Recent Supreme Court rulings have left Christians worried about the future.
Even seemingly conservative justices have bowed to the pressures of leftist activists.
But one commentator says the broader picture may be more hopeful than we imagine – and here’s why:
The current Supreme Court has seemingly betrayed Christian values over and over again in the last several months.
With decisions regarding LGBTQ “rights,” religious school choice, and freedom of conscience all on the docket in recent days, the court has wavered on the true nature of religious liberty.
But David French, an experienced cultural commentator and constitutional litigator, is hopeful that the Supreme Court is intentionally considering the importance of religious rights.
And he even thinks their recent decisions may evince a broader strategy of expanding religious liberty in a careful way.
French spoke about his ideas in an appearance on the Acton Line podcast, hosted by the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.
The commentator offered insights into three major cases that recently appeared before the Supreme Court: Espinoza v. Montana, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, and Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania.
Little Sisters of the Poor touched on religious and moral exemptions to the contraception mandate for employers under Obamacare.
The case arose because of vague healthcare regulations worded by Congressional committees—an issue that is only growing more frequent in recent years, according to French.
“However broken you think Congress is, it’s more broken than you think,” French offered wryly. “Congress is not making hard calls.”
The Supreme Court eventually ruled that a religious organization could refuse to provide contraceptive services in insurance coverage, a ruling applauded by conservative and religious institutions across the country.
“Several members of the Court essentially ruled that there’s some flexibility here.”
This was initially good news, but the “flexibility” referenced by French also left the door open for more liberal courts to rule against religious exemptions.
“If the current composition of the Court holds,” French added, “chances are [the case] gets resolved in favor of [religious freedom].”
He considers the Little Sisters case a small stepping stone in the process of cementing specific religious freedoms.
The next case, Espinoza v Montana, concerned freedom of school choice. In this case, the court ruled that federal school vouchers could be used for faith-based private schools.
This was a huge victory for religious parents and families across the country!
And French thinks this decision will also chip away at anti-religious sentiments that have been enshrined in state and federal school choice laws.
“It’s a victory for liberty…in that it prohibits states from treating religious institutions as second-class citizens,” he noted. “Its practical effect is mainly potential.”
What will states do with this “newfound obligation to treat secular and religious institutions alike”? French isn’t certain yet, but he’s optimistic about the trajectory of change.
The final case, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v Morrissey-Berru, concerned federal employment discrimination laws.
The school in question had fired two employees after determining them unfit for ministerial positions and the employees sued on the basis of discrimination.
The Supreme Court had to decide whether the federal government could reach into private faith-based schools to override employment decisions.
The court eventually ruled that the First Amendment exempted faith-based institutions from governmental overreach in this manner.
French asserted that these three victories, although they seem tiny compared to the Supreme Court’s massive mistakes in the last few years, signals a hopeful upturn in opinions about religious liberty.
He noted that many religiously-focused decisions in recent days have garnered some form of support from justices on both sides of the political aisle.
“I think…what’s happening is that there are a minority of justices…who…have a degree of philosophical alignment on where the law should end up in terms of religious liberty and its interaction with LGBT rights [and other issues],” he said.
“And they are cleverly maneuvering the Court in that direction.”
These justices, who may lean either liberal or conservative based on each new decision, are working to influence the other decision-makers to consider the weight of religious liberty.
This influence is displayed now through seemingly small victories, but it could end up clinching one massive victory for religious freedom.
“What’s ending up happening is the Court…is moving the United States of America [toward religious freedom on all levels],” French concluded.
“There is more religious liberty in the United States today than there has ever been.”
This is an encouraging viewpoint, especially for those of us who have been discouraged by the continued disparaging of Christianity on a national level.
But let’s take heart and pray that the Supreme Court will continue to move in the direction of honoring religious liberty for all!