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July 2015

Archive for July 2015

Do Not Look Away Now!

A Message from the Executive Director
Thursday, July 23, 2015

Dear Friends,

Watching my father’s slow, 13-year descent into Parkinson’s-related illness, dementia and eventual death was a life-changing journey for my entire family. Those years transformed my father’s stocky and muscular body into a bedridden, paralyzed-from-the-neck-down 90-pound-shell. Towards the end, whenever I was with him, I focused on looking into his eyes where, once in a while, I could see his true self and catch a glimpse of his spirit and his sense of humor. Most of the doctors, nurses and visitors treated him with affection, but once in a while, I noticed that some who did not know him before he was ill only saw the shell he had become. It was hard to watch, and I did not blame those who looked away. I also wanted to look away. In fact, in the years that followed my father’s death, I threw away photos I took while he was ill and only kept those which reminded me of the “true” him—pictures where he was healthy, laughing, and surrounded by us.

Last year, I was reminded of this stage in his life while I visited one of the Little Sisters of the Poor’s homes. While the Sisters walked with me through their beautiful light-filled facility, I chatted with some of the elderly residents. There was a woman who stopped me to show me photos of her son who lives a few states away and her grandson who graduates from high school next year. The night before I met her, her husband had passed away in the Sister’s care. He had liver cancer and his wife told me it had been hard for him to let go, so the Sisters sang and held his hand and comforted him until he could. She mentioned he absolutely loved the Sisters (one particular Irish sister had even danced for him because he loved Irish dancing!) and was happy to spend his last days at this home. While she told me this story, I could tell by the way the Sisters looked at her that they saw beyond the shell of her body, that they treated this elderly woman and all the others with the affection one reserves for loved ones.

At the end of the day I drove home to my family. The Sisters—they stay. Day after day. Looking after the elderly. Joyously loving them. Never looking away.

The Sisters tell me they do this happily. In fact, this is all the Sisters want to do: to serve the elderly poor in their homes. Instead, for the last two years, they have been distracted by their lawsuit against the government. And today, for the second time in as many years, we had to ask the Supreme Court to protect them. The Sisters lost their case against the HHS mandate in a lower court. That court issued a 100-page opinion telling the Sisters that their view of morality was wrong. And that they were not “religious enough” to deserve an exemption.

Here is the good news: Every time government agencies have told the Supreme Court that they get to use massive fines to force ministries to provide contraceptives, the Supreme Court has told them they are wrong. We don’t know why they continue to force the Sisters to go to Court. After all, the government has exempted Pepsi and Exxon from the same HHS mandate that it is forcing on the Sisters.

This is discrimination. This is plain wrong.

But the Little Sisters are standing strong. They are true to their mission. They stay with the residents until the very end and they stick to their principles even under severe pressure.

At the Becket Fund, we too are true to our principles and to our clients. So, we are off to the Supreme Court for the Little Sisters. And gladly so! The Sisters’ case is so important—not only for the Sisters and their residents but for all Americans who believe in freedom.

Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director

Sometimes All You Have To Do Is Hold On For 8 Seconds!

A Message from the Executive Director
Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Dear Friends,

My idea of a great summer vacation generally includes such creature comforts as indoor plumbing and hot coffee in the morning. I like to avoid vacations that include hiking (I am afraid of heights) or anything that could cause motion sickness.

When my Eagle-Scout, avid-camper, retired-Marine husband started planning our family 4th of July vacation—a “rent-an-RV-to-drive-through-the-mountains-and-go-hiking-in-Yellowstone-and-Mount-Rushmore vacation”—I went into denial.

But last week as I faced packing for the trip, I decided I would will myself into loving every moment. Of course, I made this decision after I had read all about how to avoid altitude sickness, what to do in case of a bear attack, and which hospitals were close to our RV route. (I also packed a French press for coffee.)

For the first few days, I had motion and altitude sickness. But I soldiered on. It was easy. I loved being with my family. Away from school pressure and electronics, my kids became themselves and laughed easily with each other. My daughter became the trip navigator. My sons helped with RV duties such as water dumping and starting the generator. So what if I felt a little queasy?

On July 4th, we went to the Rodeo in Cody, Wyoming. It was 100 degrees at the rodeo grounds and there must have been over 4,000 people sitting in the stands. The event opened with the Master of Ceremonies riding a black horse into the ring. He started his remarks by reciting the First Amendment. Then he asked everyone who had ever served in the military to stand up, led the crowd in applause “for our heroes,” and launched into a prayer for the safety of the riders. The National Anthem was sung while a gigantic flag was carried into the arena by dozens of retired service members in uniform. Afterward, everyone said the Pledge of Allegiance and we took our seats.

All the events were mesmerizing and exciting, but the one that really captivated all of us was bull riding. In this event, the rider got on the bare back of a bull, held on to a rein, and had to stay on for 8 seconds. As the bull tried to buck him, the rider attempted to find the rhythm that would allow him to stay on.

It was spellbinding. The event required tremendous skill, strength, and endurance. And what seemed like an impossible feat became doable. I had never actually seen a rodeo before.

Watching the rider reminded me of our country’s endurance and strength. That rodeo—from start to finish—is what the spirit of America is all about. The Master of Ceremonies had it right—it is the First Amendment that guarantees our freedom and it is our service members that protect it. It is up to the rest of us to find the spirit of the bull rider and have the courage and endurance to ride that bull for 8 seconds.

Courage is one of the greatest American traditions, and all of our clients embody that spirit. Last week, I particularly thought of the Greens, owners of Hobby Lobby.

It was the one-year anniversary last week of our Supreme Court win in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell. People who absurdly argued that an American abandoned all claim to religious liberty once he or she opened a business made all sorts of dire predictions about the case and its repercussions. They were dead wrong. None of their Chicken-Little scenarios became a reality.

Below, I pasted an excellent piece in which our own Lori Windham explains what really happened after Hobby Lobby. It was originally published by USA Today and was quickly picked up by Religion News Service and the Washington Post.

While I ride this RV through South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, I am reminded of how lucky we are to live in the freest country in the world. I am privileged to be in the fight to preserve that freedom for generations to come.

Thanks y’all for your continued support.

Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director

P.S. – As I look at our mountains, I am also reminded of a statue built on a mountain in Montana affectionately called “Big Mountain Jesus.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation, all the way from its perch in Wisconsin, is offended by this statue that was erected by WWII veterans to honor soldiers who lost their lives defending our freedom. So they want it removed. Just yesterday, our attorneys were in Portland to defend the statue in oral argument.

Beards big winner in year-old Hobby Lobby case: Column

Protecting religious liberty remains critical for everyone, sometimes in unexpected ways.

One year ago, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision in the Hobby Lobby case. After the opinion, the public argued over who would be the big winners as a result of the case — corporations? Evangelical Christians? Men? Religious women? Looking back over the past year at the legal decisions relying on Hobby Lobby, we have a clear winner: beards.

Yes, beards. Two of the biggest cases to rely on Hobby Lobby didn’t involve corporations, or contraception or any of the other usual suspects. They involved the right to grow beards.

Seven months after the Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court followed up with another major decision that allowed a religious prison inmate to grow a half-inch beard. The state of Arkansas required all prisoners, including observant Muslims, to be clean-shaven. The state claimed it was a security regulation, but couldn’t come up with any evidence that a half-inch beard was more dangerous than a full head of hair, which the state allowed. All nine justices, even those who disagreed vehemently with Hobby Lobby, applied that precedent to allow the inmate to grow a beard.

Then in June, a federal court in Washington, D.C., issued another blockbuster opinion. This one allowed a college student, and observant Sikh, to join the ROTC without giving up his religious practice. That practice includes growing a religiously mandated beard. It turns out the ROTC made plenty of other exceptions to its uniform policies, including one for a vampire Mickey Mouse tattoo. The court reasonably concluded that if you can make an exception for Twilight Mickey, you can make an exception for a First Amendment right, too. The court, again, relied on Hobby Lobby to make its decision.

What does any of this have to do with a craft store run by evangelicals? Everything and nothing. Hobby Lobby was decided under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law passed with overwhelming support from both parties and signed into law by President Clinton. The law strikes a balance between religious freedom, on one hand, and critical government goals on the other.

Although much of the commentary surrounding the case focused on the issue of corporations, much of the legal opinion focused on a very different question: how do you tell when a family’s religious rights have been violated? And what does the government need to prove to override those rights? In Hobby Lobby, the IRS threatened to fine the owners millions for their religious practice — a clear threat to religious freedom.

The government admitted it had other ways to ensure that women had coverage for the four contraceptives Hobby Lobby didn’t cover. When the government has many ways to achieve its goals, it should choose a path that respects religious freedom. That’s the thinking underlying the Hobby Lobby decision, as well as the religious beard cases, and several others decided in the last few months.

Who has benefited from Hobby Lobby? Individuals whose religious liberty was threatened. By contrast, legal exceptions for family-owned businesses have been few and far between. In fact, every single business to win an exception to the HHS Mandate post-Hobby Lobby had already filed its lawsuit before Hobby Lobby was decided. And there’s not a single case allowing a business to refuse to cover vaccines, or blood transfusions, or any other critical care required by law. That might surprise a lot of Hobby Lobby’s detractors, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows the history of this law. It has been in effect for more than 20 years, and none of these imaginary scenarios happened before Hobby Lobby.

In the 50 years before Hobby Lobby, our courts did a good job of balancing religious freedom and other important goals. One year after Hobby Lobby, that tradition continues. So a year and a day after Hobby Lobby, let’s celebrate a law that protects religious freedom for evangelicals running family businesses, and Native Americans practicing ancient traditions, and Sikhs serving their country. Here’s to fifty more years of religious freedom.

And, of course, beards.

Lori Windham is senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the owners of Hobby Lobby.