Slate really embarrassed itself the other day with a column by Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick flatly misreporting the holding of a Janice Rogers Brown opinion on religious liberty and Obamacare. I wrote this piece in response, which just appeared at PowerLine.
More: West Coast politics and law blogger Patterico likes my piece. Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center writes on Twitter to say that a post he wrote on Saturday “seems to be what triggered [the] weak correction.”
Claims for accommodation of religious conscience are not inherently a “right” or “left” phenomenon, any more than is religion itself. That’s an old story — in case anyone had forgotten the sides Justices Brennan and Scalia took on the constitutional angle — but it comes to mind once more with an Arizona federal court’s decision in favor of four liberal believers moved to violate federal law out of sympathy for persons illegally crossing the southwest border. David French, The Dispatch:
Using RFRA [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, oft a target of liberal wrath in recent years], it overturned the convictions of four people affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Church who were prosecuted for “violations of the regulations governing the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge.” The defendants were convicted after entering the refuge without the necessary permits and “leaving supplies of food and water in an area of desert wilderness where people frequently die of dehydration and exposure.”
Questions of entitlement to religious exemption and accommodation from otherwise applicable law are best decided according to impartial principle, not on the basis of which team stands to benefit in the case at hand.
The Arizona Supreme Court made the right call, in my view, in ruling that it is forced expression for the city of Phoenix to require a wedding-calligraphy studio to inscribe invitations for weddings that go against its owner-artists’ religious scruples: “If it’s speech, you can’t force it.” The ruling is based on both the state constitution and on Arizona’s version of RFRA (religious freedom restoration act). [Lindsay Walker, Cronkite News/Arizona PBS; Eugene Volokh and Dale Carpenter (filed with Cato in the case on behalf of the studio); earlier here, etc., and related]
The latter part of the ruling does seem to result in a broader than usual reading of a state RFRA, because most state courts have declined to interpret the laws to provide very much protection for religious objectors in public-accommodation cases; their logic has been that reducing discrimination is a compelling state interest that cannot be enforced in a less restrictive way.
Freedom should mean freedom for everyone, so stop trying to use laws to force people to utter and print words in which they disbelieve:
A Kentucky appellate court on Friday ruled that the Christian owner of a printing shop in Lexington had the right to refuse to make T-shirts promoting a local gay pride festival.
[Jacob Gershman, Wall Street Journal] As Eugene Volokh notes, the “three-judge panel ruled, on a 2-1 vote, that Adamson’s actions didn’t violate the ordinance (and thus avoided having to decide whether he had a First Amendment right, under the ‘compelled speech’ doctrine, not to be forced to print messages of which he disapproved).” The majority opinion found that the ordinance did not prohibit discrimination based on “message or viewpoint”; a concurring judge also cited Kentucky’s version of RFRA, reasoning that the law as interpreted burdened the owners’ religious practice and the state had not shown it minimized burdens in the course of serving a compelling purpose.
Opinion here and earlier on the case here, here, and here. And I’m happy to report that Cato, along with UCLA law professor and First Amendment specialist Volokh, filed an amicus brief in support of this outcome (though urging it on direct First Amendment grounds). More: John Corvino at Slate, who disagrees with me on the wedding cases, but agrees that this is one of forced expression.
And much more: I’ve now written a longer piece on the case for Cato at Liberty.
On Tuesday the Cato Institute held a daylong conference on religious liberty. It was interesting throughout, but especially for its afternoon session on public accommodations, featuring Roger Pilon of Cato, Louise Melling of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and
Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Catholic University. Coverage: Ramona Tausz, The Federalist.
Also notable as a cogent summary of the state of play on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and its state equivalents (RFRAs), the luncheon keynote speech by University of Virginia law professor Doug Laycock, of FOIA-controversy fame:
More videos from other sessions at the conference page.
A new Cato podcast with Jay Richards and Caleb Brown explores the relationship between economic and religious liberty. Related: Ilya Shapiro and Michael McConnell on the Supreme Court’s punt in the Little Sisters of the Poor case (Zubik v. Burwell) on ObamaCare religious accommodation. And Cato will be holding a day-long conference on religious liberty Jun. 14 with Doug Laycock, Roger Pilon, Hon. William Pryor, and many other formidable names. More information, and online registration, here.
- “Rightscorp’s Copyright Trolling Phone Script Tells Innocent People They Need To Give Their Computers To Police” [Mike Masnick, TechDirt]
- “‘Affordable housing’ policies have made housing less affordable” [Matt Welch, L.A. Times]
- South Mountain Creamery case: “Lawmakers Call for Return of Cash Seized From Dairy Farmers” [Tony Corvo/Heartland, quotes me, earlier on this structuring forfeiture case]
- Be prepared to explain your social media trail, like by like: “Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 2035” [Orin Kerr]
- From Eugene Volokh, what looks very much like a case against assisted suicide, embedded in a query about whether state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs) might cut a legal path to it [Volokh Conspiracy]
- “The complaint also indicated that the injuries could affect Reid’s ability to secure employment” after Senate exit [Roll Call on Majority Leader’s suit against exercise equipment firm over eye injury]
- Amazon responds to NYT’s “everyone cries at their desk” hatchet job on its workplace culture [Jay Carney, Medium]
A Muslim flight attendant has filed an EEOC complaint against ExpressJet; among her allegations are that the company has not adequately accommodated her desire not to serve alcohol to patrons, even though she says an arrangement under which she handed off that task to colleagues had previously proved workable [CBS Detroit] Eugene Volokh has a lengthy explainer on workplace religious accommodation, and argues that Kim Davis would have had a more colorable legal case had her lawyers filed under Kentucky’s state Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). And at Cato’s Constitution Day on September 17 I’ll be discussing my forthcoming piece on EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, the hijab-accommodation case.