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November 2018

Archive for November 2018

Gratitude, and Why We Fight!

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
November 21, 2018

Dear Friends,

As Thanksgiving comes around each year, we are grateful—grateful for our friends, for the work we do, for our victories, and for our freedom. This year, we are especially grateful to see the victorious end in sight in our original cases against the HHS mandate. Earlier this month, the government finally issued an official exemption from the rule for religious non-profits like the Little Sisters of the Poor. After years of persistent litigation, the government has officially recognized that there are ways for them to provide contraceptive services to women that don’t involve Catholic nuns. (Now, state governments like California and Pennsylvania must simply accept the facts and leave the nuns alone too.)

It’s tempting to revel in such a hard-won fight, but this victory is far more than a tally point on a scoreboard. For the Little Sisters of the Poor, this fight was not about winning. It was about serving God to whom they are grateful—no matter the cost, no matter the outcome. This is true of all Becket clients, and it’s why our work is so important. They are not fighting because they want to be champions. They are fighting because their faith requires it.

As Becket founder Seamus Hasson reminds us, we can’t just be “grateful” on our own. I am grateful to our clients. And I am grateful to you, for partnering with us in the 6-year battle that transformed the defense of religious liberty in America.

What’s happening at Becket:

“What’s being done here is forcing them to, in effect, endorse something they don’t believe in.” These are the words from one of the Third Circuit judges who heard our oral argument in our case defending Catholic Social Services foster families against the City of Philadelphia. The City has suspended all foster care referrals to Catholic even though there are hundreds of children in need of loving homes—just because of the agency’s religious beliefs about marriage. For more on this issue, see our website.

25 years on the books: Religious Freedom Restoration Act. On November 16, 1993, President Clinton signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). RFRA has gone on to protect people of all faiths, including the Green family and Native American Pastor Robert Soto. Becket is the authority on this issue (RFRA database here) and produced a short documentary.

Becket in the news:

“An Unnecessary Culture War” The WSJ Editorial Board weighs in on the new HHS rules that finally include an exemption for the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Keeping the Peace (Cross) Read about the Supreme Court’s decision to take up a case pitting the American Humanist Association against the “Peace Cross,” a WWI memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland—and look for a quote from Becket’s Luke Goodrich.

Cecilia Paul’s “campaign of love.” Kathryn Jean Lopez gives a beautiful tribute to the late Cecilia Paul, Becket’s client in our Philadelphia case defending Catholic Social Services foster agency.

What Becket is reading:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” If you’re looking for a brief lesson on democracy, its Greek origins, and why our current understanding of freedom is better (hint: we have rights that the state cannot take away), read here.

“Grateful vigilance.” In this Crux article, religious liberty advocates emphasize that we must be just as attentive to upholding religious freedom as an absolute right in countries like the U.S. as in countries with more extreme human rights violations.

Celebrating religion. On Nov. 13th I had the honor of attending the Templeton Prize Ceremony. Since 1972, the Templeton Prize has celebrated the deep and enduring significance of religion and the values that it promotes. His Majesty King Abdullah the Second is the 2018 laureate for his conviction that religious belief and the free exercise of religion are among humankind’s most important callings.

Does Religion Scare You?

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
October 31, 2018
Dear Friends,

What scares you? Ghosts? Witches? Goblins? If you’re the American Humanist Association, what scares you is a memorial shaped like a cross.

In 1941, the citizens of Pensacola erected a cross in a public park as the U.S. stood on the verge of World War II. For over 70 years, the Bayview cross stood as a reminder of how the community came together during troubled times, and a reflection of the city’s history and culture—until the American Humanist Association sued to force the city to remove the cross. The Eleventh Circuit ruled against the cross, but the ruling was remarkable—two of the three judges said the precedent that bound them is “wrong” and “needs to be reversed.” Becket is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

At the heart of this case—and other cases like it—is the “Lemon test,” a legal test that distorts the original purpose of the Establishment Clause. The Lemon test ignores the reality that our nation’s founders recognized religion as a natural piece of human culture, not something frightening that needed to be hidden away. (In fact, one of the Senate’s first moves was to create the office of the chaplaincy, before they even wrote the Bill of Rights). But despite being periodically discredited, the Lemon test persists. The late Justice Scalia likened the Lemon test to “some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried.”

We’re combating the irrational fear of religion with the common-sense truth: religion is a natural part of human culture. A cross that reminds the community of its history? That’s not the stuff of nightmares. But a bad court precedent that refuses to die? Now that’s scary.

What’s happening at Becket:

“Nevertheless, she persisted.” On October 19, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument in the California Little Sisters of the Poor case. Refresher: the Little Sisters won their case against the contraceptive mandate at the U.S. Supreme Court, but then the State Attorneys General of Pennsylvania and California sued to take that victory away. Becket is working to ensure the Little Sisters stay protected from the mandate.

Defending the parsonage allowance and underserved communities.

Last week, we took our case defending the parsonage allowance to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for oral argument. The parsonage allowance means that church leaders can live in or near the communities they serve, and it’s especially important for congregations in poor and underserved areas. In 2011, the Freedom From Religion Foundation went after the parsonage allowance—threatening churches with billions of dollars in new taxes—and Becket has been defending it ever since.


Next week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument in our case defending Catholic Social Services, a faith-based foster placement agency in Philadelphia. Back in March, Philadelphia suspended all referrals to the Catholic service provider because of its religious beliefs about marriage—even though hundreds of kids in the foster care system need homes, and Catholic Social Services currently has 35 willing foster parents with homes sitting empty. This is a case to watch—depending on how the Third Circuit rules, it could be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Becket in the news:

“[A]n open-and-shut case…” That’s what the New York Post’s editorial board calls Becket’s case defending a New Jersey historic preservation fund that allows both secular historic buildings and historic churches to receive grants.

Political points at kids’ expense. National Catholic Register features Becket’s case defending Catholic Social Services, the Catholic foster agency in Philadelphia. As Becket’s Lori Windham, senior counsel, says, the city is “trying to score political points at the expense of kids.”

The Little Sisters in court—again. Becket gave EWTN the scoop on why it’s still defending the Little Sisters of the Poor in court.

What Becket is reading:

A case for “confident pluralism.” Eboo Patel explores the complicated issues and ramifications at play in Becket’s case representing BLinC, a Christian student group kicked off the University of Iowa’s campus for requiring its leaders to share and adhere to its religious mission.

Dr. Russell Moore reminds us, we need each other. Kathryn Jean Lopez reviews Dr. Moore’s book The Storm-Tossed Family, seeing in it an acute reminder of our common ground in a time of deep division.

Curious about judicial appointments? For a breakdown of judicial appointments and vacancies, take a look at Reuters’ interactive graphic “Courting change,” which gives a by-the-numbers look at the nation’s judiciary.


Montse Alvarado
Executive Director