Opinion: SCOTUS Gives Religious Liberty Claimants Exemptions from Laws and Regulations

It’s is no surprise that the theocratic majority on the nation’s High Court was panting to radically alter the law of the land elevating religious liberty to a license to flout the laws of the land.

In a relatively quiet ruling, the  conservatives being directed by handmaiden Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court bestowed “most favored nation” status on religious Americans who want to be exempted from any law the government already exempts other entities or individuals from adhering to. As Mark Joseph Stern noted over at Slate, the High Court “broke its own rules to radically redefine religious liberty.”

Advertising

To assert that Mr. Stern’s remark is an understatement is itself understating the terrible precedent the religion conservatives on the Supreme Court just enacted. That precedent gives “the faithful” ultimate power over the law of the land and by extension the people.

In the 1990s the Supreme Court, in Employment Division v. Smith, interpreted the free exercise clause of the First Amendment as not allowing “religious exemptions to laws that don’t discriminate against religion.” Sounds apropos for a secular democracy like America  – right? But America can no longer consider itself a secular democracy: not with a religious Supreme Court in the image of Iran’s Supreme Council setting the law of the land to favor a declining minority of religious fanatics.

Advertising
Advertising

Prior to last Friday’s ruling sans oral arguments and very minimal briefs in what is known as a shadow docket, the Court changed the law of the land in a four-page ruling that redefined religious liberty.

The concept of religious liberty changed instantly with the theocrats’ ruling In Tandon v. Newsome when the theocratic majority effectively overturned Smith by establishing a new rule according to what is known as the “most favored nation” theory. And like six previous times, the religious Court ruled that the faithful have the religious liberty to flout any laws, including public health mandates, because they are religious and enjoy “most favored nation” status.

Under the new religious doctrine governing America, “any secular exemption to a law automatically creates a religious exemption.” Going forward, that one theocratic ruling “vastly expanded the government’s obligation to provide religious accommodations to countless regulations” in the new theocratic America.

Advertising

Consider the implications for Americans not in thrall of this new definition of religious liberty giving blanket exemptions to any law for religion’s sake.

For example, police are exempt from prohibitions on carrying loaded firearms in courtrooms, restaurants, public schools etc. However, under the new definition of “religious liberty,” anyone can claim a religious exemption to bring their loaded firearms into a court, public or private school, the White House, on a domestic passenger jet or the United States Capitol.

Churches are exempt from paying all manner of taxes and members of the clergy receive special exemptions on paying their fair share of taxes like every other working American. Now, anyone can claim a religious exemption and tell the Internal Revenue Service to sod off because they are religious.

Political Action Committees (PACs) and dark money groups are exempt from campaign donation limits and reporting to the FEC. According to the theocrats on the High Court, any American can now cite religion and donate any amount they please.

Across America law enforcement officers are generally exempt from prosecution when they shoot and kill unarmed African Americans. Now that exemption applies to any racist murderer if they claim they are exempt according to the conservatives on the Supreme Court.

Use your imagination and there are myriad laws and regulations the faithful can claim they are exempt from adhering to if they claim it is their religious liberty.

Mr Stern spoke to University of Texas School of Law Professor Steve Vladeck and Lewis and Clarke Law School Professor Jim Oleske who explained precisely how much power the theocrats on the Supreme Court just handed over to the religious. Professor Oleske said:

Smith says the free exercise clause of the 1st Amendment protects against the government targeting religious practice for disfavored treatment, but does not grant a right to exemptions from general law. Almost immediately after Smith, there were efforts to read into it a broader ‘most favored nation’ theory that said: Any time the government grants an exemption to a law, it has an obligation to grant a religious exemption, too, unless the government meets strict scrutiny. But that was not the law of the land until Friday night.”

Professor Vladeck chimed in thus:

Friday night was the seventh time this term that the Supreme Court has issued an emergency injunction pending appeal. All seven were in COVID free-exercise cases…. Those who like these decisions are getting increasingly comfortable with the court flouting and defying its own internal standards and rules for this kind of relief simply because they like the result. In the process, they attack critics for being insufficiently sensitive to religious liberty. And that’s a preposterous claim.”

This horrendous ruling portends a world of bad outcomes for America as well as the rule of law where it once appeared that no person was above the law. And, it is noteworthy that the faithful will not be beholden to follow laws if they can find some group or entity that is exempt from said law.

Religious liberty, the freedom to worship as one sees fit without government interference, is all well and good, but now religious liberty means being exempt from most laws and regulations just by claiming religion. This is bad and few Americans are aware just how bad it will get.