Saturday, December 26, 2015

Top Ten Religious Liberty and Church-State Developments of 2015

Each year in December I attempt to pick the most important church-state and religious liberty developments of the past year.  This year was rich with possibilities, and some of my picks actually arose in a broader context but have will have an important impact on religious liberty claims or church-state challenges.  So here are my Top Ten picks.  I welcome readers' comments since I am sure that not everyone will agree with all the choices.
  1. In Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that the Constitution requires marriage equality, striking down state laws that bar same-sex marriages.

  2. The battle continues over the adequacy of the Obama administration's accommodation for religious non-profits that object to the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide the issue this term after granting certiorari in seven cases.

  3. Some states expand RFRA laws to protect objectors to same-sex marriage. Indiana's law provokes particular controversy forcing the legislature to backtrack. Meanwhile around the country some Christian-owned businesses continue to refuse to provide services they see as furthering same sex marriage or LGBT rights, while Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis garners national attention for her refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

  4. The U.S. Supreme Court becomes active on prisoners' rights issues, including claims for religious accommodation by inmates.  The Supreme Court gives RLUIPA a broad interpretation in Holt v. Hobbs.  It also interprets the "three strikes" provision that limits indigent prisoner litigation; hears oral arguments in a case on maximum fee payments by indigent prisoners litigating multiple cases; and grants certiorari on a question of exhausting administrative remedies before suing.

  5. The rise of ISIL creates questions about the proper label to apply to the struggle against jihadists.  The dispute centers over the use of terminology such as "the war against radical Islam" that could be misinterpreted to suggest the U.S. is broadly at war with all Muslims.

  6. The Supreme Court interprets the elements of Title VII employment discrimination claims (including claims for accommodation of religious practices) in Abercrombie & Fitch (employer motives) and Mach Mining (EEOC conciliation requirement).

  7. The expression of virulent anti-Muslim sentiment raises free speech and anti-discrimination issues in cases involving anti-Muslim bus ads and a business seeking to create a "Muslim free zone."

  8. The EEOC rules that discrimination on basis of sexual orientation is barred by the "sex discrimination" ban in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

  9. The Supreme Court holds that specialty license plates  are government speech, thus impacting the many cases on license plates with religious themes or symbols.

  10. The successful referendum to overturn Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance positions the battle over transgender rights as next struggle between conservative religious groups and civil rights advocates.