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Double SCOTUS Win Elates Conservatives 07/11 10:42

   Conservative-leaning faith leaders and their allies, outspoken in recent 
years about what they consider infringements on religious liberties, cheered 
Wednesday as the Supreme Court issued a pair of rulings that protected certain 
rights of religious employers.

   NEW YORK (AP) -- Conservative-leaning faith leaders and their allies, 
outspoken in recent years about what they consider infringements on religious 
liberties, cheered Wednesday as the Supreme Court issued a pair of rulings that 
protected certain rights of religious employers.

   In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the high court sided 
with two Catholic schools in finding that certain employees of religious 
schools, hospitals and social service centers can't sue for employment 
discrimination. Critics fear the 7-2 ruling will embolden some religious 
organizations to fire or otherwise discriminate against LGBTQ employees.

   And in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, also 
decided 7-2, the court upheld the Trump administration's allowance for a broad 
religious or moral exemption from the Obama-era Affordable Care Act's 
requirement that employers provide free contraception. Opponents say the 
decision could leave more than 70,000 women without it.

   Vice President Mike Pence reflected the victorious mood on the religious 
right with a politically tinged tweet underscoring the centrality of President 
Donald Trump's courtship of conservative, faith-focused voters ahead of 
November's election.

   "Two Big WINS for Religious Freedom at SCOTUS today. All Americans of faith 
can be assured that under President @realDonaldTrump, the Obama-Biden assault 
on religious liberty is over!"

   Others hailing the rulings included the Southern Baptist Convention's public 
policy arm, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the 
conservative Family Research Council.

   By contrast, Roman Catholics who have urged their church to be more 
accepting of LGBTQ people were dismayed by the workplace ruling, warning that 
it could backfire if more faith-based employers were seen as discriminating in 
their hiring and firing.

   "'Religious exemption for discrimination'" makes as much sense as 'ethical 
exemption for murder,'" tweeted Daniel Horan, a Franciscan friar who teaches at 
the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. "History will not look kindly on 
Christianity's recourse to state power to justify the dehumanization of others."

   The decisions were also decried by a number of secular groups, with women's- 
and abortion-rights organizations in particular assailing the contraception 
decision.

   "This is part of a larger effort to use religious freedom as a cover for 
discrimination & restrictions on reproductive healthcare," tweeted the 
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights.

   The religious workplace ruling comes less than a month after the Supreme 
Court extended protections against employment discrimination to LGBTQ workers, 
a 6-3 decision that left the door open to future religious exemptions. Some 
legal experts underscored that Wednesday's decision gave broader --- but still 
limited --- leeway for faith-based organizations to make employment decisions 
without regard for discrimination claims.

   Wednesday's ruling clarified the type of employees a house of worship or 
related institution "basically has very broad power to hire and fire, in a way 
that makes clear the zone is fairly broad when it comes to teachers," said 
Eugene Volokh, a UCLA School of Law professor.

   That clarity "is not of unlimited breadth, but it is broader, and it does 
cover pretty much everybody who teaches religion" at a religious school, Volokh 
said, adding that the decision "definitely is a win for autonomy for religious 
institutions."

   Eric Rassbach, a senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty who 
argued for the schools in the case, said that it should be viewed together with 
last month's ruling.

   The overall result "means the government is significantly limited and courts 
are significantly limited in how much they can intrude on the internal affairs 
of religious organizations," Rassbach said.

   He noted, however, that the question of whether the likes of gym teachers 
and other employees not involved in religious instruction would be covered by 
the ruling remains unresolved.

   It's unclear how widespread the effect of the decisions will prove to be.

   Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBTQ 
Catholics, urged church institutions not to view the ruling as empowering 
discriminatory practices.

   "There is a difference between a legal right and doing what is morally 
right," he said, warning Catholic leaders against decisions that could lead to 
the loss of "some of their best employees" and "what little respect lay 
Catholics still hold for the church's leaders."

   Kristen Waggoner, general counsel at the conservative-leaning Alliance 
Defending Freedom, welcomed them both but does not predict a big increase in 
employers seeking a religious or moral exemption from the contraception mandate.

   "Those who want to force those with moral and religious objections to 
violate those convictions always suggest there's a slippery slope, or it's 
going to open all kinds of harms, and that just hasn't proven itself to be 
true," she said.

   Charlie Camosy, a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham 
University, also welcomed both rulings, saying via email that they showed a 
respect for religious convictions at a time when American culture is 
increasingly secular.

   "Religious freedom is really about carving out a space for all --- whether 
religious or secular --- to live according to their foundational beliefs and 
values," he wrote.

   The decisions' political power was clear from the praise they drew from 
religious conservatives.

   "I welcome the Supreme Court's rulings to protect religious individuals, so 
they can live out their faith without being forced to violate their 
conscience," Arkansas GOP Sen. Tom Cotton said in a statement.

 
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