Becket’s podcast, Stream of Conscience, now’s your chance. We just dropped two new episodes, one about a Sikh woman who fought for the right to wear her articles of faith while working for the federal government, and one about a successful homeless shelter and addiction rehabilitation center whose ability to serve was challenged because of its Christian mission. Listen to these and our other episodes here.

Becket in the news:

“I’m melting, I’m melting…” Becket is defending Lehigh County, Pennsylvania as the Freedom From Religion Foundation takes them to court to scrub an image of a cross from their county seal. Becket’s Eric Baxter likens FFRF to the Wicked Witch of the West, and this Washington Examiner journalist agrees, calling them out on their “bigoted zeal.”

Making history in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Tribune writes up our Sixth Mount Zion win—the first time the Third Circuit has applied the ruling from Hosanna-Tabor.

Allowing religious groups to remain religious. The Iowa Gazette gives an account of our case defending InterVarsity, a Christian student group at University of Iowa. The university has a history of unevenly applying their “human rights” policy, giving religious groups the short end of the stick.

Seamus Hasson’s name in lights! Becket founder Seamus Hasson is featured in MSN slideshow highlighting 14 exceptional lawyers, along with Supreme Court Justices John Marshall, Thurgood Marshall, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Sandra Day O’Connor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

What Becket is reading:

Fostering love. Kathryn Jean Lopez paints a beautiful picture of the difficult and rewarding call of foster parents working with St. Vincent Catholic Charities. Becket is representing St. Vincent and foster families to defend faith-based foster agencies in Michigan.

The Atlantic: “Is democracy dying?” The Atlantic is running a series that explores the current state of American democracy. Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld write that our nation was founded on ideals that transcended human beings’ natural tendency toward tribalism—using the founding principle of religious liberty as a starting point.

Why an “obsession with safety” is dangerous. The New York Times reviews “The Coddling of the American Mind” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. NYT says they present a “disturbing and comprehensive analysis of recent campus trends” and show how a generation is leaving itself vulnerable to authoritarianism by refusing to engage with “uncomfortable” ideas.


Montse Alvarado
Executive Director


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

The government has an imaginary friend, and he is offended. What exactly offends him? It’s almost easier to ask what doesn’t—the list is shorter.

At the University of Iowa, this imaginary person is offended by religious student groups. This summer, the university purged 39 student groups, including InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship, from campus. Their sin? Requiring their leaders to agree with their mission. According to the university, asking leaders of a Christian organization to believe in the Christian faith would offend and discriminate against other students. Fortunately, while the government brings its imaginary friends to court, Becket brings real people and real legal arguments. Just a week after filing suit against the University of Iowa, Becket succeeded in winning back a place on campus for religious student groups—for now.

This trend, of government trying to freeze out religious groups under the guise of protecting hypothetical people from harm, is rampant. The City of Philadelphia recently banned Catholic Social Services from working with foster children because of the Catholic group’s religious beliefs about marriage—even though no one has ever filed a complaint. But protecting the government’s imaginary friends comes at a cost. Because the City refuses to work with Catholic Social Services, 35 willing foster families’ homes sit empty, while hundreds of children remain in the foster care system waiting for homes.

The government insists on protecting people who don’t exist, at the expense of those who do. Becket will defend real people over imaginary ones any day.

What’s happening at Becket:

Hold onto those pennies. This week, a federal appeals court rejected another attempt by atheist activist Michael Newdow to strip the motto “In God We Trust” from our national currency. Instead of applying the long-criticized “Lemon test” (see our video), the court adopted Becket’s argument—that the court should rely on history and treat religion as a normal part of the public square.

Becket and the bishops defeat an abortion group in court—again. Last month, I wrote to you about our win in Texas for the Catholic bishops. An abortion group called Whole Woman’s Health had tried to use the force of the courts to require the bishops to hand over private, internal conversations about abortion. After we won in the Fifth Circuit, the abortion group requested an en banc hearing (a hearing in front of all the court’s judges). The court rejected that request, solidifying its decision to protect the bishops from a “‘Hobson’s choice’ of retreating from the public square or defending its position.”

Becket’s client, Florida rabbi, speaks at DOJ religious liberty panel. On July 30, the U.S. Department of Justice held a panel called Religious Liberty: Our First Freedom and Why it Matters. The panel included opening remarks by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, addresses by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of the Archdiocese of Louisville and Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, and featured Becket’s client, Rabbi Ruvi New of the Chabad of East Boca Raton, Florida.

Becket in the news:

Courts can get Stockholm Syndrome, too. Becket attorney Daniel Blomberg explains how a recent decision from the Eighth Circuit has confirmed the Supreme Court’s instructions to federal appellate courts to stop ignoring history when considering religious symbol cases.

Restoring “true diversity” on campus. Forbes contributor describes how the University of Iowa “went nuclear” on student groups, and why the new Supreme Court makeup could make a difference for Becket’s case for InterVarsity.

“When is a Christian cross not Christian?” Deseret News talks about Becket’s case on a memorial cross in Pensacola, Florida. Scrubbing the public square of religious references does nothing but “tell a false story about who we are as human beings,” says Becket’s Luke Goodrich.

Churches can’t be punished for removing bad pastors. The Christian Post’s take on Becket’s case representing Sixth Mount Zion, a historic church under attack for voting for its pastor to step down after his poor leadership led to a huge drop in attendance and a surge in expenses. In July we defended the Pittsburgh church in court, where the judge verbally affirmed the Hosanna-Tabor ruling that protects churches’ autonomy in hiring decisions.

What Becket is reading:

City of Brotherly Love? Not for foster families. Congressman Mike Kelly writes about the “obvious illegality” of Philadelphia’s attack on Catholic Social Services’ foster agency, and how it’s all about a “religious dispute of the city’s own invention.”

First they came for the Catholic hospitals. For over a hundred years, Catholic hospitals have been leading healthcare in America and doing so in a way that aligns with Catholic beliefs. This FiveThirtyEight portrait of rural Catholic hospitals is an example of why they could see more attacks on ideological grounds.

The law as teacher. A recent poll shows growing support for religious freedom, Religion News Service reports. Whether it’s a short-term shift or a lasting trend is unclear, but it could be because of big wins like Masterpiece.


Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

The Wins Are Bigger In Texas And SCOTUS Winds Down Its Term

Fri, Jul 20, 2018 11:49 am
Montse Alvarado info@becketlaw.org
A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
July 20, 2018
Dear Friends,

I write to you on the heels of a remarkable victory. On July 15, after several all-nighters and under intense time pressure, our attorneys won permanent protection for the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops against the outrageous demands of an abortion group.

In June, the abortion group, Whole Woman’s Health, sued the State of Texas, seeking the right to dispose of aborted human remains in landfills or sewers, rather than by burial or cremation. Seeking to care for unborn children and needy mothers, the Texas Bishops offered to help the State by providing free burial in any Catholic cemetery.

The abortion group then tried to use its lawsuit to punish the Bishops by forcing them to hand over sensitive internal communications about religious doctrine. In a swift back-and-forth, the trial judge ordered the Bishops to hand over their conversations; Becket filed an emergency appeal in the Fifth Circuit. This week, the Court gave the Bishops permanent protection, saying that the order had violated the Bishops’ rights by imposing a “‘Hobson’s choice’ of retreating from the public square or defending its position.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court wound down its term by upholding free speech in three major cases. NIFLA protected pro-life organizations’ right to speak freely about abortion. Masterpiece affirmed a Colorado cake baker’s right to step aside from promoting same-sex marriage in violation of his religious beliefs. Janus protected public-sector workers from being forced to pay for speech by unions they oppose. These cases were different needles with the same thread. All stood up against government-imposed speech—and won.

Finally, there was Justice Kennedy’s retirement announcement. We are following Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and confirmation process with great interest and are optimistic that the Court will move to take religious liberty and free speech cases even more seriously in the future.

What’s happening at Becket:

SCOTUS to Baltimore: You (still) can’t control private speech. Back in January, we won a major victory at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals for a pro-life pregnancy center. The City of Baltimore then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking to force the pregnancy center to display government signs about abortion. In June, the Supreme Court denied the City’s appeal, reminding the City that, no, the government cannot dictate pro-life pregnancy centers’ speech.

Churches can choose their leaders. We continue to build on our unanimous 2012 victory in Hosanna-Tabor, affirming the right of churches to choose their leaders. On July 12, Becket represented Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in federal appellate court, defending the church’s right to remove a pastor who had failed in his leadership and stewardship of the church. We expect a decision within the year.

#KidsRightsNotFights. In one of Becket’s cases defending faith-based foster care, the ACLU has sued the State of Michigan for partnering with Catholic foster and adoption agencies, putting hundreds of vulnerable children at risk of never finding permanent homes. On July 12, Becket represented St. Vincent Catholic Charities, Shamber Flore, and the Buck family in district court to defend faith-based agencies and the vital work they do in placing children in loving homes.

Can’t get enough of the Little Sisters? Neither can we. That’s why we’re telling the behind-the-scenes story, complete with Sister Constance’s take, on our podcast. Listen here.

Becket in the news:

Profile of a Lion of the Law. The Wall Street Journal writes that Leonard Leo, Becket’s 2017 Canterbury Medalist, is “indispensable” to President Trump when it comes to advice on judicial appointments.

The end doesn’t justify the means. Becket’s Diana Verm explains why a “good” ruling decided in the wrong way—in this case, for the “In God We Trust” motto—can have damaging repercussions on religious liberty.

They’re onto us. The New York Times has finally caught on that Becket defends religious liberty for all—and why it’s a winning strategy.

What Becket is reading:

Why liberals can get behind Kavanaugh. Yale Law Professor Akhil Reed Amar takes to the New York Times to explain why President Trump’s Supreme Court pick is “a superb nominee.”

How to keep up with 140 (and counting) state bills. Deseret News has compiled an outstanding, clear, and thorough list of 140 bills related to religious liberty across the country. See the list here, easily sortable by state or topic (adoption, campus, health care, and more).

The Hobby Lobby facts speak for themselves. An exchange on Twitter exposed a New Republic writer’s ignorance about our Supreme Court victory in Hobby Lobby and the Green family’s beliefs about contraceptives—and how the truth gives her “some thinking to do.” The Washington Examiner writes it up.

Not a half-baked decision. Commentary Magazine writes on Justice Kennedy’s Supreme Court career and how it led to the majority opinion in the Masterpiece case.


Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

Progress on All Fronts at the Becket Fund!

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
May 16, 2018
Dear Friends,

What’s happening at Becket:

Don’t cross this town. A historic cross at a major Navy hub is threatened by a lawsuit by four disgruntled atheists, two of whom aren’t even U.S. citizens. Pensacola, Florida, is having none of it and asked Becket to defend its right to keep the cross, which was erected as the U.S. entered WWII. Becket was in court today to argue that the law does not prohibit religious symbols in the public square.

Little Sisters, Big Win. When HHS—after years of unnecessary lawsuits—finally issued a new order protecting the rights of the Little Sisters of the Poor, two state attorneys general filed new lawsuits seeking to throw out the new protections. After Becket once more stepped up to defend the Little Sisters and their right to continue their vital ministry to the poor and elderly, the states tried keeping the Sisters out of the case. The court in Pennsylvania sided with us and ruled that the Sisters have the right to defend themselves against this latest round of attacks.

A lesson in equality. Should poor and minority students in New Mexico be denied access to a statewide textbook-lending program solely because their schools are religious? Two atheist activists have relied on the state’s centuries-old, anti-religious Blaine amendment to file a suit blocking students at religious schools from a program designed to benefit all New Mexico children. At oral argument before the New Mexico Supreme Court last week, Becket argued against interpreting the Blaine Amendment to discriminate against religious schools, which heavily serve poor and rural communities in the state. A decision is expected before the end of this year.

Becket in the news:

Hope for a Jewish community center. Hamodia covered Becket’s victory on behalf of an Orthodox Jewish community in Boca Raton, Florida, which faced lawsuits designed to stop construction of its community center.

Re-writing history. The Morris County Daily Record wrote about Becket’s appeal to the Supreme Court to allow the county to issue historic preservation grants to churches and houses of worship as they would to any other landmark on the registry of historic sites.

Fear of feathers. American Indian feather dancer and Becket client Robert Soto made news by asking the federal government to formally end its criminal ban on using eagle feathers for Native American religious rituals. Pastor Soto’s request cited his victory in a lawsuit against the Department of Interior after a federal agent raided his religious powwow.

What we’re reading:

Doctor’s orders. Jack Solowey argued in The Hill that the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Department of Health and Human Services safeguards longstanding protections for healthcare workers, as opposed to creating a new set of privileges for “private faith over public health.”

Grand opening. Andrea Picciotti-Bayer covered the opening of the new Center for Religious Liberty, which will be headed by Becket President Mark Rienzi, at the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law.

Senate Confirms Becket’s Former General Counsel Kyle Duncan for Fifth Circuit Judgeship

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
April 24, 2018

I couldn’t wait to tell you the news: Becket’s former General Counsel, Kyle Duncan, was just confirmed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals by the Senate with a 50-47 vote. This is a great day for our country and religious liberty!

I am including the press release with more information below. Kyle led the Becket team to great victories in his tenure. We applaud this as a sign of the importance of religious liberty for all!



Subject: BREAKING: Senate Confirms Becket’s Former General Counsel Kyle Duncan for Fifth Circuit Judgeship

Press Release

Senate confirms Becket’s former General Counsel Kyle Duncan for Fifth Circuit Judgeship

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Becket proudly congratulates Kyle Duncan, Becket’s former general counsel, on his confirmation today by the United States Senate to serve as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Kyle’s colleagues and opposing counsel of all persuasions have praised his qualifications in knowledge, experience, and integrity, for appointment to the federal bench. The following statement can be attributed to Becket President Mark Rienzi:

“That sound you just heard was the stained glass ceiling shattering. Not only has our country gained a great jurist, but Kyle’s confirmation is proof positive that defending religious liberty for people of all faiths is a core part of our country’s long tradition of public service.”

Kyle served as Louisiana’s first solicitor general from 2008-2012, and then as general counsel of Becket from 2012-2014. Under his leadership, Becket won a number of decisive victories for religious liberty for people of all faiths, including the Hobby Lobby case.

Other highlights of Becket’s work under Kyle’s leadership included securing kosher meals for Jewish prisoners, winning a Sikh woman her right to work for the federal government without violating her faith, and helping an Amish community preserve its centuries-old building practices.

“At Becket, Kyle was a steadfast defender of religious liberty for people of all faiths and was known for his intelligence and evenhandedness. His generosity and respect for others has made him a great advocate and will make him a fair and respected judge. We applaud his confirmation,” added Rienzi.

Kyle will be sworn in later this year.


Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

The Becket Fund Is 7-0 in 2018!

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
April 18, 2018
Dear Friends,

We’re 7-0 and counting since the first of the year.

We are especially proud of our victory against FEMA’s longstanding practice of discrimination against houses of worship in need of disaster relief. When Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston last year, countless churches and synagogues opened their doors to those who lost everything and had nowhere to go. And yet houses of worship damaged in the storm were denied any aid from the federal government. The only reason? Religion.

Becket filed lawsuits on behalf of three churches and two synagogues that were hard-hit by the storm. That litigation went all the way to the Supreme Court and ended when FEMA announced that it would change its policy. FEMA admitted what Becket had made clear all along: helping zoos, stamp clubs, and homeless shelters, but not churches, synagogues, and mosques, violates the Constitution.

Thanks to Becket, FEMA’s policy of religious discrimination is no more.

What’s happening at Becket:  

A woman’s right to free speech. The Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, a small religious non-profit that serves at-risk women and their babies, won a huge victory against the city of Baltimore when a federal appeals court agreed with Becket that the Center does not have to post signs about abortion on their doors.

Two-way tolerance. In a landmark decision, a federal court agreed with Becket that refusing to accommodate North Carolina Magistrate Gayle Myrick’s religious beliefs violated civil rights laws. Magistrate Myrick and coworkers arranged a simple schedule swap so that every same-sex couple could get a courthouse wedding, but Myrick would not have to perform them in violation of her religious beliefs. The government rejected this swap despite approving similar swaps for things like childcare snafus and fishing trips. Myrick’s victory demonstrates that LGBT rights and religious liberty don’t have to be at odds (watch Gayle’s story here).

A lesson on religious liberty. The Christian group Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) was kicked off campus at the University of Iowa after refusing the school’s demand that it “revise” its faith charter and submit an “acceptable plan” for choosing leaders. With Becket’s help, BLinC sued the University, and the court agreed: the school must allow BLinC back on campus and treat them like all other groups allowed to set member and leadership qualifications.

Becket in the News:

Protecting pregnancy centers. Nancy Cecconi, board member and nurse of Becket client Support Circle Pregnancy Centers, wrote in the Washington Examiner about her pregnancy center’s struggle against local laws that would force them to advertise for abortion and discriminate against them in online advertising platforms (learn more about Support Circle’s story here).

Campus Christians fight back. The Washington Times covered our successful intervention on behalf of the 75-year-old chapter of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and its battle with administrators at Wayne State University who tried to shut the group down because of their Christian beliefs.

Preserve hope for kids. Melissa Buck argued in The Hill that the ACLU’s lawsuit against the Michigan Catholic adoption agency where she and her husband adopted four children is about scoring political points at the expense of neglected and abused children in Michigan’s foster care system.

Podcast junkies, rejoice! The Federalist plugged our new podcast, Stream of Conscience, and wrote, “It will become your newest podcast addiction.”

What Becket is Reading:

Aid for all. In an editorial, the Chicago Tribune sided with Becket on FEMA, writing that houses of worship “should be eligible for broad-based assistance aimed at helping communities recover from natural disasters.”

The proof’s in the pudding. In NRO’s Bench Memos, Mark Rienzi set the record straight on the case of NIFLA v. Becerra and pointed out that the government hasn’t offered a single example to prove its argument that pregnancy centers engage in “false advertising.”

School choice and secularism. Seth Lipsky praised the “freedom of parents to choose a religious education as a good thing” in the New York Post.

Combating Sparkle Season

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
November 28, 2017
Dear Friends,

Will you join me in combating Sparkle Season? Yes, Sparkle Season.

Sparkle Season is the hollowed-out celebration of Christmas and Hanukkah celebrated in Pittsburgh every year at the behest of squeamish secularists.

No doubt you’ve gotten a taste of some variation on Sparkle Season in your hometown. The beloved town crèche was packed up one year and replaced with a bland assortment of polar bears, penguins, and snowflakes. The Christmas tree near city hall was renamed the “Great Pine Tree.” You now get the proverbial “Happy Holidays” in lieu of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah.”

Have no doubt, you will be inundated with “Sparkle Season” for the next several weeks as our American tradition of publicly celebrating a variety of religious holidays continues to be watered down, or washed away altogether.

But Sparkle Season and its other secularized sister celebrations are not as innocent as they sound. Quite the opposite: they represent an increasing hostility to any public reference to religion. The same people that give us Sparkle Season are also leading campaigns around the country to scrub the public square of any reference to our religious heritage.

In one of our cases, Becket is defending a cross that has stood for 76 years in the town of Pensacola that atheists want taken down. The cross is a treasured monument to those from the naval town who gave their lives during World War II. It remains a vibrant meeting place where people from the town come together in common cause.

Becket is proudly defending the town’s right to retain that cross on public land, and we are proud of past wins defending cherished displays of faith – such as our victory for the veteran’s memorial, Big Mountain Jesus, in Montana – displays that monumentalize our freedom of religion and our belief as a nation that religion is not something to be boxed away like a Christmas ornament at the end of the season.


Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

Thanking God for Religious Liberty

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
November 22, 2017
Dear Friends,

In 1999, Becket’s Founder wrote a piece called “The Feast of the Intransitive Verb,” and in his wonderfully witty way, described how Thanksgiving points to our longing for the transcendent. As he put it, “You can’t just sit there and ‘thank.’ You have to thank someone.” At Becket, we thank God—for the blessings in our lives, for the privilege of defending religious liberty every day, and for your partnership with us.

In true Becket fashion, this holiday comes with a flurry of activity. The Little Sisters of the Poor are going back to court. And houses of worship in Houston continue to fight to rebuild their churches while serving those in need: unloading trailers of food and goods for their disaster-stricken communities so they can celebrate Thanksgiving, too.

What’s happening at Becket:

The Little Sisters head back to court: Incredibly, the states of Pennsylvania and California are attacking the Little Sisters of the Poor and trying to take away their religious exemption from the HHS Mandate (to score political points). Becket is defending them in both cases.

New Mexico takes a second look at its bigoted Blaine Amendment. New Mexico adopted a sensible program that lends textbooks to children who need them, including when they attend a religious school. Unfortunately, the program was struck down because of the state’s anti-religious Blaine Amendment. Becket’s Eric Baxter is now back in the New Mexico Supreme Court fighting to put an end to the reign of Blaine.

Tribes seek justice in court after government needlessly bulldozed their sacred site. The federal government bulldozed Oregon tribes’ sacred burial grounds in 2008 despite having numerous alternatives to widen the highway without harming the site. In late October, Becket and members of each tribe asked the court for justice.

Pro-life pregnancy centers are not the government’s messengers on abortion. A Federal Court in Baltimore struck down a law that requires pro-life pregnancy centers to post government disclaimers on their waiting room walls. But the city couldn’t take no for an answer, and appealed. Becket was at the appeals court in Richmond for oral argument late last month, as the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns defended its right to talk to women about pregnancy free from government interference.

Becket in the news:

Becket President Bill Mumma in First Things: The country has arrived at a tipping point. The people have rejected the lies offered by the dominant elite. Those elites are in a state of anxiety. They know their reign is coming to an end. It is up to us to seize this moment.

Groundbreaking study by Becket Deputy General Counsel Luke Goodrich: Critics of Hobby Lobby predicted it would open the floodgates to a host of novel claims, transforming “religious freedom” from a shield for protecting religious minorities into a sword for imposing Christian values in the areas of abortion, contraception, and gay rights. But that didn’t happen. Read the study here.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

Little Sisters, Big Victory!

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
October 17, 2017

Dear Friends,

It’s been a long time coming. No, I’m not talking about the fall weather. I’m talking about victory for the Little Sisters of the Poor.

As you may recall, the Little Sisters are nuns who spend their lives caring for the elderly poor. Six years ago, the federal government issued a rule requiring the Little Sisters to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion drugs in violation of their religious beliefs—or pay millions in fines to the IRS.

The Little Sisters refused, and Becket took their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ordered the government to work out a solution, and less than two weeks ago, the Department of Health & Human Services issued a new rule exempting the Little Sisters and others like them from the mandate. The new rule fulfills the Supreme Court’s order and President Trump’s promise earlier this year to protect the Little Sisters.

Now that the new rule is in place, the Little Sisters expect to get final, binding relief from the courts so they can go back to fulfilling their mission of serving the elderly poor.

What’s happening at Becket:

More good news for religious freedom. The Trump administration also just issued important new guidance for interpreting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—a key law that protected the Little Sisters and others (see our database here). The new guidance emphasizes that religious liberty is protected both in the marketplace and in the workplace, and that government discrimination against religious people is forbidden.

Defending the sacred in Oregon. On Monday, October 23, Becket, alongside members of the Klickitat and Cascade Tribes, will be in court seeking justice after the government needlessly bulldozed the tribes’ sacred burial site. (Learn more about the tribes’ story here.)

Wedding cakes and the right to dissent. Weddings are viewed as important and sacred events by many Americans. Religious dissenters, like Jack Phillips, shouldn’t be forced to participate in a religious ceremony that violates their beliefs. Jack’s case will be heard by the Supreme Court on December 5.

Becket in the news:

He’s with them. James Freeman writes in this Wall Street Journal opinion piece, that the government “picked on the wrong nuns and the nuns seemed to have picked the right lawyers.”

Peace to an unnecessary fight. Becket Senior Counsel Hannah Smith reflects on the new mandate exemption and how it should help bring peace to an “unprecedented escalation of the culture wars against religious organizations.”

Houston, we have a problem. Check out my interview on Fox News, as well as Diana Verm’s C-SPAN interview explaining how absurd it is that zoos, squid tanks and museums are eligible for FEMA’s disaster-relief aid, but churches are excluded. Also, the Chicago Tribune agrees with us that FEMA should not exclude houses of worship from receiving disaster aid simply because they are religious.

What Becket is reading:

Keep pastors in the communities they serve. Becket client and Chicago-based pastor, Chris Butler, takes issue with a recent court ruling that strikes down a 65-year-old tax provision and threatens pastors and churches with almost $1 billion in new taxes.

Fighting words in Florida. The mayor of Pensacola Florida (and Becket’s client), Ashton Hayward, has a message for atheists trying to tear down the Bayview cross: I won’t back down.

A return to common sense. Cardinal DiNardo and Archbishop Lori praise the new HHS mandate exemption in a joint statement but agree that there is still work to be done to finally end this fight.


Montse Alvarado
Executive Director