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Religious Freedom

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.

Gratefully,

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.

Sincerely,

Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

Update: Schools, Synagogues and FEMA

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director September 11, 2017

Dear Friends,

School is open, Congress is back in session and Becket is not missing a beat.

Pro-life pregnancy centers provide free counseling and care to women and children in need. But the cities of San Francisco and Baltimore are trying to force them to provide something else: government-approved messages about abortion. That’s right—the government wants to make pro-life pregnancy centers provide pro-abortion messages.

But Becket is fighting back. This month we’re defending a San Francisco pregnancy center. Next month, we’ll be protecting a Baltimore pregnancy center. In both cases, we are arguing that the government has no right to compel pro-life pregnancy centers to speak a pro-abortion message. Free speech and religious liberty are inextricable—and both rights protect the women who need the pregnancy centers’ vital services.

What’s Happening at Becket:

Churches—not judges—choose their own leaders. Becket won a landmark victory for the Archdiocese of New York and its Catholic schools, affirming Churchs’ constitutional right to choose principals and other leaders who share their faith. The ruling strengthens the unanimous Supreme Court decision Becket secured five years ago, which made clear that a religious institution’s right to choose its own leaders is at the heart of the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment (Watch: The Ministerial Exception Explained).

A synagogue’s big step toward a new home. A Jewish congregation in Boca Raton, Florida, was sued by hostile landowners who wanted to stop the congregation from building a synagogue. Their lawsuit threatened to gut protections for houses of worship across the country. So Becket stepped in and won a major victory for the congregation (Watch: What’s stopping synagogue construction in East Boca?). Now Becket is defending that victory on appeal.

Hurricanes don’t discriminate, so why should FEMA? Many churches suffered severe damage from Hurricane Harvey, but the federal government has a policy of denying disaster relief grants to all houses of worship. Why? Because they’re houses of worship. To end this discriminatory policy, Becket sued FEMA on behalf of three flooded churches, arguing that churches should be treated no worse than other non-profits that receive aid, like community centers, museums, and even zoos. The lawsuit follows the recent Supreme Court victory in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, which held that the government could not discriminate against churches when awarding public benefits.

Becket in the News:

Becket profiled in WSJ. In case you missed it, Becket’s profile, history, and philosophy were featured in the Wall Street Journal’s “The Weekend Interview.”

A historic win for a synagogue. The nation’s oldest synagogue, Congregation Shearith Israel, won a major battle to keep ownership of the nation’s oldest synagogue building and centuries-old Jewish artifacts. See Becket’s Eric Rassbach quoted in the New York Times about the case.

Disaster relief for houses of worship. The Washington Post profiled our lawsuit on behalf of three small churches in Houston that were damaged in Hurricane Harvey.

What Becket is Reading:

God is not a dirty word. The states agree, according to this Pew Research Center analysis.

“Hate map”. This article from The Washington Times sheds light on the impact the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “hate map” is having on religious non-profits.

Sincerely,

Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

Becket Fund Featured in the Media

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
August 16, 2017

Dear Friends,

The work of Becket has been consistently featured in the media recently. Three quick highlights I didn’t want you to miss:

Building a Synagogue does not establish religion: Video and victory!

For almost a decade the Chabad of East Boca Raton, Florida has been trying to build a synagogue for their growing congregation. What’s stopping them? A small but vocal and well-funded minority has opposed the construction of the Chabad’s much-needed new synagogue. Watch our new video (4 minutes) to see why we’re defending this vibrant congregation in their important fight for religious freedom.

WSJ Feature: “The Weekend Interview” put Becket on the brunch table

In case you missed it, Becket was featured in the Wall Street Journal’s The Weekend Interview. I was excited to share Becket’s profile and our approach to religious liberty. I talk Becket history, current cases, and how other freedoms—like freedom of speech—are inseparable from religious liberty. Read the piece—and see my caricature.

Winning in Court AND in Film Festivals

Last but not least, we won the Audience Choice Award at the prestigious Anthem Film Festival at FreedomFest for our video And My Prison Bars Bloom: The true story of Armando Valladares, a former Cuban political prisoner and Becket’s 2016 Canterbury Medalist. If you never had the chance to watch the video about Armando before, it is well worth the time.

I hope you’re having a great summer!

Sincerely,

Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

AN UPDATE ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
July 18, 2017
Dear Friends,

The Supreme Court’s last term kept us on the edge of our seats—and ended with some great news.

The remarkable 7-2 decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer was a huge win for religious liberty. The Supreme Court agreed with Becket’s argument that the government cannot exclude religious groups from public benefit programs just because they are religious. The decision also strikes a blow against old anti-religious state laws known as Blaine Amendments—threats to religious liberty that Becket has fought for years.

Two other developments keep us looking to the next term. Justice Kennedy, rumored to be considering retirement, will be staying for at least another term. The Court also announced that it will hear the Masterpiece Cakeshop case next term.

What’s Happening at Becket:

Defending Free Expression. As 4th of July grills and fireworks heated up across the country, Becket was working to protect a historic 75-year-old memorial cross in Pensacola, Florida.

Defending Free Speech. In Lee v. Tam (Matal v. Tam), the Supreme Court protected the right of free speech—as Becket had urged in our amicus brief—and rejected the government’s argument that it can ban trademarks if they are “disparaging.”

Gaining Ground on Blaine. The war to topple Blaine Amendments is heating up after victories in states like Oklahoma, Florida, and most recently Georgia and Missouri. Following the Trinity Lutheran decision, the Supreme Court directed New Mexico and Colorado to re-examine two of our Blaine Amendment cases in the coming months.

Defending God in the Public Square. The Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit heard two important cases involving religion in the public square last month: a pagan activist’s assault on a Michigan county’s practice of opening meetings with voluntary prayer, and an atheist activist’s efforts to eliminate the words “In God We Trust” from our nation’s currency. Becket’s win record in similar cases, at the Supreme Court, is unparalleled.

Becket in the News:

Unanimous Support for Church Autonomy. In an 8–0 decision, the Supreme Court recognized that churches, not government bureaucrats, get to decide whether hospital ministries are part of a larger church body. Read Becket Deputy General Counsel Eric Rassbach’s take here.

Students: 1, Blaine: 0. In a related case, the Georgia Supreme Court protected a scholarship program for low-income students that was being threatened by the state’s discriminatory Blaine Amendment.

What Becket is Reading:

Supreme Court Changes the New York Times’ Editorial Mind. Read the New York Times editorial board’s piece on Lee v. Tam (Matal v. Tam).

Background on Blaine. Philip Hamburger explains the bigoted history behind the Blaine Amendments here.

The Sky is…Not Falling. June 30th brought the third anniversary of the landmark Hobby Lobby win for the Green family at the Supreme Court. Critics of the decision ominously predicted “the sky would fall.” This article shows that’s not the case.

Sincerely,

Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

News from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
June 16, 2017
Dear Friends,

The Rose Garden at the White House is beautiful in May.

It was especially beautiful on May 4th, because we were there with the Little Sisters of the Poor—the brave nuns who challenged the government’s contraception mandate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

That day, the White House announced that the long fight would soon be over and that the Little Sisters had won their case. The President issued an executive order promising relief for the Little Sisters, and a leaked draft of a new HHS rule gives us confidence that a final resolution is near. We won’t rest until the job is done. But the end is near, and the Little Sisters are going to be free to continue their beautiful work of caring for the elderly poor.

May 4th was also the day that we honored Leonard Leo at our annual Canterbury Medal Gala for his tireless advocacy for religious liberty.
Speaking of tireless, we enter summer with a full pipeline of important cases. Read on to hear about the exciting challenges ahead.

What’s Happening at Becket:

This week, Becket attorneys Daniel Blomberg and Diana Verm travel to Cincinnati to defend legislative prayer and to defend our national motto “In God We Trust.”

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 8-0 to protect faith-based hospitals from greedy class-action lawsuits. The Court agreed with Becket’s friend-of-the-court brief, concluding that it is not the government’s job to define the boundaries of a “church.”

Becket continues to defend churches across the country from the threat of almost $1 billion in new taxes. We are standing with Bishop Ed Peecher, the pastor of an African-American church in South Side, Chicago to defend the parsonage allowance—a 60-year-old tax law that ensures fair tax treatment for churches.

In a quiet move just before the election, the last administration passed a nationwide “nondiscrimination” rule that would force doctors to perform gender transition procedures on young children. We stopped the rule in court. In a piece of good news, the new administration has said it will now reconsider the rule.

Becket in the News:

We’re waiting on a decision in our case defending a New York Archdiocese school’s right to choose its own teachers.

Becket attorney Daniel Blomberg explains why a flawed legal test might come up to the Supreme Court soon.

Watch my take on the leaked HHS mandate draft here on EWTN.

What Becket is Reading:

Religious liberty advocate Roger Severino is the President’s head of civil-rights enforcement at HHS. Read about him here in the Atlantic.

If you want a reminder of why we fight for religious liberty every day, read this courageous woman’s account of being fired from her government job for following her faith, and her application to the United States Supreme Court.

As always, feel free to reach out with any questions you have about our cases. Our new website is a great resource, visit us there for up to the minute updates on our work: becketlaw.org.

Thank you for your support!

Novena for Grace and Solidarity

Today, we see throughout parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia the brutal persecution, torture and killing of Christians.

This month, the Knights of Columbus is urging its members and other people of faith to pray a Novena of Grace and Solidarity for Christians suffering persecution. The novena is based on a prayer in honor of St. Francis Xavier by Italian Father Marcello Mastrilli, a missionary to Japan who was martyred for the faith.

Please join in praying this Novena of Grace and Solidarity, beginning on Sunday, March 12, and concluding on Monday, March 20. The novena may also be prayed any time throughout the year.

The novena prayer can be found here.

For more information on the persecution of Christians and details on how you can help relieve some of their suffering, click here.

Knights of Columbus • 1 Columbus Plaza • New Haven, CT 06510 • 203-752-4000

Farewell from The Becket Fund’s Kristina Arriaga

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

It might come as a surprise to you that I am leaving Becket.

In the earliest days, over 20 years ago, I never could have imagined the impact our work would have today. More than that, I never could have imagined that I would make some of the most important friendships of my life through our work. I could not have predicted the soul-deep inspiration I’ve gotten from the Little Sisters of the Poor, or the example of courage I humbly look to in Barbara Green, or the profound sense of spiritual purpose I’ve witnessed in Pastor Robert Soto.

For these experiences and all the rest, I am grateful beyond words.

So why am I leaving? The answer, like most, is complex. Mainly, I need to step back from Becket to focus on my family. My children are my biggest source of joy. Those of you with your own children will understand when I say that they are also my biggest source of anxiety. There is nothing that makes a parent’s heart beat faster than concern for their child’s health or well-being. I have been enormously fortunate. My children are healthy, happy, and thoughtful. But the truth is, they still need their mother.

While I am sad to leave Becket and its fine people, I have no regrets. I am looking forward to giving more of myself at home. I am eager to continue to work for religious freedom in my position as Commissioner at the US Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF.) I remain Becket’s biggest advocate, and I hope that my role on USCIRF will only make my advocacy more persuasive. Those at Becket know I will continue to be available for any help or advice I can give.

In between taking care of my family and USCIRF (I kicked off the year with a trip to Egypt and just got back from Saudi Arabia) I am working on a book. There is something valuable about stepping back and looking at what made you and what you are making in turn. The lessons I have learned about human courage and freedom are worth passing on, and I hope to do them justice.

I can’t think of any better inspiration to continue fighting the good fight than my father, who fought it all his life. I think I told you once about the homemade signs he kept on his bathroom mirror. They read: “Keep Moving,” “Optimism,” and “God is watching.” I am taking these messages to heart.

It has been one of my life’s greatest privileges to work at Becket. It has been a privilege to know and defend courageous Americans who stand up for religious liberty. It has been a privilege to count on your support.

HUGH HEFNER AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY?

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
January 5, 2017
Dear Friends, Happy New Year!

The start of 2017 at Becket brings with it the unveiling of our new logo and updated name, Becket Law. We are excited about this change, which continues to honor our namesake, who had the courage to stand between the King and God, and also better communicates to the world who we are: a law firm.

Becket’s fresh new logo reflects our creative approach to the defense of religious liberty. But make no mistake. Even with a modern logo, our mission remains as classic and relevant as the Constitution.

With these changes, we are launching into 2017 ready to continue our mission to defend religious liberty for all. And frankly, we have a lot of work to do.

Right now we are seeing the results of years of erosion of religious liberty. The new year brings with it new opportunities, but there is a lot of cleanup to be done for progress to be made.

At Becket, we spent our Christmas and New Year’s “break” fighting to dismantle the transgender regulation, which would force virtually every private doctor to perform procedures on children—yes, children—against their medical judgment. I am relieved and pleased to report that we won a huge victory, in the nick of time, just as the regulation was to be applied to our clients at Franciscan Alliance.

The Court got it right. Religious liberty is not a privilege that extends only to people with “modern” or “acceptable” views of the world in which we live. It is not a right that bends to pressure from activists or politicians. We do not need to prove our “cool” factor to claim the basic right of religious liberty.

This is a truth that I reflected on over Christmas when the Newseum, a museum in D.C. dedicated to the defense of the five freedoms of the First Amendment and known across the political spectrum for its compelling exhibits, called to tell me I was to be honored for my work on religious freedom. Then I was told I would be receiving recognition at an event hosted by Bret Baier alongside other individuals the Newseum had chosen as advocates of the different First Amendment freedoms: civil rights champion Congressman John Lewis, ABC reporter Martha Raddatz, and, ahem, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.

For a dizzying moment, all I could think about was standing on stage with Hugh Hefner, a man with whom I have nothing in common—our values are total opposites!

What would my late father say? My mother? My kids? My husband? Becket’s friends?

But, after hanging up and reflecting some, perhaps it shouldn’t be as suprising as I thought at first blush.

Mr. Hefner is being honored for his philanthropic work to facilitate individual rights like freedom of expression.

Different as we are, and though I deeply disagree with Mr. Hefner on what expression is appropriate for society and healthy for women and children, we all share the right to these fundamental liberties. Americans have spent over two hundred years working out what this means through the Constitution and our laws. So maybe Mr. Hefner and I do have one thing in common.

That, and the fact that the Supreme Court relied on Mr. Hefner’s free
speech case United States v. Playboy to unanimously rule in favor of protecting the free expression of pro-life sidewalk counselors.

That later Supreme Court case, McCullen v. Coakley, was successfully argued by Becket’s Mark Rienzi. You see, protecting freedom of expression for one person protects it for everyone.

The bottom line is this: Religious liberty is not for conservatives. It is not for liberals. It is not for modest people, or eloquent people, or thoughtful people. It is not a political wedge issue. It is for everyone.

We at Becket believe in a universal claim to religious liberty. This applies to doctors who do not wish to perform transgender procedures. It applies to the Little Sisters when they do not want to provide the week-after pill in their health insurance policies. It applies to a Sikh Bronze Star Medal Recipient who wants to wear the symbols of his faith while serving in the Army, as well as to Native American Pastor Robert Soto, who wants to use eagle feathers in his religious ceremonies. It even applies to those separated from most of the population by prison walls.

So, on April 18, I will stand alongside the others to receive the Newseum Award and celebrate what makes this such a great country: our shared right to free expression and religious liberty.