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January 2021

Archive for January 2021


         A Message from Becket’s Executive Director
                                                                                                                                           January 22, 2021
Dear Friend,   It seems fitting that my first message of the year should fall just days after National Religious Freedom Day and the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In one of his many inspiring sermons, Rev. King wrote that “[t]he church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.” This attitude toward the relationship between religion and government is fundamentally American. In this nation, the right to religious liberty has long stood shoulder to shoulder with our other first freedoms. That pride of place is why Rev. King’s words ring true: churches can only be guides and critics if they are allowed to act freely, without fear of government interference. Indeed, religious freedom in America has been the foundation for some of the best social movements and activists in history—Rev. King among them.   That’s why, in addition to principle, it’s knowing the good that religion can do that keeps me fighting for religious liberty. 2020, while turbulent in many ways, was a good year for religious freedom law. Becket ushered in a sweep of victories, including three at the Supreme Court. We reflected on the transformation of the judicial composition, a shift we expect to have a positive long-term impact on religious liberty. We published our second annual Religious Freedom Index. And, most importantly, we kept up our case momentum. (Our top 2021 case to watch will be Fulton, which Becket’s Lori Windham argued at the Supreme Court in November; watch for a decision this spring).   2020: A Review Religious liberty and the pandemic Houses of worship targeted with COVID-19 restrictions— Becket stepped up to protect the right of houses of worship to safely operate amidst the pandemic, despite targeted orders by state governments that unreasonably and unscientifically restrict churches over other types of organizations. Becket at the Supreme Court Blaine, Blaine, go away— For many years, Becket has advocated the dismantling of discriminatory state laws (known as Blaine Amendments) that treat religious organizations as second-class citizens. In Espinoza, the Supreme Court dealt a crushing blow to Blaines when it ruled that Montana children cannot be banned from participating in state scholarship programs because they attend religious schools. Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. A Day to Remember: Becket’s double win at the Supreme Court— On July 8, 2020, Becket history was made with two 7-2 Supreme Court victories for religious freedom. In Our Lady of Guadalupe School, the Supreme Court affirmed that church schools have the right to choose who will teach their religion classes (building on Becket’s landmark 2012 unanimous Supreme Court win in Hosanna-Tabor). And once again, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor in their fight for an exemption to the federal contraceptive mandate. Becket asks Supreme Court to protect faith-affirming foster agencies— In November, Becket’s Lori Windham argued at the Supreme Court in our case Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. The Supreme Court will decide if Catholic Social Services and its families can continue to serve kids in need without abandoning their deeply held beliefs. A Thanksgiving gift from SCOTUS— On the Eve of Thanksgiving, the Supreme Court granted emergency protection to New York City synagogues from Governor Cuomo’s discriminatory restrictions on their right to worship in Becket’s ongoing lawsuit Agudath Israel of America v. Cuomo. Becket’s win was touted by the Ninth Circuit as a “seismic shift in Free Exercise law.” Holding government accountable— The Supreme Court ruled in Tanzin v. Tanvir that, under RFRA, government officials can be held financially accountable for violating individuals’ religious freedom. The Supreme Court’s decision was consistent with the friend-of-the-court brief Becket filed in the case, arguing for broad RFRA protections. Americans see religion as stabilizing force— Data from Becket’s second annual Religious Freedom Index shows that religious liberty continues to be widely supported. Some highlights: More than three quarters of respondents said that religion is a stabilizing force in society during times of social unrest, and more than 60 percent said that faith and religion had been personally important during the COVID-19 pandemic.   2021: A Preview Restoring employment rights for religious minorities— Sitting atop Becket’s watch list is our next Supreme Court hopeful, Dalberiste v. GLE Associates. Dalberiste presents the Court with an opportunity to correct an infamous precedent from the ’70s, Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, which eroded employment protections for religious minorities. The Court has been kicking Mr. Dalberiste’s cert petition down the road, but we’re hopeful the Justices will see this case as a good vehicle for overturning Hardison. Protecting the right of churches to communicate freely with their ministers— On February 9, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument in Demkovich v. St. Andrew the Apostle Parish. Demkovich is another ministerial exception case—this time about protecting a Catholic Church’s right to decide who may plan and participate in the liturgy. We are hopeful that the Seventh Circuit will use this case as an opportunity to bolster ministerial exception law in light of the problematic precedent set by the Supreme Court last term in Bostock. Faith-affirming foster care awaits vindication from the High Court— The team is optimistically awaiting a decision in last November’s blockbuster case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. A win would not only mean that Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia would be allowed to continue serving foster families and children as it has for the past 200 years, but that religious foster care agencies across the country would have the backing of the Court as they continue to perform their vital service in accordance with their religious mission. A decision could come down anytime this spring but is most likely in May or June. Securing religious exemptions to the transgender mandate— On Tuesday, Becket won a great victory for the conscience rights of medical professionals. In Sisters of Mercy v. Azar, Becket defended Catholic institutions from a provision of the Affordable Care Act that would have forced religious doctors and hospitals to perform gender transition procedures—even when they believed it would cause harm to their patients—or face fines and job loss.   2021 promises some changes, but Becket’s mission remains the same. I am thankful for your fellowship and support as we move forward.

Gratefully, Montse Alvarado
Executive Director