September 9, 2020
Trump's Religious Freedom Record Is a Stubborn Fact

Trump's Religious Freedom Record Is a Stubborn Fact

By FRC's Travis Weber & Kaitlyn Shepherd

Tuesday, the Trump administration Department of Justice struck yet another blow for religious freedom in the federal courts -- this time by filing an amicus brief with the Indiana Supreme Court in support of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis in an important First Amendment case. This is another notch in the belt for President Trump and his DOJ, which has been very impressive on the issue. The Trump administration has been filing briefs and statements in support of religious freedom with the courts faster than President Obama or President George W. Bush did, as even NBC News has noted.

The case at hand here, State of Indiana ex rel. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis v. Marion County Superior Court, concerns the right of the Catholic Church to determine who passes on the tenets and doctrines of its faith to students in Catholic high schools. Cathedral High School had employed a teacher who entered into a same-sex marriage. According to the school's employee handbook, all teachers at the school performed important religious functions, including providing religious instruction, modeling a religious lifestyle, and supporting Catholic teachings. Teachers were required to conform their "personal conduct" to Catholic teachings. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis sent the high school a directive, explaining that continuing to employ the teacher violated the Catholic church's beliefs about marriage and would cause the school to forfeit its Catholic identity. The school dismissed the teacher, who sued the Archdiocese for interfering with his employment contract.

In its brief, DOJ argues that the Archdiocese has a First Amendment right to decide who passes on its faith to students in Catholic high schools because of the First Amendment freedom of expressive association, the doctrine of church autonomy, and the ministerial exception, which was upheld only a few months ago by the U.S. Supreme Court in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru. In that case, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prevented it from deciding two teachers' employment discrimination claims because the ministerial exception protects the right of religious institutions to choose who teaches and passes down religious doctrine when the teachers perform religious functions at the school.

This should all be a no-brainer for government officials in a country like ours with a history of defending religious liberty -- but it's not. The current Democrat candidate for president was part of an Obama administration that aggressively argued to the Supreme Court that religious institutions should possess no such freedom to determine who teaches their faith. Despite a 9-0 rejection by the Supreme Court in Hosanna Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, we can expect a White House occupied by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to not merely drop the Trump administration's defense of religious freedom, but reverse course to start working aggressively against it.

A litany of statements on the record and positions taken by both Biden and Harris clearly indicate they will block such religious freedom efforts if allowed to take office. While California Attorney General, Kamala Harris filed a brief against Hobby Lobby in the Supreme Court. As a senator, Harris was an original cosponsor of legislation that would block religious freedom for adoption providers, and introduced legislation gutting Religious Freedom Restoration Act claims. Harris was also an original co-sponsor of the Equality Act, which would be horrific for religious freedom, but which a Biden/Harris administration has pledged to make a priority in the first 100 days in office. As a senator, Harris also openly questioned judicial nominees about their religious beliefs. Add to this Senator Biden's votes against a constitutional amendment allowing voluntary prayer in school and barring federal courts from taking cases involving prayer in public schools, and we have a clear picture of the alternatives this November when it comes to religious freedom.

The work of President Trump's DOJ on religious freedom is only one part of his policy accomplishments, but it's an important one. And it's one that certainly won't be around if he's not reelected in November.