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As partial travel ban nears, agencies worry about refugees in limbo

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Agencies and organizations that help refugees start new lives in the U.S. worry about the fate that awaits migrants in transit as well as those who will not be allowed into the country as the partial ban that the U.S. Supreme Court set in motion with its late June ruling goes into effect in early July.

An immigrant holds a U.S. flag during a naturalization ceremony in New York City June 30. (CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters)

An immigrant holds a U.S. flag during a naturalization ceremony in New York City June 30. (CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters)

“The immediate priority is the safety of those refugees who are en route, ensuring they reach their destination,” said Ashley Feasley, policy director for Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. “We are also very concerned about the individuals who have assured cases that are scheduled for travel after July 6 who may not be able to arrive now due to the interpretation of the Supreme Court decision and the executive order.”

The Supreme Court announced June 26 it would temporarily allow the Trump administration’s plan to ban of refugees from six majority-Muslim countries, unless those refugees had “bona fide” relationships with parties in the United States, meaning certain family members, employees or universities.

In an executive order that underwent one revision and was blocked by lower courts, the administration has said it needs the time to review the refugee resettlement program and its vetting procedures for allowing refugees into the country, and also said it was necessary to limit the number of the refugees allowed into the U.S. to 50,000 for 2017. That number is expected to be reached July 6 in the evening.

“These people have travel documents, they are ready to go,” said Feasley. “They have relationships with the resettlement offices in the cities they were to be resettled in. It would be heartbreaking and administratively inefficient if they are not able to complete their journey of seeking refuge.”

But heartbreak and uncertainty is exactly what many of them, as well as the resettlement agencies and communities that already have a connection to the refugees may face, say officials from agencies pleading with the administration to involve them in the developments that are about to unfold.

“We urge the administration to issue more clarity on its interpretation of the executive order and the decision and work with the resettlement agencies to ensure as smooth and humane implementation as possible at this time,” said Feasley.

On June 30, representatives from Refugee Council USA, which included some faith groups that resettle refugees, cried out for involvement in the process.

Hans Van de Weerd, chairman of the Washington-based Refugee Council USA, said in a telephone briefing that targeting “vulnerable” populations, such as refugees, was “morally wrong” and it also was bad policy.

Some criticized the high court as well, which said it would review the constitutionality of the executive order in October. During the refugee council briefing, officials from refugee resettlement agencies said the court’s decision to allow a partial ban to be put in place amounts to slamming the door on the face of the vulnerable “for no good reason.” Though the partial ban will keep some refugees out, the court said that those with “bona fide” relationships in the U.S. could still enter, even if the 50,000 cap had been reached.

In a statement, Jesuit Refugee Service USA, said the administration, with its actions, was preventing the reunification of family, particularly the special relationship of grandparents and grandchildren, which along with aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, nephews, cousins and some in-laws, the State Department said does not count as being close enough to qualify as a bona fide familial relationships.

“As a result, many refugees, including the elderly, unaccompanied children, and those in need of medical treatment will be delayed in receiving U.S. protection for at least several additional months,” said the organization in the statement.

Some like Jordan Denari Duffner, of Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative research project that provides information about Islamophobia, said the danger of the ban extends beyond preventing people from entering the country. It’s also caused damage within the U.S. because it’s an extension of what the president promised when, during his campaign, he called for a “Muslim ban,” and promotes views seeking to paint Muslims as dangerous.

“Even if the travel ban seems more watered down today, it’s been the product of an administration that has played off of and promoted Islamophobia,” she said.

 

Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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High court to hear Colorado baker’s appeal in wedding cake case

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court said June 26 it will hear arguments next term on whether a Denver baker unlawfully discriminated against a same-sex couple in declining to make them a wedding cake.

The justices agreed to hear an appeal from Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, after lower courts ruled he had violated Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. Phillips has contended that the law violated his rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.

The U.S. Supreme Court said June 26 it will hear arguments next term on whether a Denver baker unlawfully discriminated against a same-sex couple in declining to make them a wedding cake.

The U.S. Supreme Court said June 26 it will hear arguments next term on whether a Denver baker unlawfully discriminated against a same-sex couple in declining to make them a wedding cake.

Similar cases in courts across the country have involved florists and other service-oriented business owners who say their religious beliefs prohibit them from providing services to same-sex couples. The owners have met with little success in the courts, which have determined that public businesses must comply with anti-discrimination laws.

The Supreme Court had considered whether to hear the Phillips case for weeks. Justices declined in 2014 to review a New Mexico Supreme Court case that found that a photographer violated a state civil rights law when she declined to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony.

Since then, the court has ruled that marriage is a fundamental right and marriage licenses cannot be denied to same-sex couples nationwide.

In the cake case, Charlie Craig and David Mullins approached Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a cake for their wedding reception. They had planned to marry in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage was legal at the time, and hold a reception in Colorado.

Phillips refused to discuss the request, telling Craig and Mullins that his religious beliefs would not allow him to provide the cake. He said other bakeries could accommodate the request though.

The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which decided that the baker’s action violated state law. The Colorado Court of appeals upheld the commission’s decision. The shop owner petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court to review the case, but the court declined.

In July 2016, the bakery asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, which is called Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

In another case, the justices reversed an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling, saying the state must list same-sex parents on birth certificates. The argument centered on whether a state violates the 14th Amendment by denying married same-sex couples the same right afforded to married opposite-sex couples under state law to have the name of the birth mother’s spouse entered as the second parent on their child’s birth certificate.

Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch, the newest member of the court, dissented, saying the law regarding such issues is not yet settled.

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Justice Alito warns of infringements to freedom of religion

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Catholic News Service

WYNNEWOOD, Pa. — The graduating class at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in the Philadelphia archdiocese received a special treat at the Concursus graduation ceremony held in the seminary chapel May 17.

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. received an honorary doctorate of letters and delivered the formal address.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia applauds after awarding an honorary degree to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito May 17 at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. (CNS /SarahWebb/CatholicPhilly.com)

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia applauds after awarding an honorary degree to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito May 17 at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. (CNS /SarahWebb/CatholicPhilly.com)

The award to Alito was “in testimony to and recognition of his many outstanding contributions to society,” Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said in his introduction, “especially in protecting the sanctity and dignity of human life, the full responsibilities of the human person and promoting true justice and lasting peace.”

In his address Alito spoke of the freedom of religion as enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution and encroachments on that freedom today.

A southern New Jersey native, he is well versed in the history of religious toleration as it developed in Philadelphia, and the important role that religion played in the development of the Constitution, including the visits by the Founding Fathers to the city’s various churches, among them Old St. Mary’s, tracing back to the Revolution.

Part of freedom of religion is “no one is forced to act in violation of his own beliefs,” Alito said. “Most of my life Americans were instilled in this,” he added, urging his audience to “keep the flame burning.”

In an interview for the seminarians’ blog, “Seminarian Casual,” Alito said that “our most foresighted Founders understood that our country could not hold together unless religious freedom was protected.”

Which is why, he said, George Washington, shortly after his election as the nation’s first president “made a point of writing to minority religious groups, to the United Baptist churches in Virginia, the annual meeting of Quakers, the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, and to the nation’s tiny Catholic population.”

“Washington and other founders also saw a vital connection between religion and the character needed for republican self-government,” Alito added. “What the founders understood more than 200 years ago is just as true today.”

Regarding threats to religious freedom, the justice said, “There is cause for concern at the present time.”

He noted that in his dissent in the Obergefell decision in which the Supreme Court held that the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, I anticipated that the decision would “be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.”

“I added, ‘I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.’”

After Alito’s talk, Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Timothy C. Senior, rector of St. Charles Seminary, told CatholicPhilly.com, the archdiocesan news website, said the justice “was very inspiring.” “”He reminded us that of the rights imbedded in our Constitution, religious freedom is the most fundamental and it is not respected throughout the world today.”

Jim Godericci, who attended Concursus with his wife, Regina, who is a member of the seminary’s development committee of the seminary, found it encouraging that “there are still some people in the justice field who still have a God-fearing, God-respecting attitude.”

Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Harrisburg, who has seminarians at St. Charles and is himself a graduate, appreciated the topic of religious freedom, especially the local flavor and historical perspective.

“It’s extremely important; so many of our citizens have no clue of the history of these issues,” he said. “The contemporary feeling is not the same as at the roots.”

 

Baldwin writes for CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Eric Banecker contributed to this story.

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Little Sisters take their case to highest court

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DENVER — In a July 23 filing with the U.S. Supreme Court, the Little Sisters of the Poor have asked the court for relief from being forced to comply with the federal contraceptive mandate or face heavy fines.

The sisters are being asked to choose between adhering to their Catholic faith — which prohibits them from providing contraceptives and continuing to pursue their religious mission of serving the elderly poor, according to Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the order.

“As Little Sisters of the Poor we dedicate our lives to serving the neediest in society, with love and dignity,” she said in a statement.

“We perform this loving ministry because of our faith and simply cannot choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith, and we shouldn’t have to,” Sister Maguire said. “We hope the Supreme Court will hear our case and ensure that people from diverse faiths can freely follow God’s calling in their lives.”

The latest action by the Denver-based Little Sisters follows a July 14 ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the religious order and other religious entities are not substantially burdened by procedures set out by the federal government by which they can avoid the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance.

The circuit court ruling also affected Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, the Catholic ministries through which the Little Sisters obtain their health coverage, and included challenges to the procedures filed by Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Mid-America Christian University, Truett-McConnell College and Reaching Souls, an Oklahoma-based a nonprofit corporation founded by a Southern Baptist minister that trains pastors and evangelists and provides care to orphans in Africa, India and Cuba.

Under the Affordable Care Act, all health insurance plans are required to provide coverage for birth control drugs and procedures. Churches themselves and other institutions that primarily employ and serve members of the churches are exempt.

Nonprofit religious entities such as church-run colleges and social service agencies are not exempt, but the federal Department of Health and Human Services created what it calls an “accommodation” under which such organizations morally opposed to the coverage may file a particular form or notify HHS that they will not provide it.

The contraceptive coverage is then provided to those organizations’ employees, but through third parties, and with no cost or further involvement to the employer. Entities that refuse to comply with the mandate are subject to significant fines.

The Little Sisters of the Poor and other organizations that sued say that the acts of filling out the form or notifying HHS are a substantial burden on their religious rights because the steps implicate them in the ultimate provision of contraceptives. The court disagreed.

“The Little Sisters consider it immoral to help the government distribute these drugs,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead attorney for the religious order.

“But instead of simply exempting them, the government insists that it can take over their ministry’’s employee health care to distribute these drugs to their employees, while dismissing the Sisters’ moral objections as irrelevant,” he said in a statement July 23. “In America, judges and government bureaucrats have no authority to tell the Little Sisters what is moral or immoral. And the government can distribute its drugs without nuns — it has its own health care exchanges that can provide whatever it wants.”

 

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U.S. bishops’ leader calls traditional marriage a truth necessary to protect children – updated

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WASHINGTON — The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called same-sex marriage “the greatest social experiment of our time” and said that “children do not need experiments,” but rather the love of a mother and father at the third annual March for Marriage rally supporting traditional marriage on Capitol Hill.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks at the March for Marriage near Capitol Hill in Washington April 25. The Supreme Court will hear cases April 28 for states to honor the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks at the March for Marriage near Capitol Hill in Washington April 25. The Supreme Court will hear cases April 28 for states to honor the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Addressing the march sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, described traditional marriage between one man and one woman as a “beautiful truth,” saying its protection is necessary to “protect the children.”

When asked afterward to elaborate on his statement, Archbishop Kurtz told Catholic News Service that “basically, every child comes into the world through a mother and a father. That child not only deserves to know, but to be loved by the mother and father. Children flourish when they are able to be loved and raised by their mothers and fathers.”

A pre-march rally began with a prayer from Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, in which he thanked God for “the diversity” of the group present and asked for the protection of religious freedom in the United States.

When asked about the religious liberty language in his prayer, Archbishop Lori told CNS that “the word marriage appears hundreds of thousands of time in federal, state and local laws.”

“If that’s completely redefined across the board, it represents a sea change. And not only our preaching and our worship, but also our social services, our education, all the things we do for the common good rest on the understanding that marriage is between one man and one woman and that it’s a lot to do with bringing children in the world and their well-being,” he said.

“So (a marriage re-definition) will raise a lot of religious liberty questions. It raises the question of whether or not churches and individuals who sincerely believe this might not be penalized or denied contracts or the ability to serve the common good,” the archbishop explained.

The march came three days before the U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments April 28 in four cases weighing whether states that bar same-sex marriage must recognize such unions that are legal in other states.

Participants remained enthusiastic throughout the march despite the gloomy, cool weather as they heard from a variety of speakers. Many carried signs and voiced chants in support of traditional marriage.

Brian Brown, National Organization for Marriage president, said planners wanted to bring a diverse group of people together for the event to highlight to the Supreme Court “that people have embraced the redefinition of marriage is simply untrue.”

“Marriage is based upon the fundamental, biological reality of husband and wife, mother and father, and that the court has no authority to redefine that truth,” Brown said.

Stressing the march’s theme of religious liberty, Jennifer Marshall, vice president for the Institute for Family, Community and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation, said standing for traditional marriage often comes with a cost. She cited recent incidents in which individuals have lost jobs and business because of their public expression of traditional marriage.

Marshall called such actions unjust, saying that “marriage existed before this government or any government,” and that marriage is “two halves of humanity coming together for the future of humanity.”

Speakers from groups such as the Family Research Council, Central Biblico Internacional, the Coalition of African-American Pastors, and the American Orthodox Institute also addressed the march.

The demonstration was not without opposition. As the column of marchers approached the Supreme Court, they were met by a wall of protesters waving rainbow flags.

One of the protesters told CNS he questioned “what God (the marchers) are serving.” Another said, “This is the United States of America. You should be able to marry whomever you want.”

In anticipation of the Supreme Court arguments, a large coalition of faith leaders, several of whom were at the march, penned an open letter April 23 to elected officials and people in public service.

“As religious leaders from various faith communities, we acknowledge that marriage is the foundation of the family where children are raised by a mother and a father together,” the letter said.

 — By Nate Madden

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Cases yet to be accepted may be Supreme Court’s most-watched this term

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Not much more than a year after the Supreme Court ruled that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, the court could again this term weigh in on state laws related to such marriages.

When the court opens its 2014 term Oct. 6, the docket will include cases dealing with taxation, apportionment of river water, employment law and a handful of lower court rulings dealing with First Amendment rights. However, at a Georgetown University Law Center briefing about the term Sept. 23, analysts spent the biggest chunk of time discussing cases the court might take, as opposed to those already on the calendar.

A same-sex couple from England holds their British marriage certificate March 29. In the U.S., the Supreme Court in its new term will consider whether to add to its docket one or more of a half-dozen lower court rulings overturning prohibitions on same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Will Oliver, EPA)

A same-sex couple from England holds their British marriage certificate March 29. In the U.S., the Supreme Court in its new term will consider whether to add to its docket one or more of a half-dozen lower court rulings overturning prohibitions on same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Will Oliver, EPA)

The docket so far is dominated by dryer matters or issues that will likely be settled in ways that won’t affect much more than the individuals involved in those specific situations.

But the cases that will catch the attention of the general public probably are those that were still pending: the half-dozen or so appeals of lower court rulings on state same-sex marriage laws. The justices were to consider several of those at their Sept. 29 conference, along with hundreds of other appeals.

The court also this term probably will be asked to review rulings on health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act; some state laws intended to restrict access to abortion-inducing drugs and others legislating medical standards for abortion clinics.

 

Religious rights case

Before those might come along, however, the first religious rights case is scheduled for Oct. 7.

The justices will hear oral arguments that day about whether Arkansas inmate Gregory Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik, should be allowed to grow a short beard, in accord with his Muslim beliefs. The state prison policy bans all beards as security risk, although 40 other state prison systems and the federal prisons permit short beards under some circumstances.

Holt, who requested a half-inch beard, argues that the policy conflicts with the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a 2000 federal law that extends to prisoners some of the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA, as the latter bill is known, was the key to the court’s ruling in June that the federal government may not require closely held for-profit companies to provide contraceptives in employee health insurance if the owners say it would violate their religious beliefs.

In that ruling, the court accepted the argument of the owners of the Hobby Lobby crafts stores that the federal government failed to meet its goal of providing contraceptive coverage in a way that was the least restrictive of the owners’ religious rights as delineated by RFRA. In the Arkansas case, Holt makes a similar argument — that the prison system seeks to control inmates’ behavior without attempting to ensure policies allow for religious practices.

Among the religious and civil rights organizations that filed “amicus” or friend-of-the-court briefs encouraging the justices to find for Holt, one joint brief is by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Muslim, Jewish, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Seventh-Day Adventist and United Church of Christ organizations. It discusses the benefits of religious practice among inmates.

Prisoners who are involved in religious activities not only are more stable emotionally, they are healthier and tend to have stronger connections to the outside world, were among the arguments that brief raised.

Free speech

Also on the court’s docket, though not on the calendars for October through December, is a free speech case brought by the Good News Community Church of Gilbert, Arizona. The church posts signs around town inviting people to Sunday services. Under Gilbert’s sign code, the church’s signs must be removed within hours, while other types of signs, including political ads, are allowed to remain for months.

The church argues that the sign code is content-based, in violation of the First Amendment. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 held that the code is not content-based, but “tailored to serve significant governmental interests.”

Among the arguments raised on the church’s side is that the prohibition on content-based discrimination does not require evidence that the discrimination is intentional or targeted at a specific type of speech.

Same-sex marriage bans

Looming large over the court’s term will be how the justices dispose of the many lower court rulings that have overturned same-sex marriage bans or laws prohibiting states from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.

In June 2013, the court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and overturned California’s Proposition 8, a voter-approved initiative barring same-sex marriage.

Since then seven federal court rulings rejecting several states’ laws have made it to the high court.

At the Georgetown briefing, professor Irv Gornstein, executive director of the Georgetown Law Supreme Court Institute, predicted the court would accept at least two of the pending appeals. Three are from Virginia and one each from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin.

He said that would enable the justices to address two separate streams of legal challenges, states must recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions even if they are not legal in their own state, and laws prohibiting such marriages. Gornstein said the justices might have hoped it would take longer after the 2013 rulings before the next round of same-sex marriage cases reached them, but legal challenges have proceeded so fast they can’t wait.

Although a general rule of thumb is that the court rarely accepts challenges of significance across jurisdictions unless there are disagreements in how federal circuit courts rule, Gornstein and fellow panelists said they doubt that will apply in this situation.

“Given how much is at stake,” Gornstein said, “so many couples, so many states,” it’s not realistic of the court to delay.

He said accepting two cases also will reflect the importance of the issue and help avoid continuing confusion over what is constitutional.

 

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Utah to appeal ruling on same-sex marriage ban to Supreme Court

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s attorney general said July 9 the state will go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of overturning a federal appellate court’s ruling that overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

On the same day in neighboring Colorado, a judge overturned that state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The decision by Colorado District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree “advances a misinterpretation of the institution of marriage in modern society, reducing marriage to a sheer emotional arrangement that can simply be redefined to accommodate the impulses of culture,” said a July 10 statement by Colorado’s Catholic bishops.

“As Catholics, we have a duty to protect and preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman in our laws and policies. We are called to make this stand because redefining marriage will only further erode the family structure of our society,” the bishops added.

Colorado and Utah were two of six states affected by a 2-1 decision issued June 25 by a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said states could not deprive people of the right to marry because they chose partners of the same sex. The other four states are Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

It marked the first time a federal appellate court had struck down state same-sex marriage bans. Crabtree’s ruling marked the 16th time a state judge had overturned its state’s same-sex marriage prohibition. In both cases, the judges put their rulings on hold pending probable appeals.

Despite the 10th Circuit’s stay on its own affecting six states, Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall in Colorado had been giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On July 10, a county judge said Hall could continue to give the licenses, with the understanding that the licenses could be declared invalid at some point in the future.

The judge, Andrew Hamilton, noted, though, that every state judge issuing a ruling in the past year had declared same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional, and that Colorado’s own ban was “hanging by a thread.”

Voters approved Utah’s same-sex marriage ban in 2004. Colorado voters had done the same in 2006.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes chose to bypass the full 10th Circuit in a bid to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear Utah’s case. The high court is under no obligation to hear the appeal. It often does not consider appeals unless there are conflicting judgments from other federal or state courts.

At the federal judicial level, a ruling is expected soon by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Virginia’s statewide ban; the case was heard in May. Federal courts are also due to hear arguments in August and September for cases out of Idaho, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio and Tennessee.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert had said he hoped the state would appeal directly to the Supreme Court, his office said recently. He added the state already budgeted money needed to defend the law. It has already spent about $300,000 paying three outside attorneys to defend its same-sex marriage ban, and estimates paying another $300,000 to argue its case before the Supreme Court.

 

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U.S. Supreme Court to hear two challenges to the Affordable Care Act – Updated

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Nov. 26 to take up two cases that challenge provisions of the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage on behalf of for-profit companies whose owners object to the mandate for religious reasons.

On Dec. 2, the court announced it had declined to hear the appeal of Liberty University of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the Christian university must adhere to the health care law’s employer mandate. When the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of parts of the health care law in 2012, it didn’t address the employer mandate to provide coverage.

Probably in March, the court will take up the cases of Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based, family-run arts-and-crafts chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania family-run company that makes cabinets.

The cases will be combined for the arguments. A decision is likely by late June.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, was pleased with the court’s decision to take up the cases.

In a Nov. 26 statement he said the review “highlights the importance of this conflict between the federal government and people seeking to practice their faith in daily life.”

“We pray that the Supreme Court will find that the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protect everyone’s right to religious freedom. We are encouraged by the advances in the lower federal courts so far in cases involving family-owned companies as well as nonprofit religious organizations.”

In Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, the Green family won a ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said their Hobby Lobby chain of more than 500 stores and Mardel, a chain of 35 Christian bookstores, could proceed with seeking an injunction protecting the companies from meeting parts of the contraceptive mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services as part of the health care law.

Both the Justice Department and the Greens asked the Supreme Court to review the case.

The government requires most employers’ health plans to include free coverage of contraceptives, sterilizations and some abortion-inducing drugs.

The Greens say they object to that part of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate requiring they provide emergency contraceptive coverage, such as the morning-after pill or Plan B, saying that violates their religious freedom. The family has no moral objection to covering “preventive contraceptives” and will continue to cover those for employees, they have said.

The court agreeing to hear their case is “a major step for the Greens and their family businesses in an important fight for Americans’ religious liberty,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead lawyer for Hobby Lobby.

“We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will clarify once and for all that religious freedom in our country should be protected for family business owners like the Greens,” he said in a statement.

In a statement on the Hobby Lobby case issued by the press secretary’s office, the White House said it doesn’t comment on specifics of any case pending before the high court, but “as a general matter” it said the HHS mandate is designed to “ensure that health care decisions are made between a woman and her doctor.”

President Barack Obama “believes that no one, including the government or for-profit corporations, should be able to dictate those decisions to women, it said. The administration said it has already taken steps to “to ensure no church or similar religious institution” is forced to provide contraception coverage and allow women, not “corporate CEOS,” to make their own health decisions.

The second case, Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, is an appeal by the Hahn family, the Mennonite owners, of a 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that they had to comply with the contraceptive coverage requirement. The circuit court ruled that as a for-profit, secular corporation, Conestoga Wood and its owners are not protected by the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment.

In its petition for the Supreme Court to review its case, Conestoga Wood argued that the 3rd Circuit’s decision conflicts with rulings by other circuit courts that recognized religious rights of for-profit corporations.

The 1993 law, known as RFRA, says that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest. The legal question raised in the case is whether RFRA protects a for-profit company from having to provide a benefit to which employees are entitled under federal law but to which the owners have religious objections.

The companies also raised the Free Exercise clause as a defense in arguing the mandate infringes on the employers’ right to be free from government interference with their religious beliefs. The argument cites the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United that found a corporate free speech right to participate in the political process through campaign contributions.

The HHS mandate includes an exemption for some religious employers that fit its criteria and has an accommodation for others allowing some employers to use a third-party to provide the contraceptive coverage they find objectionable, but Catholic entities that have brought the lawsuits say the accommodation still does not solve their problem over being involved in providing coverage they reject for moral reasons.

The mandate does not include a conscience clause for employers who object to such coverage on moral grounds.

Neither of the Supreme Court’s orders lists from the Nov. 26 conference made reference to a fourth employer challenge of the health care law, Autocam v. Sebelius. The case was on the list for review at the same conference as the Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood and Liberty University appeals.

Cases the court accepted were announced Nov. 26. Those it denied were announced Dec. 2. Sometimes the court will hold a petition until other cases that deal with the same legal issues are decided.

 

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High court upholds church school’s exception to federal law

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court Jan. 11 upheld the idea that a “ministerial exception” to anti-discrimination laws means the church can’t be sued for firing an employee who the church classified as a minister.

For the first time, the court held that such an exception to federal employment laws exists. The unanimous opinion reversed a ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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