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August 2014

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Grand Knight's Letter


        A Message from the Executive Director
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Dear Friends,

Recently, a New Mexico federal district judge ruled that a monument of the Ten Commandments on a municipal building lawn violated the First Amendment, specifically the “Establishment Clause” which forbids the government from favoring one religion over another or establishing a religion.

The monument was part of a large display that included other monuments to the Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address, and Bill of Rights. Some individuals objected to the Ten Commandments monument, saying that they were offended by it as they drove by on their way to work.

As the Becket Fund has said before, simply disliking a government monument does not mean that anyone can just run into court to make a federal case about it.

This ruling shows how confused the courts are on the Establishment Clause—something the judge admitted himself. In his words, he had to decide the case based on “confusing jurisprudence” and his “own imagination.”

We’ve seen this before. The Becket Fund has repeatedly argued that the Establishment Clause does not require courts to scrub every religious reference from public life. If we did, where would that leave us?

Five years ago, we filed a brief in a Supreme Court case that also dealt with a Ten Commandments monument. The Supreme Court ruled that a city has the right to choose which monuments to display in its public parks, even if it does not reflect every church or belief. The decision followed our logic that government displays are government speech, meaning that governments can choose what to say—and what not to say.

Courts continue to be confused about all this. In fact, one Virginia judge tried to strike a deal, suggesting that a public school, sued by the ACLU for displaying the Ten Commandments along with the Declaration of Independence, remove four of the Ten Commandments on display—the ones that mentioned God. This would leave, he argued, the “more secular” ones on display. Whenever I tell this story to audiences of incredulous pastors, priests, ministers and advocates I carry with me the clip of the newspaper article. You can read the story here.

Rulings like this damage the American commitment to religious freedom, a principle that promotes a vibrant and diverse culture. City governments often recognize the values of their citizens, and that is a good thing.

For instance, a Pennsylvania city displays a menorah at Hannukah, with the understanding that by recognizing the Jewish holiday it recognizes its own citizens. The city of San Antonio puts on an annual Diwali festival, recognizing the Hindu holiday with food, fireworks, Indian dance, and traditional lighted candles. And who could forget the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago? Granted, this is more an ethnic festivity than a religious one. But why should recognizing purely religious symbols be any different? Religion is part of culture. It is part of human nature. It is part of who we are.

Religious symbols do not need to be hidden behind church walls or temple doors. Religious words do not need to be whispered in the dark, and only among believers. Americans have the freedom to believe and express their beliefs—that’s what makes our country great. And our city governments have the right to recognize our many different beliefs.


Dear Friends,

Under the relentless pressure of 100 lawsuits and several court orders, the government has announced it will issue a new version of the Health and Human Services mandate on or before August 22.

By our count, this is the 9th round of concessions.

(As you know, the HHS mandate forces—under the penalty of hefty fines—most employers to provide health coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptives, including the four drugs and devices that the government concedes can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg).

This is a quick recap of the last 3 years since the mandate was first issued:

Round #1: August 1, 2011: The government issued one of the narrowest religious exemptions we have ever seen. As one Roman Catholic bishop remarked, not even Jesus’ ministry would have qualified for this exemption.

First lawsuit: Shortly thereafter, the Becket Fund filed the first-ever suit against the mandate, brought on behalf of the monks at Belmont Abbey College.

Round #2: February 2012: The government finalized its hyper-restrictive exemption “without change” but gave the thousands of religious organizations like the Little Sisters, whose ministries were considered by the government too broad to qualify, a one year “Safe Harbor.” Translation: Religious ministries, we won’t budge.

Round #3: Friday, March 16, 2012 at 5:52 pm: Late on a Friday afternoon—just in time to miss the Washington, DC news cycle—the government admits that its original exemption was too narrow, and promises to create some kind of “accommodation” for the thousands of religious non-profits that don’t qualify for the exemption.

How about religious colleges and universities? Little Sisters? Still not exempted.

Premier Evangelical School sues: The Becket Fund sues on behalf of Wheaton College.

Round #4: August 15, 2012: The government admits, in response to a lawsuit by Wheaton College, that its original Safe Harbor was too narrow, and so it broadens the Safe Harbor to include organizations like Wheaton. Translation: the government is still buying time.

Round #5: February 1, 2013: The government admits that its first exemption for houses of worship was too narrow, and so it proposes to remove the requirement that houses of worship hire and serve only people of their own faith. But if you happen to operate a religious ministry that is not controlled and owned by a church, temple or synagogue, you’re still not covered. Little Sisters of the Poor? Still not religious enough, according to the government.

Round #6: Jun 28, 2013: The government extends its “Safe Harbor” for another six months (now totaling two years).

Round #7: July 2, 2013: The government finalizes its second exemption and announces an “accommodation” for other religious organizations that requires them to designate their insurer or health benefits administrator to deliver contraceptives on their behalf. The “accommodation” completely ignores the hundreds of religious organizations who receive health benefits through church-operated benefit plans.

First Class Action lawsuit against the mandate: In September 2013, the Becket Fund files the first class action lawsuit against the mandate on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor and their religious health benefits provider, Christian Brothers. A month later we file another class action suit on behalf of mission organization Reaching Souls International and the Southern Baptist Convention’s health benefits ministry, GuideStone.

Supreme Court Victory in Little Sisters of the Poor: On New Year’s Eve 2013, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor orders the government to stop enforcing the mandate against the Little Sisters of the Poor while the Supreme Court considers their emergency appeal. In January, the Supreme Court grants the Little Sisters lasting protection while their case makes its way through the courts.

Supreme Court Victory in Hobby Lobby: On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court rules that the government cannot require the Green family and their family-owned business Hobby Lobby to provide emergency contraceptive coverage to their employees.

Supreme Court Victory in Wheaton College: On July 3, 2014, the Supreme Court orders the government to stop enforcing the mandate against Wheaton College while its case makes its way through the courts.

Round #8: July 22, 2014: The government admits—after Supreme Court losses in Hobby Lobby, Little Sisters of the Poor, and Wheaton College—that the current accommodation needs to be changed, and so it announces that it will issue a new regulation.

Our lawyers at the Becket Fund have led the fight against the Health and Human Services mandate. We have filed nine high-visibility lawsuits including the first one (Belmont Abbey College), the largest for-profit (Hobby Lobby), and the first class action lawsuit (Little Sisters and Christian Brothers).

Our miniscule, but powerfully effective, team is fighting a gigantic government bureaucracy with an endless supply of lawyers, time and money.

But, we are winning.

Let’s see what the new version of the mandate brings. But, whatever it is, we will continue to fight for the religious liberty of our clients. Thanks for your continued support!


    A Message from the Executive Director
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Dear Friends,I remember exactly where I was standing on 9-11 when the airplane crashed into the Pentagon. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was looking out my kitchen window. The windows rattled; my children ran to me. Lights flickered and then went out. My husband was on a business trip. His plane was grounded a few moments later. He could not get through to the house. The phone was dead.

The days that followed were eerily quiet. All air traffic in and out of Washington DC ceased. We were frantically trying to find out who had been killed at the Pentagon. Many of my husband’s friends were stationed there. A little over a year later the Marine Corps would recall my husband and he would deploy to Iraq.

I remember the rubble and the rescuers and first responders. I remember the 17-foot steel beam cross emerging and giving hope to the rescuers. It resembled a Latin cross.

That cross, along with hundreds of artifacts recovered that day were to be displayed in a private New York museum.

However, a group of American Atheists sued. Initially they demanded the courts remove the steel beam cross. But afterwards they changed their mind and insisted on adding a plaque to it.

In our amicus brief, we explained to the court that mere offense does not give the American Atheists the right to sue.

The group admitted they had never seen the cross in person. They had seen it on TV.

They claimed that mere knowledge of the display’s existence was sufficient to support standing—or their ability to sue—because this knowledge has caused them “symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish.”

They also claimed that should the cross be displayed, it had to be “contextualized.” This means that they demanded to choose what the cross meant and to put a plaque next to it.

These claims are both absurd and dangerous.

No one in America gets to rewrite the past. No one in America gets to edit history.

As we said in a recent letter to the court:

“In truth, whether a museum may display a historical artifact that happens to be religiously significant to some people ought to be a no-brainer.”

The only “significant and important issue” in this case is whether taking self-proclaimed offense at a religious symbol displayed in a museum, despite the absence of any evidence of government coercion or endorsement, entitles the American Atheists to invoke the power of the federal courts to assuage their hurt feelings.

We think not.

Yesterday, the Court agreed. It is a no-brainer to allow the display.

The 9-11 cross will be included among the artifacts in the museum.


Dear Friends,

As you know, the same week as the Hobby Lobby decision, two religious ministries—Mother Angelica’s media network and Wheaton College—received good news. A lower court and the Supreme Court issued temporary protections against the IRS fines the government is forcing on them for opposing the Health and Human Services mandate.

Winning in court is great. It’s one of our favorite things to do at Becket.

Every win protects not only our courageous and deserving clients, but also pushes back on the government’s insistent claim that it can overrule our right to live according to our convictions.

The government seems to have forgotten that our rights do not come from the government, therefore the government cannot take them away.

Winning also has a price.

The other side has thrown a public tantrum and it is trying to move this fight into the realm of political theatre. They have insistently distorted the facts about the Hobby Lobby decision. But, as I said last week, even the Washington Post fact checker noticed, awarding several Pinocchio awardsfor the other side’s sad, theatrical, and desperately inaccurate statements. One of the best articles about the facts of the case was written by Bloomberg’s business reporter, Megan McArdle. I link her fabulous piece for you here.

In the end, truth is powerful. And, in spite of the other side’s attempts, it will prevail.

Meanwhile, we also work at getting the word out.

This is why we at Becket Fund are consistently engaging the media–friendly and, at times, not-so-friendly media.

Last Monday, the LA Times and the Washington Post both ran this exceptionally interesting article about our work. If you haven’t seen it yet, please take a few minutes to read it:

             Law firm in Hobby Lobby win is playing key role in religion cases

But, wait, there is more.

Also this week, the government announced it is issuing yet another regulation.

By our count, this is at least the 7th time that the government has tweaked the mandate.

It is time for the government to stop fighting the 30 federal court orders—including two from the Supreme Court—protecting religious ministries from the mandate.

Let’s see what they do.

I will keep you posted.


             A Message from the Executive Director
Thursday, July 3, 2014
Dear Friends,


Just a few months ago, we walked down the steps of the Supreme Court, arm-in-arm with Hobby Lobby’s owners David and Barbara Green, into snow flurries and a crowd chanting “Hob-by Lob-by!” On Monday, our lawyers walked down the steps once more, this time into the blistering sun and the roaring cheers of our friends and supporters.


We won! The Green family and other families that own business like them are free to go about their business according to their faith without fear of government bullying. The Supreme Court has ruled once and for all: Americans do not have to forfeit their faith to start a family business. What a beautiful thing to celebrate on this Independence Day!


The crowd parted as one of our star attorneys, Lori Windham, stepped up to the podium and spoke into scores of microphones and a sea of flashing cameras.


Have 2 minutes? Watch this. It is so exciting!



She said, “Today’s decision is a landmark decision for religious freedom. The Supreme Court recognized that American families do not lose their fundamental rights when they open a family business.” She also made it clear that, contrary to much of the media narrative, this was a victory for women. “Women like Barbara Green and Elizabeth Hahn fought for their religious freedom. And today, they won. Women like the Little Sisters of the Poor will continue that fight. Women’s voices are heard, standing up for religious freedom.”


The press was immediately flooded with kudos and congratulations from our colleagues and allies. Dr. Russell Moore, last seen giving the invocation at our Canterbury Medal Dinner, tweeted, “Halleluiah! #HobbyLobby.” Our board member and chair of the International Commission on Religious Liberty, Robert P. George, wrote a great piece over at First Things. Ed Whelan had an excellent analysis for National Review Online, and our own Mark Rienzi had a fantastic guest postfor UCLA professor and renowned legal scholar, Eugene Volokh, at the Washington Post.


They all affirmed what Justice Alito wrote for the Court when he said that the Religious Freedom Act makes it “perfectly clear” that Congress did not intend to discriminate against “men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.”


This was a huge victory for family-owned businesses, but there is more left to fight. And Hobby Lobby is already helping to win that fight.

On Monday at midnight, the fines were set to go into effect for one of our clients, Mother Angelica’s Catholic news network, Eternal Word Television Network, which is still waiting on its day in court. Just hours after the Supreme Court issued Hobby Lobby, Eternal Word received a last minute emergency injunction against the mandate from a federal appellate court. In a concurring opinion to the grant of the injunction, Judge William Pryor referred to the government’s arguments supporting its so-called “accommodation” as “[r]ubbish.” Wheaton College also got an emergency injunction, as did two other religious ministries facing impending disaster.

America is most definitely the land of the free and the home of the brave, in no small part due to its commitment to religious liberty. And that’s precisely what one member of the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy, said yesterday: “Among the reasons the United States is so open, so tolerant, and so free is that no person may be restricted or demeaned by government in exercising his or her religion.” Ultimately, America stays free because of brave people, people like the Green family, willing to run the gamut of the press and public smearing in order to defend our most cherished freedom, that which sets us apart from all other nations, religious freedom. And they are joined by so many others, like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who keep on fighting and continue to need your support.


So on this Fourth of July, please accept a special thanks from the Becket Fund for your own role in this resounding victory for freedom, the fruits of which will be enjoyed by generations to come.

Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director
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P.S. After Hobby Lobby? Well, the government is still after EWTN. Please help me get the word out on this terrific video about the remarkable Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN. If you watch it and agree, please click “Like” so more people can learn about their plight:


Dear Friends,

As you have probably already heard, today marks a landmark victory for religious liberty! As Bill and I and our Becket Fund team descended from the Supreme Court steps, we were greeted by a crowd cheering “I believe that we will win!” As you can see, we did!


The court ruled 5-4 in favor of our brave clients David and Barbara Green and their family business, Hobby Lobby.

As you can see from the ruling, business owners will not be required to violate their faith, or pay severe fines to the IRS for not complying with the HHS mandate. Our Senior Counsel Lori Windham explained today: “The Supreme Court recognized that Americans do not lose their religious freedom when they run a family business.”

And this is not just for David and Barbara Green – this ruling has implications for over 50 pending lawsuits brought by nonprofits, including our very own Little Sisters of the Poor.

 As Barbara Green said today in celebration: “The Court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith. We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey.”

So, please join us all in celebrating today’s triumph for religious freedom, and we promise to continue the fight until all of our clients are granted this same liberty.

As always, thank you for your continued support.