Supreme Court: Full docket of religious liberty cases during nomination fight

shutterstock 496281247 1 Supreme Court of the United States. | bakdc/Shutterstock

As the Trump Administration looks to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, the coming judicial session features a slate packed with religious freedom cases.

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday created the first opening on the Court during a fall or spring term since 2017; the Court's opening conference for the fall is on Sept. 29.

The Court also announced on Sept. 16 that it will begin its fall term hearing oral arguments telephonically and not in-person, a continuation of its extraordinary policy from last spring that was due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Perhaps the most notable religious freedom case this term, that of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, will be heard on Nov. 4. A decision could impact faith-based adoption and foster care agencies around the country which are affected by state and local non-discrimination ordinances.

In 2018, the city of Philadelphia notified Catholic Social Services with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, as well as Bethany Christian Services, that their policies of not working with same-sex couples on foster care placements were discriminatory; the city stopped contracting with both services.

Later in the year, Bethany Christian said that while the organization's religious beliefs on marriage remained the same, it would begin working with same-sex couples. Catholic Social Services, however, did not alter its policy and has not had any new foster care placements through the city.

Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, who have fostered more than 40 children and who partnered with Catholic Social Services, brought the case against the city that is currently before the Supreme Court.

Another religious freedom case pending before the Supreme Court, Dalberiste v. GLE Associates, involves a lawsuit by a Seventh-Day Adventist, Mitche Dalberiste, who is seeking a religious accommodation for the technician job for which he was hired.

The job reportedly required employees to serve 12-hour shifts seven days a week for a period of time, but Dalberiste requested leave from sundown on Fridays until sundown on Saturdays, to observe the Sabbath. He filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) when the job offer was rescinded.

Becket is also representing three Muslim men, Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, and Naveed Shinwari, who were placed on the FBI's No-Fly list in order to pressure them to act as informants on Muslim communities.

Becket is arguing that individual government officials can be held liable for damages in Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) cases, or where they unlawfully violate someone's religious freedom.

The group Alliance Defending Freedom is also bringing a college free speech case to the Court, and is petitioning for the Court to consider a pro-life speech case.

In Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, a student at Georgia Gwinnett College sued over the college's restrictions on the space where he could evangelize fellow students; while using the limited space, he was also told by a campus police officer to stop and was charged with "disorderly conduct." The school altered its policy, but Uzuegbunam sued, alleging the previous violation of his free speech.

There are also multiple cases which the Supreme Court has not yet taken up, but which Becket and others are asking it to consider.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is asking the Supreme Court to hear the case of Nikki Bruni and other pro-life sidewalk counselors, who has challenged Pittsburgh's 15-foot "buffer zone" outside abortion clinics; they were banned from speaking with women or praying within the zone, which included sidewalks and streets.

ADF has also petitioned the Court to consider the case of the Michigan non-profit Thomas More Law Center, which litigates religious freedom, family, and life issues. 

In 2012, the California attorney general's office demanded that the center provide the names and addresses of its California supporters.

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