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With US President Donald Trump Pick Aboard, Top US Court Tackles Religious Rights

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President Donald Trump watches as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy administers the judicial oath to Judge Neil Gorsuch during a re-enactment in the Rose Garden of the White House White House in Washington, April 10, 2017. VOA
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The U.S. Supreme Court is set this week to hear a closely watched case testing the limits of religious rights, and new Justice Neil Gorsuch’s judicial record indicates he could tip the court toward siding with a church challenging Missouri’s ban on state funding of religious entities.

Trinity Lutheran Church, which is located in Columbia, Missouri and runs a preschool and daycare center, said Missouri unlawfully excluded it from a grant program providing state funds to nonprofit groups to buy rubber playground surfaces.

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Missouri’s constitution prohibits “any church, sect or denomination of religion” from receiving state taxpayer money.

Gorsuch, who embraced an expansive view of religious rights as a Colorado-based federal appeals court judge, on Monday hears his first arguments since becoming a justice last week. He will be on the bench on Wednesday when the justices hear the Trinity Lutheran case, one of the most important of their current term. Gorsuch, appointed by President Donald Trump, restored the Supreme Court’s 5-4 conservative majority.

Trinity Lutheran wanted public funds to replace its playground’s gravel with a rubber surface made from recycled tires that would be safer for children to play on.

The U.S. Constitution calls for a separation of church and state and guarantees the free exercise of religion.

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At the very least, a victory for Trinity Lutheran would help religious organizations nationwide win public dollars for certain purposes, such as health and safety.

But it also could bolster the case for using public money for vouchers to help pay for children to attend religious schools rather than public schools in “school choice” programs backed by many conservatives. For example, Colorado’s top court in 2015 found that a Douglas County voucher program violated a state constitutional provision similar to Missouri’s.

Trinity Lutheran’s legal effort is being spearheaded by the Alliance Defending Freedom conservative Christian legal activist group, which argues Missouri’s policy violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of free exercise of religion and equal protection under the law.

If the church wins, “religious organizations cannot be excluded from general public welfare benefits that apply to everybody,” said Erik Stanley, an alliance lawyer representing the church.

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Referring to Gorsuch, Stanley said, “He has definitely been a friend of religious liberty. So we are hopeful that will continue when he’s on the court, and we’re grateful he gets to participate on this important case.”

In 2013, Gorsuch sided with the evangelical Christian owners of arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby and allowed owners of private companies to object on religious grounds to a provision in federal healthcare law requiring employers to provide medical insurance that pays for women’s birth control.

Gorsuch wrote in a concurring opinion that Hobby Lobby’s owners faced a choice “between exercising their faith or saving their business.” The Supreme Court later affirmed the ruling.

Missouri said there is nothing unconstitutional about its grant program.

“Trinity Lutheran remains free, without any public subsidy, to worship, teach, pray and practice any other aspect of its faith however it wishes. The state merely declines to offer financial support,” the state said in legal papers.

The church has drawn support from the religious community including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Mormon Church and Jewish groups.

‘Open the floodgates’

Groups filing legal papers opposing Trinity Lutheran, including the American Civil Liberties Union, said government funding of churches is precisely what the Constitution forbids.

“Forcing states to provide cash to build church property could open the floodgates to programs that coerce taxpayers to underwrite religion,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU’s program on freedom of religion and belief.

Mach said three-quarters of the U.S. states have provisions like Missouri’s.

Alliance Defending Freedom, which also opposes gay marriage, transgender protections and abortion, has another major case involving religion that the Supreme Court could take up in its term beginning in October. It represents a Colorado bakery’s Christian owner who argues the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom means he should not have to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.

Trinity Lutheran sued in federal court in 2012. The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2015 upheld a trial court’s dismissal of the suit. The appeals court said

accepting the church’s arguments would be “unprecedented,” noting the Supreme Court’s 2004 decision in the case Locke v. Davey that upheld a bar on Washington state scholarships for students preparing for the ministry.

The justice who Gorsuch replaced, the late fellow conservative Antonin Scalia, was one of two dissenters in the Locke ruling. When a state withholds a generally available benefit solely on religious grounds, it is like an unconstitutional “special tax” on religion, Scalia said.

Judicial observers have described Gorsuch as very much in the mold of Scalia.

Missouri’s grant program was meant to keep tires out of landfills while also fostering children’s safety. The church’s brief to the high court stated, “A rubber playground surface accomplishes the state’s purposes whether it cushions the fall of the pious or the profane.” (VOA)

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Brown: The colour of toil but non-acceptance across the West?

"This is now our destiny as brown people. Our labour is needed, but citizenship is denied."

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Police Chief David Brown. Image Source: Twitter
  • Kamal Al Solaylee’s book Brown highlights the problems of ‘brown’ people in Trump’s rule
  • Donald Trump is often accused of malingering the image of brown people
  • this book cites many examples of discrimination which brown people go through

Title: Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone); Author: Kamal Al Solaylee

All our social development and our technological advancements don’t seem enough to eradicate our long-persisting atavistic sense of difference based on appearance, which though long-suppressed is now emerging free from its restraints — as proved by the recent intemperate comments by US President Donald Trump on immigrants from a certain set of countries.

Trump’s thinking, as seen in his off-the-cuff remarks, underscore that the questionable classification of race, expressed by the obviously evident and inescapable feature of a person’s skin, is well alive — and extends beyond the white-black binary. What about the yellow, or rather, the (as necessary for the global economy but far more exploited) brown?

Donald Trump is famous for his rude comments towards brown people. wikimedia commons
Donald Trump is famous for his rude comments towards brown people. wikimedia commons

Trump is only one leading manifestation of the malaise facing brown people — which include West Asians, Latin Americans, North Africans, and South and Southeast Asians — and far beyond the West too or from the “Whites”, says Yemeni-origin, Egypt-bred, Canadian journalist-turned-academician Al Solaylee in this book.

Trump’s victory “largely (but not exclusively)” rode on demonising Mexicans, galvanising sentiment against Muslims and championing white nationalism, the vote for Brexit was mostly pioneered by those with a restrictive view of Englishness, the record of Canada under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives — all these are obscure racial conflicts brewing in the US and Europe for decades now.

Also Read: Mexico can learn about dealing with diaspora from India: Claudia Ruiz-Massieu Salinas

“Examine these tensions closely and you’ll find a strong anti-brown sentiment at the core,” says Al Solaylee as he traces the response to, as well as the experiences of, the residents of Global South, who are forced to migrate to — and much needed in — the Developed North for various reasons, not least of which is the latter’s colonial record.

“Brown as the colour of cheap labour continues on a global scale… brown bodies undertake the work that white and older immigrant Americans refuse to do (and those black slaves were forced to do in previous centuries).

These are low-skill, labour-intensive jobs in unforgiving climates,” he says, but also that these are not limited to the Western nations but also in the more affluent parts of Asia itself too.

“This is now our destiny as brown people. Our labour is needed, but citizenship is denied; our presence as Muslims or religious minorities is offered as an example of the tolerant, diverse societies in which we live, but we continue to be feared,” says Al Solaylee.

And there is no difference whether this is deliberate or mistaken as he goes to cite the cases of the racist slurs on Sikh volunteers feeding the homeless in Manchester in the wake of the May 2017 terror attack, or the fatal shooting of Indian techie Srinivas Kuchibhotla in the US in February 2017 by an American who thought he and his friend were Iranians and screaming at them to “get out of his country”.

Al Solaylee contends we think of brown as a “continuum, a grouping — a metaphor, even — for the millions of darker-skinned people who, in broad historical terms, have missed out on the economic and political gains of the post-mobility, equality and freedom”. They are now living, he says, among former colonial masters where they are “transforming themselves from nameless individuals with swarthy skins into neighbours, co-workers and friends”.

You may also like: List of 50 People who have affected Hinduism in a Negative Manner 

And it is their story he tells — both in their homes from the Philippines to Sri Lanka and workplaces from Hong Kong to the Gulf as well as Western Europe and North America.

Al Solaylee, however, starts with first recounting his own childhood experience on learning he is brown after seeing an English movie featuring a white child and coming to terms with “brownness” in his journeys around the world and interactions with other browns (fairness creams figure largely as well as the concern that he settle down) as well as Brown’s significance in nature and culture.

He then takes up the human obsession with race, despite the concept being debunked, except in politics before his exploration of the experiences and consequences of being brown around the world.

A stirring travelogue, incisive social and political comment and a passionate cry to rise above unavoidable consequences of geography and genes, this invaluable work rises in importance beyond its subject to be a seminal guide to the world today — and what it will soon be — particularly the US. IANS