Friday, December 26, 2014

Top Dozen Church-State and Religious Liberty Developments In 2014

Each year in December, I attempt to highlight the most important  Church-State and Religious Liberty Developments of the past year.  Usually I identify the top ten stories.  This year however was so full of important developments that I have had to increase my nominations to the Top Dozen.  As always, I invite reader feedback on my selections and omissions.  Here they are:

1. The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision allowed closely-held corporations to assert religious exercise rights of their owners.

2.  In the wake of the Supreme Court's Windsor decision, lower courts strike down same-sex marriage barriers in an increasing number of states.  The 6th Circuit is the main dissenter.

3.  Religiously-affiliated schools, hospitals and charities continue to object that administrative accommodations to the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate are insufficient to protect their religious liberty rights.  Dozens of cases are in litigation over the issue.

4. In Town of Greece case, Supreme Court upholds non-coercive sectarian invocations at city council meetings.

5. The increasing strength of ISIS in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere threatens religious minorities in the Middle East and revives dream of a Caliphate.

6.  State RFRA proposals become more controversial as they clash with LGBT rights.

7.  Challenges to Internal Revenue Code parsonage allowance and church filing exemptions survive constitutional attack for plaintiffs' lack of standing.

8.  Satanic Temple becomes player in battle to diversify religious displays on public property, participate in literature distribution in schools and assert other religious rights.

9.  Courts continue to uphold New Jersey and California bans on sexual orientation change therapy for minors.

10. 6th Circuit requires strict causation to prove religiously motivated hate crimes against Amish.

11. Series of cases challenging definition of "church plan" under ERISA threatens legality of several Catholic hospital pension plans.

12. NLRB decision announces new test for asserting jurisdiction over unionization efforts at religiously-affiliated colleges and universities.

Earlier this month Religion Newswriters Association released their list of the Top 10 Religion Stories in 2014. (They too selected 12 stories, finding ties in two instances.) UPDATE: Also see the year's top picks from Don Byrd at Blog From the Capital.