Two Supreme Court decisions today found in favor of religious liberty by 7-2 margins, both times with Justices Ginsberg and Sotomayor dissenting.
The cases were LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR SAINTS PETER AND PAUL HOME v. PENNSYLVANIA, which focused on whether exceptions to the Affordable Care Act (known colloquially as “Obamacare” and “Trumpcare”) for contraception payments were allowed by groups or businesses with established religious doctrine proscribing abortion; and OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE SCHOOL v. MORRISSEYBERRU, which questioned the limits on courts being allowed to intervene in work practices regarding religious instructors.
In Little Sisters, the exceptions have been found to be legal and in keeping with both the respect of religious liberty and governmental authority, despite the resultant inequity of coverage for women at religiously based institutions. In Our Lady, while the Court recognized that the reasoning of the religious schools for demoting or firing people might be ethically dubious the American legal system must defer to wariness about infringing upon the First Amendment.
The court split is noteworthy. At a time when many are complaining about an ideologically divided court (and thus pressing that a certain candidates must be promoted if for no other reason than using the judiciary as a weapon in the “culture war”) we have had a session where Justices have repeatedly veered from their perceived sides in order to pursue what they feel to be proper law. While there have been some Justices who have been fairly reliable partisans (Thomas, Ginsberg, Alito, Sotomayor) the others have been shown to be far less predictable than they are typically portrayed… and even the four mentioned above have regularly deviated from their default stances when the law seemed clearly in defiance of their ideological preferences. It is as if the “culture war” is an overhyped construct designed for political gain and division, even though the natural divisions about the moral and legal future of the country continue to exist.