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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

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