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Archive for November 17, 2019

BACK TO SCHOOL, BACK IN COURT!

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director

September 24, 2019
Dear Friends,

School is back in session, and Becket’s word of the week is: education.
There is a disturbing nationwide trend of curbing students’ speech, particularly religious speech, on college campuses. Stripping student organizations of the right to choose leaders who reflect their beliefs is just one way of doing it. In 2017, Michigan’s Wayne State University effectively kicked InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) off campus for asking its leaders to share its faith—a requirement the University deemed “discriminatory.” After Becket stepped in, Wayne State tried to backtrack. But last week, a federal court gave us a battle win, saying that the case should continue.

Wayne State is not alone in its targeting of religious students. On September 25, Becket will have oral argument in a similar case against the University of Iowa, which kicked the InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship off campus in 2018. Dozens of other religious student groups were deregistered for the same reason, with the University claiming it was “discrimination” for student groups even to “encourage” their leaders to embrace the groups’ religious beliefs. This trend plays into an even wider assault on individual liberties, one that uses education as a weapon. Whether it’s censoring college students—in the name of tolerance—or using state laws crafted by 19th-century religious bigots to deprive families and students of generally available public resources, education can be a powerful tool for those who are hostile to religious liberty.

That’s why this issue is going to be at the Supreme Court in prime-time early next year. Becket’s amicus brief in the Espinoza case (learn more about it here) features a series of images that reflect a period of religious discrimination that gave rise to religiously bigoted state restrictions called Blaine Amendments. Religious intolerance may be old, but it’s far from dead. It’s time to put Blaine Amendments in their proper chapter in the textbooks: Ancient History.

What’s happening at Becket:

Let them play—and pray. On August 27, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) gave a partial victory to Becket clients Joelle and Joseph Chung, avid high school tennis players and Seventh-day Adventists who were penalized for not playing on the Sabbath. The WIAA changed its rules to now allow tennis players like Joelle and Joseph to sit out matches that happen during the Sabbath without being penalized. Still, the WIAA continues to insist that it cannot change its match schedules to fully accommodate Sabbath observers. We will take that to the court!

Court to atheists: a non-prayer is not a prayer. On August 23, the Third Circuit ruled in our favor in our case defending legislative prayer in the Pennsylvania House. The ruling went against atheists who claimed that the House had violated the Establishment Clause by excluding them and their non-prayers from the legislative prayer practice. The court’s ruling affirmed the “legitimate place of religion in our history and culture.”

Adopt our case, Supreme Court. Back in April, the Third Circuit ruled against Catholic Social Services and Sharonell Fulton in Becket’s case defending religious foster-care and adoption organizations in Philadelphia. Now, we are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. Ten states and 44 members of Congress have joined a friend-of-the-court brief on our side.

Becket in the news:

The New York Times can’t get enough of Becket. Linda Greenhouse’s piece is chock full of Becket references. Here’s my favorite: she calls us “a highly effective religious-rights law firm that commands a great deal of respect at the Supreme Court.”

Why Ricks could be a pivotal case. Deseret News writes up Becket’s case defending George Ricks. Ricks is an independent contractor in Idaho who is religiously opposed to using his Social Security number—and who is unable to find work because of his belief. Now his case could be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kids deserve more. The City of Philadelphia’s decision to suspend its contracts with a Catholic foster care and adoption agency is ideological, but the consequences are all too personal. The Federalist gives profiles of two incredible foster mothers and the children they raised—and shows why it’s children who will lose the most if Philadelphia continues doing what it’s doing.

Montse Alvarado
Executive Director