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Legal Advocates Pursue the Next Major Triumph for Religious Liberty

Following a Series of Supreme Court Wins, Attention Shifts to Potentially Overturning One Key Precedent for Religious Liberty

In recent times, advocates of religious liberty in the United States have experienced a period of great success at the Supreme Court, championing the rights of Americans to freely express their faith. Notably, they defended the rights of individuals to practice their religion while on duty for a public school district (Kennedy v. Bremerton School District), supported the use of government vouchers for religious schools (Carson v. Makin), strengthened workplace accommodations for religious beliefs (Groff v. DeJoy), and expanded free speech protections for business owners who wish to adhere to their religious beliefs (303 Creative LLC v. Elenis).

Despite these victories, a significant challenge remains: Employment Division v. Smith. Experts closely monitoring developments in the legal landscape predict that religious liberty advocates will intensify their efforts to challenge the Smith decision. While 303 Creative was a notable win, it only provided partial protection for speech, leaving advocates seeking full protection under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause by overturning Smith.

The importance of the Smith case can be traced back over three decades when two counselors in Oregon were fired for participating in a Native American religious ceremony involving peyote. They appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that their religious practices should be protected under the First Amendment. However, the Court ruled that a law is not in violation of the free exercise clause if it is “neutral” and “generally applicable.”

At the time, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, in his majority opinion, emphasized that allowing religious exceptions would undermine the law and lead to chaos. Though this ruling disappointed religious liberty advocates, they found solace in the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, prohibiting the government from imposing undue burdens on religious exercise.

Efforts to challenge Smith have already commenced, with religious liberty law groups like First Liberty and Alliance Defending Freedom petitioning the Supreme Court to hear cases aimed at overruling Smith.

Religious liberty proponents contend that overturning Smith would restore religious freedom as a fundamental right, offering more robust protection against discriminatory practices. They look to precedents like Sherbert v. Verner, where the state had to demonstrate a compelling interest before burdening someone’s religious beliefs or practices.

Despite Smith’s significance, the polarization surrounding the case has been fueled by America’s ongoing culture wars. Nevertheless, religious liberty advocates emphasize the importance of maintaining a respectful and open public square where various beliefs can coexist.

Religious liberty’s significance transcends political lines, and Christians, in particular, must remain consistent in advocating for religious freedom in a pluralistic society. With the current Supreme Court’s favorable stance towards religious organizations, there is an opportunity for further victories and the protection of religious liberties for all Americans.

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