Cultural Issues in the Courts: February 2018 Update

Courthouse with the year 2018 overlayed

February 19, 2018

A baker’s conscience victory, religious accommodations in the workplace, and free speech in the public square are all subjects of this issue of the Executive Briefing Judicial Update.

Freedom of Religion, Speech – California

A California baker scores a big win for free speech and religious freedom against a state law that requires her to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. A state trial judge said there’s a difference between refusing to sell an item already in the display case, and having to design and create a unique product:

“The difference here is that the cake in question is not yet baked. The State is not petitioning the court to order defendants to sell a cake. The State asks this court to compel Miller to use her talents to design and create a cake she has not yet conceived with the knowledge that her work will be displayed in celebration of marital union her religion forbids. For this court to force such compliance would do violence to the essentials of Free Speech guaranteed under the First Amendment.”

A Denver baker’s case is currently at the U.S. Supreme Court awaiting a decision, while an Oregon baker is pursuing an appeal in the state courts there.

Freedom of Religion – Georgia

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announces a favorable settlement of a religious discrimination case in which an automotive parts manufacturer refused to accommodate the request of one of its workers to arrange her schedule so that she would not have to work on her Saturday Sabbath. The federal non-discrimination law known as Title VII provides for religious accommodation requests in the workplace, so long as granting the request does not place an “undue hardship” on the employer.

Freedom of Religion, Speech – New York

A gay pride festival that is open to the public cannot restrict the speech of a Christian who wishes to express his religious beliefs in that public area, a federal court has ruled. Local police moved the evangelist out of the area because event-goers were offended by his message, but that is not the test for valid government restrictions on speech, the opinion noted, saying: “First Amendment jurisprudence is clear that the way to oppose offensive speech is by more speech, not censorship, enforced silence or eviction from legitimately occupied public space.”

Freedom of Religion – North Carolina

Another victory for religious freedom at the EEOC leads to a settlement of a claim of a North Carolina magistrate, who was denied an accommodation to adjust her work schedule so that she would not have to perform same-sex marriages. She was given no options, so she was forced to resign. Ultimately, the EEOC ruled in her favor, the state later admitted its unfairness and made her financially whole, and the state legislature even passed a law granting conscience rights to its magistrates concerning marriages they perform as part of their duties.

Compiled by Bruce Hausknecht, J.D. A lawyer and former pastor, Bruce joined Focus in 2004 as an analyst and spokesman for the ministry on public policy matters.

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Next in this Series: Cultural Issues in the Courts: January 2018 Update