For Immediate Release
Sam Gerard, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-238-9088×105
(Washington, DC, July 8, 2020) – “Today, our nation’s highest court gave permission to religious institutions to play by their own rules and discriminate wherever they see fit. Religious belief should not be used as an excuse for bigotry, and should especially not excuse discrimination that would otherwise be illegal. These decisions to raise religion above the civil rights of other protected classes will not stand the test of time, but will result in too many years of harm before it can be corrected,” American Humanist Association (AHA) Executive Director Roy Speckhardt lamented.
Speckhardt’s comments denounce today’s Supreme Court rulings, both favoring religious institutions’ rights over the rights of employees. In the consolidated cases Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel, the Court declined the judicial branch’s ability to intervene in matters involving religious employers who discriminate against their employees. In the decision in Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, the Court permitted religious and moral objections as an exemption from mandated free birth-control coverage by employers.
“Today’s rulings widen the already massive loophole carved out for religious institutions to discriminate against their employees,” AHA Legal Director and Senior Counsel Monica Miller reprimanded. “Until today, religious institutions still could not discriminate against non-ministerial employees or for non-religious reasons. Now courts are barred from even inquiring whether the employee is in fact a religious leader, giving religious institutions carte blanche to discriminate against any employee without fear of judicial reprisal.”
In April, the American Humanist Association co-signed two amicus briefs alongside the Center for Inquiry and American Atheists in support of the respondents in Our Lady of Guadalupe School and in support of the state of Pennsylvania in Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter.
In Our Lady of Guadalupe School, the AHA argued that the Court must reject “sweeping ‘ecclesiastical immunity’ that grants religious organizations, religious non-profits, and even religious owned for-profit corporations the right to ignore the rules that Congress has put in place to defend the fundamental constitutional notion of equality of opportunity.”
In Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter, the AHA defended the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) stipulation that health care provisions provided by employers must offer contraceptive coverage, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, which offers a religious exemption to adhering to some parts of the health care law, should not impact the law. The Supreme Court upholding RFRA’s ability to create religious exemptions from the proceeding law significantly weakens the contraceptive mandate in the ACA and makes compliance with that mandate only voluntary.
Speckhardt concluded: “In these cases, we see religious zealots gaining special treatment and exceptions to the rules to which the rest of us must adhere. Allowing churches to pick and choose parts of the laws they can obey creates an environment tilted unequivocally in favor of the religious right.”
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The American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming worldview of humanism, which—without beliefs in gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.