L.I.F.E. is pleased to announce that it has earned a 2019 Bronze Seal of Transparency from Guidestar, the world’s largest source of information on nonprofit organizations. Now our community can see the commitment L.I.F.E. has made to transparency, and easily contact us for more information.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is standing up for the Constitution. It recently filed a statement in support of three families who have had enough of the State of Maine’s discrimination against them solely because of religion.
The facts of Carson v. Makin are a shocking testament to the deeply rooted anti-religious malice permeating legal elites, some state legislatures, and many government actors. This time around the tables are turned. First Liberty Institute, one of the real civil liberties organizations on the front line of the religious liberty and human rights litigation, is representing the families.
These parents of school-age children live in school districts that do not operate their own public high schools. Maine law requires those districts to provide an alternative school program – and one of the ways that is done is by paying the tuition at another district’s public school or at a private school of the parents’ choice.
Parental choice. Sounds great. But … there’s a catch. Maine, which makes the funds available to any school that meets legitimate academic and other neutral standards, singles out religious schools for discriminatory treatment for only one reason: they are religious schools. That is a clear violation of both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
It’s all here in the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Maine.
Now the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has joined the case and is now at the forefront of religious liberty advocacy. Its statement of interest in support of the parents pulls no punches. Here’s are some choice excerpts from its brief (internal quotation marks and citations are omitted):
“The State … imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion: it forces students who are otherwise eligible for the tuition program to choose between participating in the program or remaining enrolled at a religious institution. The State may engage in this religious discrimination against students only if it satisfies the most exacting scrutiny. But the State has failed to identify an interest of the highest order to justify its discrimination, much less to explain how this discrimination is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. Accordingly, the State’s exclusion of students who attend religious private schools from the generally available tuition program violates the Free Exercise Clause.”
DOJ’s brief nails the bogus argument originally advanced by Maine to justify its blatant religious discrimination; an argument rejected more than once in recent Supreme Court case law, including Zelman v. Simmons-Harris and Locke v. Davey.
“The State’s original justification for banning religious private schools from the tuition program was that including them would violate the Establishment Clause. The State has now wisely abandoned that justification, as it must: as the State acknowledges, under intervening Supreme Court precedent, ‘Maine could design a program that would allow parents to direct public dollars to sectarian schools without violating the Establishment Clause.’ ”
So there was neither need nor legitimate purpose in excluding religious schools from the funding program.
Then DOJ cited the 2017 landmark case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer won by the courageous human rights litigation team at Alliance Defending Freedom. It held that generally available public benefits – there a playground-resurfacing grant – may not be withheld from a qualifying school merely because it is religious.
The brief then takes aim at what is really going on and eviscerates Maine’s pretexual concern about avoiding establishment of religion. That bogus argument harked back to an old line of cases disqualifying “pervasively sectarian” groups from some government funding. But the Court has long repudiated that standard as “disavow[ed],” “offensive,” “regret[table],” “born of bigotry,” and as having a “shameful pedigree.” Mitchell v. Helms.
In fact, Mitchell held that the religious nature of a recipient of a government benefit simply does not matter in honest constitutional analysis. The issue is whether the recipient adequately furthers the government’s secular purpose. When it does, then it has not received any special favor because it is religious. Therefore, as Mitchell noted, it would be “most bizarre that the Court would … reserve special hostility for those who take their religion seriously, who think that their religion should affect the whole of their lives, or who make the mistake of being effective in transmitting their views to children.” Ouch!
The brief is a tour de force of outstanding constitutional analysis. It drives in the final nail with a breathtaking coup de grace that should embarrass the Maine Attorney General and the deeply anti-religious ACLU, each of which is shamefully trying to defend Maine’s state mandated anti-religion animus. Mitchell noted that “opposition to religious school funding acquired prominence in the 1870’s … at a time of pervasive hostility to the Catholic Church and to Catholics in general, and it was an open secret that “sectarian” was code for “Catholic.”
That’s right. Maine is using an old anti-Catholic dog whistle to attack religious education. The New England version of this deep-rooted “hostility to the Catholic Church” is an broader animus toward religion that typically manifests itself as anti-christian. Shame on Maine. Shame, shame, shame.
The DOJ brief is the result of two recent developments in the Administration of President Donald Trump. First is the President’s May 4, 2017 Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty. That order produced a memorandum of guidance on October 6, 2017 from then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which provides the foundation for the DOJ’s historic and welcome decision to intervene and file its brief in Carson v. Makin. See the DOJ June 10, 2019 press release here.
Here at L.I.F.E. we can hardly contain our enthusiasm over the marvelous Potomac Declaration adopted last July at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo. The gathering drew more than eighty delegations, including dozens of minister-level representatives from around the world. It addressed challenges facing religious freedom, identified concrete means to address persecution of and discrimination against religious groups, and promoted greater respect for religious liberty for all, including a commitment to promote Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which declares:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.
Vice President Pence also attended, and announced the creation of the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program to “ensure that religious freedom and religious pluralism prosper across the Middle East as well.” The program will target development in the Nineveh plain in northern Iraq and ensure that U.S. aid is directed toward the minority Christian and Yazidi communities that were the most devastated by the ISIS genocide of recent years. It will balance the misallocation of U.N. aide – mostly supported by the United States – to ensure that the minority religious receive the assistance they need to restore their lives. U.S. Agency for International Development (US AID) Administrator Mark Green explained the troubled history that lead to the Genocide Recovery and Persecution plan in his remarks at the gathering. They offer a useful and poignant lesson in the realities of international relief funding – it’s not the money allocated; it’s how it is spent.
Pompeo also released the Potomac Plan of Action, which sets an ambitions agenda to 1) protect religious liberty, including related parental rights, 2) confront legal limitations on religious liberty, including the repeal of anti-blasphemy laws, 3) advance government advocacy for religious liberty, 4) aggressively respond to anti-religion motivate genocide and mass atrocity, and 5) preserve cultural heritage, and 6) establishing August 3, the first day of ISIS’s Sinjar massacre targeting Yazidis, as a nationally or internationally recognized day of remembrance of survivors of religious persecution.
Read up on these important steps to a more secure international respect for religious liberty.
Life is short, so the saying goes. Here at L.I.F.E. we are going long, as in “for the long haul.” Liberty, life, freedom of conscience, and family structures face unprecedented challenges in the era of technological revolution, expanding government intrusion into daily life, and rapidly evolving social norms. The interface of natural sciences, medicine, and technology offers previously unimaginable vistas. At the same time, those disciplines and others, such as law, ethics, economics, and philosophy open potentials for abuse.
L.I.F.E. is a new resource, tracking developments related to religious and political liberty, bioethics, and cultural expression. It is no neutral observer. Rather, it proposes a natural law ethic that presupposes and advocates certain first principals: the human person is a creature possessed of free will; societies of persons are the natural state of human persons, beginning with the family based on marriage of one man and one woman, and expanding to local, regional and international political structures; there exist inherent standards of good and evil not contingent on circumstance or intention but of their very nature; each human life is precious, unique and unrepeatable and demands the protection of law from conception to natural death; the free exercise of religion is fundamental to the legitimacy of a given political order; each person is endowed with unalienable rights including freedom of thought, speech, conscience, and religion; and each is obliged to respect the freedom of others and to fulfill the duties inherent to the flourishing of civil society. L.I.F.E. offers a critical assessment of the forces shaping the 21stCentury in light of those first principals.
The annual Saint John Paul II Bioethics Lecture presents academics, jurists, scientists, and others addressing timely topics in bioethics. The 2019 lecture, And Such Were Some of You: Homosexuality and the Bible, features renowned scripture scholar Rev. Sebastian Carnazzo, PhD. And the Center for the Study of Bioethics & Law offers a free university level course: Bioethics & Law 101, with many more in the pipeline.
Please take a stroll through our easy to navigate site. We think you will find in it sources that both delight and challenge.