It is hardly as popular as other patriotic holidays, but Bill of Rights Day celebrates an event all Americans should appreciate: the ratification of the Bill of Rights, which comprises the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.
It may be difficult to get excited about a day dedicated to a document. Here is why you should.
During the Constitution’s drafting and ratification, there was fierce debate among the Founding Fathers regarding how rights ought to be codified in law. While the Constitution laid out what form the American government would take and detailed checks and balances – including the separation of powers in three discrete branches – it had less to say about individual rights.
The Federalists argued that a document listing such rights was unnecessary and potentially harmful, as the enumeration of only some rights could be perceived as a rejection of others. Anti-Federalists contended that certain rights are too foundational not to be expressly listed. Eventually, the Virginian Federalist James Madison was persuaded to draft a Bill of Rights, which was passed by Congress in 1789. By Dec. 15, 1791, a supermajority of states had ratified 10 amendments, solidifying some of our most treasured freedoms.
But today, many of the core protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights are being threatened. Religious freedom and the freedom of speech, both protected by the First Amendment, are particularly under attack.
On this day when we honor America’s rich history of liberty, here are two cases in which Alliance Defending Freedom is working to ensure that our most fundamental freedoms do not become relics of the past.
Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission has been serving the homeless in Seattle since it was founded as a soup kitchen in the days of the Great Depression. As a Christian ministry, the Mission’s primary purpose is to bring the love of Jesus and hope for a new life to those who need it most. And since the Gospel is at the heart of everything the Mission does, staff members must share and live out the Mission’s beliefs. For an organization spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, unity behind that message is vital.
So when a lawyer applying for a job at the Mission’s legal-aid clinic refused to follow its religious-lifestyle requirements – and expressed a desire to change the Mission’s beliefs – the Mission declined to hire the applicant. The applicant then sued, and the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the Mission must either hire those who disagree with its core biblical beliefs or change the way it serves the homeless.
The choice offered by the court is not just unacceptable for the Mission; it is unconstitutional, a flagrant violation of the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom. With the help of ADF attorneys and our co-counsel, the Mission is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up its case.
Lorie Smith is a web designer and graphic artist based in Colorado. Under state law, since she and her studio, 303 Creative, design and publish websites celebrating weddings between one man and one woman, they must do the same for websites celebrating same-sex weddings. While Lorie works with all people, she does not promote all messages. She will not violate her conscience to celebrate a message that contradicts the teachings of her faith.
Constitutionally, Lorie cannot be compelled to express any message, much less one that violates her deeply held religious convictions. Yet that is exactly what the Colorado law does. In fact, Lorie could be subject to investigations and fines were she to decline to celebrate a same-sex wedding. Furthermore, under the law, Lorie cannot even post a message on her website explaining her religious beliefs regarding marriage.
Government officials cannot compel and restrict the speech of creative professionals such as Lorie. Her pursuit of working as a creative professional does not mean she surrenders her freedom of speech. Yet the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Lorie in July, and ADF has appealed to the Supreme Court to take up her case.
Cases like those of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission and 303 Creative are not just important for religious ministries and artistic studios; they’re vital for all Americans, because the guarantees found in our Bill of Rights – including religious freedom and free speech – are guarantees for everyone. That is why they are written into our nation’s founding documents, and that is why they deserve as strong a defense today as they did in 1791.
Working with ADF attorneys, Lorie Smith’s case currently awaits a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, after a lower court ruled against her earlier this year.