This week, Justice Clarence Thomas reminded us of this important truth: People of faith should be able to live according to their beliefs without fear of government punishment.
This reminder came in Thomas’s concurrence to a denial for certiorari in a case called Davis v. Ermold. The case involved a county clerk in Kentucky, Kim Davis, who declined to issue a marriage certificate to a same-sex couple after the Obergefell v. Hodges decision nationalized same-sex marriage.
While Thomas didn’t think the questions of the case were clear enough to warrant the Court’s hearing, he did think that it brought up this important reminder for all Americans.
After the Obergefell decision, many were concerned that people of faith—such as Christians, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews—who believe that marriage is a union of one man and one woman would have their First Amendment rights compromised. Some brushed off this concern. But, as Justice Thomas notes, it turned out to be well warranted.
“Since Obergefell, parties have continually attempted to label people of good will as bigots merely for refusing to alter their religious beliefs in the wake of prevailing orthodoxy,” writes Thomas.
He then goes on to cite two Alliance Defending Freedom cases, in which we defended three clients whose religious beliefs about marriage almost prevented them from legally running their businesses. Each of these clients seek to live out their Christian beliefs in their everyday lives—including in their businesses. Unfortunately, government officials tried to stand in their way of doing this.
Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop
Jack Phillips was punished by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission because he declined to create a custom wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. Thankfully, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the Commission’s actions were unconstitutional in its landmark decision Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
Breanna Koski and Joanna Duka of Brush & Nib Studio
Similarly, Joanna and Breanna’s freedom to create handmade invitations and designs in their calligraphy business Brush & Nib Studio was almost compromised. A law in Phoenix would have required them to create artwork promoting events and messages that go against their Christian beliefs. Also like Jack, Breanna and Joanna won their case—the Arizona Supreme Court recognized that Phoenix cannot force artists to express messages or celebrate events that violate their beliefs.
Contrary to what the culture says, Jack, Joanna, and Breanna want to live out their Christian beliefs through their work not because they want to force others to be like them. Rather, they want what’s best for everyone. Christians joyfully spread the Good News because they want to encourage others to live in a way that promotes individual flourishing.
The government officials in both these situations did the opposite. They wanted to force others to submit to their worldview or face grievous consequences.
This violates our Constitution.
But there is good news: More courts are upholding the right to religious freedom.
Earlier this week, a federal court ruled in favor of a Christian adoption provider. The provider, New Hope Family Services, is under threat from the state of New York simply because of its religious beliefs. Thankfully, this ruling ensures that New Hope can continue to operate while its lawsuit against the state proceeds.
As Justice Thomas’ concurrence argues, just because the government doesn’t like a person’s religious beliefs doesn’t mean they should be banished from the marketplace under the threat of punishment. Common decency—and our Constitution—demand the opposite.
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