Notes & quotes for future reference — posted here so I can find them later with a keyword search

More clergy members, serving Christian, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist and Buddhist congregations, filed lawsuits Monday challenging Florida’s restrictive new anti-abortion law on grounds that is violates the free exercise class of the state and federal constitutions.

The lede to religion reporter Michelle Boorstein’s story in the Washington Post caught my attention:

When the Rev. Laurie Hafner ministers to her Florida congregants about abortion, she looks to the founding values of the United Church of Christ, her lifelong denomination: religious freedom and freedom of thought. She taps into her reading of Genesis, which says “man became a living being” when God breathed “the breath of life” into Adam. She thinks of Jesus promising believers full and abundant life.

“I am pro-choice not in spite of my faith, but because of my faith,” Hafner says.

She is among seven Florida clergy members — two Christians, three Jews, one Unitarian Universalist and a Buddhist — who argue in separate lawsuits filed Monday that their ability to live and practice their religious faith is being violated by the state’s new, post-Roe abortion law. […]

Boorstein is one of the more astute secular reporters on religious issues (maybe I should say one of the few astute reporters on the subject), so I sat up and took notice. I don’t buy into political labels and wouldn’t call myself either “pro-choice” or “pro-life.” I choose to believe in free will, and I’m unabashedly in favor of life. Which means I consider the labels a false dichotomy. What had me shouting “Amen, sister!” came a little later in the story:

“I think the religious right has had the resources and the voices politically and socially to be so loud, and frankly, they don’t represent the Christian faith,” Hafner told The Washington Post. “Those of us on the other side, with maybe a more inclusive voice, need to be strong and more faithful and say: ‘There is another very important voice.’

And this, in an interview with a religion professor at the end of the story:

John Inazu, a professor of law and religion at Washington University in St. Louis, said that even if the courts rule in favor of government interest over religious liberty in these cases, it’s important that judges and Americans see and accept that people who hold views unlike theirs do so sincerely.

When it comes to religious liberty and abortion, Inazu said, “can a pro-life person see the possibility of the pro-choice view?”

The fact is: We live in a pluralistic society with a constitution that guarantees freedom of religion. Wikipedia estimates “there are roughly 4,200 religions, churches, denominations, religious bodies, faith groups, tribes, cultures, movements, [and/or] ultimate concerns” in America. Many of them hold nuanced beliefs regarding the multiplicity of laws and doctrines bearing on the debate over anti-abortion laws since the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, and most of them have yet to be heard from.

So, like professor Inazu said down in St. Louis, it’s good to more of see them speaking up. Otherwise, we are at risk of having small groups of political and religious activists dictate to the rest of us.

The problem is not limited to abortion, either. In the past year alone, we have seen Supreme Court decisions striking down public health measures on religious grounds, requiring states to fund religious indoctrination in certain circumstances, and permitting a high school football coach to lead prayers on the 50-yard line after football games. These decisions have tended to privilege culturally conservative Christians, leading observers some to question the court’s commitment to religious pluralism.

In an earlier article (July 17), headlined “Under right-leaning Supreme Court, the church-state wall is crumbling” and linked to Monday night’s story, Boorstein framed the underlying question like this:

At a time when America is becoming more religiously diverse, unaffiliated and secular, major rulings have rewritten decades of precedent and given victory after victory to religious petitioners seeking more voice, money and access in the public square. Many have been conservative Christians who argued they had been unconstitutionally shut out.

With the door opened much wider, the question many experts are asking now is: Has the court ushered in a period of more pluralism for people of all religious faiths and none, or instead codified government power and privilege for those in the majority?

She didn’t attempt to answer, and of course it’s too soon to know yet anyway, but the signs for religious pluralism and inclusivity don’t look good. She cited two possible straws in the wind:

High-profile attacks on the modern order [of prohibiting the state from supporting, or establishing, certain religions] are becoming more common. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, during oral arguments earlier this year in a case about a Christian flag flying over Boston City Hall, wondered about the “so-called separation of church and state.” A little over two weeks ago, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) told a crowd she is “tired of this separation of church and state junk.” [Links in the original.]

Boorstein also linked to an amicus or friend-of-the-court brief

Boorstein also linked to an amicus or friend-of-the-court brief in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the case in which the high school football coach was permitted under the free exercise clause to lead prayers on the 50-yard line after football games. Filed by 33 religious organizations, religious denominations, and local clergy, and available on the the Anti-Defamation League website, the brief argues, according to the ADL’s summary:

{…] that allowing the football coach to lead the team in prayers at football games undermines the freedom of conscience of student athletes — who may wish to refrain from joining the prayer but who may feel overwhelming pressure to please their coach. It also argues that those student athletes who are able to resist the coach’s pressure are at increased risk of harassment and bullying, from both students and teachers. Moreover, religious minorities are likely to bear the brunt of that bullying, which causes short-term and long-term harms.

It may be significant that in Kennedy v. Bremerton the court, as Boorstein notes, didn’t specifically “find that school officials are allowed to lead students in prayer.” Instead, they came to the desired conclusion by twisting the facts of the case, finding that the coach’s prayer on the 50-yard line was private, so they didn’t have to address the free exercise rights of the coach’s students.

Does that leave wiggle room for future free exercise cases brought by religious minorities? I suspect we’re likely to find out before too much longer.

Boorstein is the Post’s religion reporter. Her bio on the WaPo website notes she’s well qualified for the beat in a pluralistic society: “Michelle Boorstein’s path to her dream job as a religion reporter began as a kid, trying to make sense of a kosher Jewish home that had three sets of dishes: meat, milk and Chinese food.” She has degrees in journalism, history and Near Eastern Studies (MA, NYU); and as an Associated Press reporter before she joined the Post, her job “took her from Providence to Phoenix to Afghanistan.”

***

Verbatim excerpts follow from last night’s story about the Florida litigation:

Lede: When the Rev. Laurie Hafner ministers to her Florida congregants about abortion, she looks to the founding values of the United Church of Christ, her lifelong denomination: religious freedom and freedom of thought. She taps into her reading of Genesis, which says “man became a living being” when God breathed “the breath of life” into Adam. She thinks of Jesus promising believers full and abundant life.

“I am pro-choice not in spite of my faith, but because of my faith,” Hafner says.

She is among seven Florida clergy members — two Christians, three Jews, one Unitarian Universalist and a Buddhist — who argue in separate lawsuits filed Monday that their ability to live and practice their religious faith is being violated by the state’s new, post-Roe abortion law. The law, which is one of the strictest in the country, making no exceptions for rape or incest, was signed in April by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), in a Pentecostal church alongside antiabortion lawmakers such as the House speaker, who called life “a gift from God.”

[…]

“I think the religious right has had the resources and the voices politically and socially to be so loud, and frankly, they don’t represent the Christian faith,” Hafner told The Washington Post. “Those of us on the other side, with maybe a more inclusive voice, need to be strong and more faithful and say: ‘There is another very important voice.’

“Look biblically; Jesus says nothing about abortion. He talks about loving your neighbor and living abundantly and fully. He says: ‘I come that you might have full life.’ Does that mean for a 10-year-old to bear the child of her molester? That you cut your life short because you aren’t able to rid your body of a fetus?”

[The WaPo story embeds United Church of Christ complaint (styled Hafner v. Florida), filed Aug. 1 in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court at:

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/22124611-hb-5_ucc-complaint_8122 ]

The cases are unusual in that they frame major liberal values through the lens of religious-liberty law. For years, religious conservatives have successfully argued in high-profile Supreme Court cases that their beliefs should allow them to open churches during a global pandemic, discriminate against LGBTQ people and decline to give employees contraception, among other cases.

A lawsuit similar to the clergy members’ was filed in June by a Florida rabbi, who argued the abortion law violates his practice of Judaism. Jewish views on abortion are complex across the ideological spectrum, but law and tradition do not ban it, sometimes appear to require it and do not recognize an unborn fetus as a full legal person. According to that lawsuit, filed last month in Leon County Circuit Court, Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor of Boynton Beach argues that the new law “prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion and … violates their privacy rights and religious freedom.”

[…]

Douglas Laycock, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law and an authority on religious-freedom law, said states and the Supreme Court could curtail the efforts among faith leaders who support abortion rights by arguing that there is a “compelling government interest” in protecting fetal life. And the right kind of compelling government interest can be an exception to most constitutional rights, he explained.

“For better or worse, a compelling government interest is whatever five justices say it is,” Laycock said. “It’s a matter of judicial interpretation, not legislative enactment. And pretty clearly, we have six justices who would happily say that the state’s interest in fetal life is compelling” and outweighs the free exercise of religion.

Under right-leaning Supreme Court, the church-state wall is crumbling

Plus, Laycock said, the justices wouldn’t have taken the monumental step of overturning Roe v. Wade only to turn around and allow “an alternate route to choice, an enormous loophole, or even a small loophole.”

“They may like free exercise, but they oppose abortion more,” he said.

[…]

John Inazu, a professor of law and religion at Washington University in St. Louis, said that even if the courts rule in favor of government interest over religious liberty in these cases, it’s important that judges and Americans see and accept that people who hold views unlike theirs do so sincerely.

When it comes to religious liberty and abortion, Inazu said, “can a pro-life person see the possibility of the pro-choice view?”

Citations

Michelle Boorstein, “Clergy sue over Florida abortion law, say it violates religious freedom,” Washington Post, Aug. 1, 2022 https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2022/08/01/florida-abortion-law-religion-desantis/.

__________, “Under right-leaning Supreme Court, the church-state wall is crumbling,” Washington Post, July 17, 2022 https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2022/07/17/supreme-court-church-state-religion-coach/.

[Aug. 2, 2022]

xxx

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