Monday, June 27, 2022

No Victory For Religious Liberty

The Free Exercise Clause and Establishment Clause are equally integral in protecting religious freedom in our society.  The first serves as "a promise from our government," while the second erects a "backstop that disables our government from breaking it" and "start[ing] us down the path to the past, when [the right to free exercise] was routinely abridged." Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, 582 U. S. ___, ___ (2017) (SOTOMAYOR, J., dissenting) (slip op., at 26).

Today, the Court once again weakens the backstop.  It elevates one individual's interest in personal religious exercise, in the exact time and place of that individual's choosing, over society's interest in protecting the separation between church and state, eroding the protections for religious liberty for all.  Today's decision is particularly misguided because it elevates the religious rights of a school official, who voluntarily accepted public employment and the limits that public employment entails, over those of his students, who are required to attend school and who this Court has long recognized are particularly vulnerable and deserving of protection.  In doing so, the Court sets us further down a perilous path in forcing States to entangle themselves with religion, with all of our rights hanging in the balance.  As much as the Court protests otherwise, today's decision is no victory for religious liberty. I respectfully dissent.

-- Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Stephen Bryer and Elena Kagan, dissenting in Kennedy v Bremerton School District, in which the majority ruled that a public school football coach has a right to hold a prayer circle on the 50-yard line at the end of each football game, 27 June 2022

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