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December 2013

Archive for December 2013

2013 Ebenezer Award For Affront to Christmas!

Dear Friends,

I am pleased (well, sort of) to announce the recipient of our lowest honor, the 2013 Ebenezer Award, which is given annually to the most ridiculous affront to Christmas or Hanukkah celebrations.

This year the award goes to Wisconsin’s Department of Administration, which apparently doesn’t know that it is constitutionally permissible for the government to have a tasteful holiday display celebrating various aspects of the Christmas season. So instead, the Department of Administration invited anyone and everyone to display anything they want

The result? Wisconsin citizens are now being greeted by a display of the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” in their State Capitol. The sign depicts a dripping wet clump of boiled spaghetti with two strategically placed meatballs, and this message:  “He boiled for your sins. Be touched by his noodly appendage before it is too late.” The creators of the display say it is a protest against any government recognition of the religious roots of the Christmas season.

Now, don’t get us wrong. We’re all for free speech. We think everyone should be allowed to speak their mind when the government opens up a forum for speech.

The problem here is that government bureaucrats have forgotten that there is a difference between government speech and private speech. The government is allowed to speak in its own voice and communicate its own message. When it recognizes important aspects of human history or culture, it is not required to include every possible competing message. The postal service can issue a stamp honoring Martin Luther King Jr. without also honoring the Ku Klux Klan. Congress can celebrate Veterans’ Day without also celebrating Pacifists’ Day. And Wisconsin can recognize Christmas and Hanukkah without also recognizing the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Earlier this year, an important decision from the Sixth Circuit addressed precisely this issue. The City of Warren, Michigan, put up a holiday display including a nativity scene, and it refused to include a sign from the Freedom From Religion Foundation saying “Religion is but Myth and superstition That hardens hearts And enslaves minds.” Not surprisingly, the Sixth Circuit sided with the city. As the court explained, the Constitution “does not convert [holiday] displays into a seasonal public forum, requiring governments to add all comers to the mix and creating a poison pill for even the most secular displays in the process.” Read the Sixth Circuit opinion here.

So this season, we urge government bureaucrats everywhere to grow a spine—and use your voice. The government can recognize the historical, cultural, and religious significance of 2000-year-old events that altered the course of human history, without giving equal time to dripping wads of spaghetti and griping atheists. The Constitution allows it. Common sense requires it.

And this year’s Eggnog Toast goes to last year’s winner of the Ebenezer Award, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee. After realizing the error of his ways, he used the words “Christmas tree” instead of “holiday tree” in the invitation for this year’s State Capitol’s tree lighting ceremony.  He was the recipient of the 2012 Ebenezer award for treating the lighting of the Christmas tree as a state secret. His fear of a flash mob singing a “religious” song such as “O Christmas Tree” led him to disclose the lighting of the festive tree only moments before it happened. Cheers to the Governor for recognizing that the tree is, indeed, a Christmas tree. Now that wasn’t so hard was it?

And if this hasn’t been enough to make you say “bah humbug,” here are some notable previous Ebenezer recipients:

  • (2011) The U.S. Post Office, for banning Christmas Carolers
  • (2009) Commissioner Tyler Moore, of Kokomo, Indiana, who replaced a traditional display with one featuring the Loch Ness monster, a woodpecker and a fire truck

From all of us here at the Becket Fund, have a merry Christmas, and thank you for your support!

High Stakes in Hobby Lobby Case vs HHS Mandate

Dear Friends,

As you know, we’re very excited here at the Becket Fund to be heading to the U.S. Supreme Court to make Hobby Lobby’s case against the HHS Mandate.

This is the kind of case that will shape our laws for decades to come.  The issues at the heart of the HHS Mandate challenge cut to the very core of our Constitutionally-guaranteed freedom:

Do we lose our right to religious liberty

when we open a family business and earn a living?

The Obama Administration thinks we do.

But, we at the Becket Fund are hopeful that the Justices will agree with us that the answer has to be NO.

The stakes are very high. A win here for Hobby Lobby is a serious blow to the HHS Mandate.

I don’t think I have to tell you what a huge undertaking this is.  We have to bring even better than our A-plus game.

I know there are no better attorneys out there to successfully defend religious liberty before the High Court.

Remember:  This is the team that won a 9-0 victory for religious liberty before this very Supreme Court not even two years ago.  It was hailed across the board as the most significant religious liberty victory of a generation.

This case will be just as historic.

Unfortunately, while the HHS Mandate is probably the largest and most significant threat to religious liberty, it’s far from the only one.

School districts and small towns are being threatened with law suits for allowing religion to share the public square.  They are being forced to decide how much of their budget they are willing to risk to defend their right to comfortable graduation venues or veterans monuments.

And individuals are being asked to make similar choices.

People like the pharmacists we’re still representing in Washington State – where the state wants to force them to dispense abortion-inducing drugs in violation of their faith.  Can they practice their profession and their faith?

People like Hobby Lobby’s Green family: Can they own a business and stay true to their religious beliefs?

These are choices that no one should ever have to make.  Our right to religious liberty doesn’t end when we exit our houses of worship.

The Founding Fathers certainly didn’t intend it to be that way and for centuries there was a strong bipartisan support for our First Freedom.

In fact, both of our nation’s landmark religious liberty laws – the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed in 1993 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) passed in 2000 – were approved by a nearly unanimous Congress.

Religious liberty doesn’t belong to one party.  Either we all have it or none of us do.

Thankfully, the Becket Fund’s unanimous victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012’s Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC demonstrates that there is hope that liberals and conservatives alike can still come together to support religious liberty.

I can already tell you that it looks like the pace of this fight won’t be letting up in 2014

Frankly, it is clearer than ever that our work has become more crucial than ever.

And, your support has helped provide a great foundation for that work.

We truly couldn’t have become the “powerhouse law firm,” as the AP has called us, without the strong and steadfast support of people like you.

2014 could be the turning point for religious liberty, starting with the Hobby Lobby case at the Supreme Court.  This could be the point where the tide turns and religious liberty starts to gain ground.

White House Reaction to the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Case

             A Message from the Executive Director
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Dear Friends,Last week, as you know, the Supreme Court decided it would hear our Hobby Lobby case. I don’t want you to miss out on the great coverage we are getting on this case—but it is too much for me to list here for you. Please visit our Hobby Lobby Case page and scroll down to the “In the News Tab” to see how this case is making headlines.At the core of the Hobby Lobby case is the idea that its owners, the Green family, should be able to operate their own private family business according to their own deeply held convictions.

For the Greens, this means paying their 25,000 employees wages that are nearly double what other similar establishments pay. (The government does not object to that.) This means closing on Sundays so that families can spend time together. (The government does not object to that one either.) This means not carrying lewd cards, vulgar signs or shot glasses. (Yes, no objection there either.) This means providing an excellent healthcare plan. That plan includes all preventive services specified by the Affordable Care Act except for 4 out of the 20 FDA-contraceptives, a small portion of the preventive services mandate.

The Greens are asking for something small.  They just want to avoid having to pay for these four items because, as the government itself concedes, they can prevent a fertilized egg from implantation. The Greens consider this an abortion.

But the government won’t give an inch.

As soon as the decision came down, the White House issued a statement that concluded:

“The President believes that no one, including the government or for-profit corporations, should be able to dictate those decisions to women. The Administration has already acted to ensure no church or similar religious institution will be forced to provide contraception coverage and has made a commonsense accommodation for non-profit religious organizations that object to contraception on religious grounds. These steps protect both women’s health and religious beliefs, and seek to ensure that women and families–not their bosses or corporate CEOs–can make personal health decisions based on their needs and their budgets.”

Read this carefully and imagine removing the absurd war-on-women narrative. The government is making itself the only arbiter of conscience rights.

The government cannot force a vegan to eat meat. The government cannot force a pacifist to go to war. The government cannot even force a child to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

However, the government is stating that it has the right to tell a private business that what the government considers a vital service supersedes any other consideration a private business owner may have—including his own conscience.

Additionally, you and I know that the White House statement is woefully inaccurate in another way. The government has issued insufficient and narrow exemptions to religious groups (think of our clients, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who do not qualify for a religious exemption.)

This case is one that will define the freedoms that our children will enjoy.

Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director
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P.S. You don’t want to miss Helen Alvare, founder of “Women Speak for Themselves,” and friend to the Becket Fund, as she responds to many of the White House’s claims in yesterday’s USA Today.