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Good Tidings for Christmas, and a SCOTUS New Year!

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

Dear Friends,

It looks like the New Mexico Supreme Court’s heart just grew three sizes. Last week, the Court rejected a previous (very Grinch-like) ruling and decided that children in religious schools should have equal access to a state textbook lending program.

The program provides essential educational materials to kids in need—especially for kids in low-income and rural areas. But back in 2012, a few activists sued the state because the program was open to all kids, including those in religious schools. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran, which confirmed that religious schools shouldn’t be excluded from state programs just because they are religious, the NM Supreme Court got it right on the second try. Merry Christmas, kids—you can have your textbooks back!

But before we break out the eggnog, brace yourself. Just last week, a similar (non-Becket) case lost in Montana. With two polar decisions like this, it’s possible that one or both cases will end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The New Mexico Supreme Court may have had a change of heart, but what about this year’s biggest Scrooge? Read on to find out who receives Becket’s 2018 Ebenezer award.

What’s happening at Becket:

Ninth Circuit loss could lead Little Sisters to Supreme Court—again. After the State Attorney General of California sued to take away the Little Sisters’ hard-won victory at the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit just issued a decision against the Little Sisters in California. It’s a move that feels more Groundhog Day than A Christmas Carol, since it looks like it could land us at the Supreme Court with the Little Sisters again. But we all know how this movie ends, so we look forward to a future victory.

And this year’s Ebenezer Award goes to … a local Durham, New Hampshire administrator who banned a menorah (requested by a local Chabad) from the town’s holiday display that features Christmas trees renamed “holiday” trees. The menorah was denied because it wasn’t “secular” or “inclusive” enough for the annual “holiday” tree lighting in a local park.

Equal access for Christmas? Becket represents InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship, one of more than a dozen student religious groups
were purged by the University last summer for asking their leaders to affirm their respective faiths. Just last week, InterVarsity asked a federal judge for a permanent fix that would end the university’s discrimination against religious groups. A final decision may arrive by March.

Becket in the news:

“No two people…believe the same thing in exactly the same way.” Deseret News features thoughts from “top faith leaders, policymakers, and religious freedom advocates” on the current and future landscape of religious liberty. Read my take, and see some other familiar faces, including Becket’s 2013 Canterbury Medalist President Dallin H. Oaks and Becket alum Asma Uddin.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—for atheist groups, too. Americans United for Separation of Church and State devotes its Decembers to fighting religious displays on public property. Becket continues to set the record straight on this issue, with Becket’s Eric Baxter explaining that the Establishment Clause is not “a government censorship tool.”

Why method matters. Becket’s Luke Goodrich gives a great explanation of the different ways the Supreme Court has handled Establishment Clause cases, and why what he calls “the path of history” is the best approach. In short: it “avoids both government promotion of religion and government hostility toward religion.

What Becket is reading:

Religious liberty cases are “battles with real consequences.” Read CEO Michael Warsaw’s take on EWTN’s seven-year battle against the federal government, and why—now that their case is finally won—they’re standing with other people of faith who are defending their religious liberty.

“[M]y own life has been blessed in ways I could never have predicted.” Becket alum Bridget Lappert opens up about her journey into the adoption process in a beautiful piece for Aleteia.

What is religion? And does everybody have one? Andrew Sullivan’s piece here is worth a read. He first explores the idea that all human beings must have religion, meaning that even those who think they don’t really do, and then applies it to America’s heated political divisions.

Stanford Law School Religious Liberty Clinic: high quality legal work with students in “the driver’s seat.” Now in its fifth year, the religious liberty law clinic has become a major attraction for potential and current Stanford Law students. Its best attributes? The breadth of the cases, the hands-on nature of the work, and the commitment to protecting religious liberty for people of all faiths.

Gratefully,

Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

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