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Archive for October 2018

COMING TO A COURT NEAR YOU!

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.

Gratefully,

Montse Alvarado
Executive Director