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Image: California’s SB 1146 still discriminates

California’s SB 1146 still discriminates

August 15, 2016

Although the author of notorious California bill SB 1146 recently backed down and announced amendments to remove the parts of the bill that would have meant that thousands of low-income minority students would be unable to attend college, SB 1146 still includes controversial anti-privacy and “scarlet letter” provisions that would be both bad policy and unconstitutional to boot:

  • The anti-privacy provisions would force California’s religiously-affiliated colleges and universities to report four times a year on every expulsion and suspension of a student, and the reasons for the discipline. This language makes no provision for preserving the privacy of disciplined students, and may violate federal privacy laws that protect students’ privacy. California students don’t need every disciplinary infraction they’ve ever committed reported to the government or posted on the Internet forever.
  • The anti-privacy provisions are also discriminatory, as they target only religious colleges and ignore many other kinds of related institutions, such as military schools, some public schools, and fraternities and sororities. Singling out religious institutions solely because they are religious violates the principle that the government should stay neutral on religious matters.
  • Similarly, the “scarlet letter” provisions would also force religious schools under a cloud of governmental suspicion by requiring religious colleges to use government-dictated language to communicate their religious beliefs to their students, faculty, and communities. Schools like Fresno Pacific University have no objection to sharing their religious beliefs—in fact, that is part of why they exist—but object to having the government dictate how they express their religious beliefs. If the government cannot even have schoolchildren wear t-shirts that say “Tomorrow’s Leaders,” it certainly cannot tell religious schools how to share sensitive religious beliefs to their own religious communities and to the public they want to serve.
  • The scarlet letter provisions also violate constitutional guarantees of equality and freedom of speech because they target only religiously-affiliated colleges and universities.

These notions are just as wrongheaded as the outrageous idea that California should force poor minority students to give up on their dream of a college education. California legislators should finish the job and let SB 1146 die.

UPDATE 8/29/16: Under severe pressure, Senator Lara has retreated even further. He has taken out the anti-privacy provisions (presumably because they violated federal law protecting student privacy) and created a one-year delay before the “scarlet letter” provisions would take affect. After these further amendments, the bill passed the Assembly on August 23, and is now being considered by the California Senate.

Despite Senator Lara’s retreat, he still has not gone far enough. The Senate should still reject SB 1146 because the scarlet letter provisions continue to illegally target religious colleges and universities for special scrutiny, just because of who they are. If the bill comes before him for signature, Governor Brown should veto it.

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Image: Top 7 Scroogiest Scrooges of the Holiday Season

Top 7 Scroogiest Scrooges of the Holiday Season

December 16, 2015

Who deserves a lump of coal this holiday season? Each year Becket names the most absurd affronts to Christmas and Hanukkah, listing the most outrageous offenders of holiday cheer until we reach the top bah-humbugging, grinchiest transgressor. Not only do they deserve a lump of coal, they are crowned with the great (dis)honorable Ebenezer Award.

7. Portland Public School choirs gagged from singing in a venue deemed “too religious.”

Christmas and choirs go together like Han Solo and Chewbacca. But this year, the choirs from Jackson Middle School and Wilson and Lincoln High Schools in Portland, Oregon, had a change of plans. They’ve been banned from singing at the annual “Festival of Lights” concert, held at the Grotto Catholic shrine, because their oh-so-close neighbor, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, raised a stink. FFRF, A.K.A. Krampus, said the venue is too Catholic-y for their taste. No Grotto, no Christmas celebrations, and certainly no religion! The schools were instead forced to move to a “non-religious” venue—ironically named “The Old Church”—in downtown Portland. The title of this year’s program? “Let us Sing!” Troll level: Expert

6. Court bans Indiana high school from performing Nativity scene in school pageant.

A federal judge banned the 45-year-old tradition of having a nativity scene in Concord High School’s Christmas Spectacular after the ACLU and FFRF complained.

But it gets better.

Prior to the ruling, Concord High School added other symbols from both Hanukkah and Kwanza. But like the Grinch, who didn’t just suck the Christmas spirit from one house in Whoville, the judge said the Nativity scene received more time in the pageant than the other holidays so it had to go.

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Image: Religious Communities in College: A Home Away from Home

Religious Communities in College: A Home Away from Home

September 25, 2015

by Adèle Keim, Legal Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

This week was special for three different religious communities – Catholics welcoming Pope Francis to U.S. soil, Jews celebrating Yom Kippur, and Muslims observing Eid Al-Adha. For many, these events could only be fully experienced in community with others. Although far from home, religious college students share this longing.

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Image: The Eighth Circuit Gets It Right

The Eighth Circuit Gets It Right

September 18, 2015

by Daniel Blomberg, Legal Counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit split with seven other U.S. Courts of Appeal, issuing two opinions ruling that the HHS Mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. While the Eighth Circuit was in good company (12 other appellate judges had already come to a similar conclusion, and the vast majority of over two dozen district courts had as well), it is the first circuit to issue a merits ruling that went the right way on this issue. That creates a circuit conflict which will make it even more likely that one of the seven petitions currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court will be taken up in the coming term.

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Image: To tax and destroy.

To tax and destroy.

by Adèle Keim, Legal Counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

To tax and destroy. The Washington Post is running a fascinating series of essays on whether to roll back two centuries of history and impose state and federal taxes on religious organizations. This is not a new debate; in 1970 the ACLU and others challenged New York’s church property tax exemption and lost. The Supreme Court pointed out that “[f]ew concepts are more deeply embedded in the fabric of our national life, beginning with pre-Revolutionary colonial times, than for the government to exercise at the very least this kind of benevolent neutrality [i.e., tax exemptions] toward churches … .” Walz v. Tax Comm’n of City of New York, 397 US 664, 666-67 (1970). In the latest round of this debate, constitutional law professor Rick Garnett weighs in:

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Image: Remembering Whitney Ball, Defender of Liberty

Remembering Whitney Ball, Defender of Liberty

August 18, 2015

Like all those who knew Whitney Ball, I was so sad to hear of her passing on August 17th; it was too soon and she was too young.  Despite contracting cancer at a young age, Whitney lived her life looking forward.

In every encounter I had with Whitney I was astonished by her strength, lack of fear, sense of humor and her ardent optimism.  Whitney’s driving force was her faith in God and she was fearless in her mission to defend our liberty.  She always asked what she could do to help the cause of religious freedom.

Throughout her disease Whitney never complained or felt sorry for herself, even while enduring the most unpleasant effects of her treatments. Instead, Whitney is a role model to all of us on how to live and make the most of the time we’ve been given. She is also a role model on the work one person can do in defending our rights as individuals. Thank you Whitney for helping me, as you did so many others, advance the cause of liberty!

Julie Riggs
The Becket Fund for Religous Liberty

Image: Honoring Becket Friend and Religious Liberty Ally: Elder L. Tom Perry

Honoring Becket Friend and Religious Liberty Ally: Elder L. Tom Perry

June 1, 2015

“A good character is something you must make for yourself. It is the reward that comes from living good principles and manifesting a virtuous and honorable life.”

Today we remember a dear friend of the Becket Fund and a staunch defender of religious liberty, L. Tom Perry, a member of the quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Bill Mumma, president of the Becket Fund recalls Elder Perry:  “He really was a giant of man – full of good-natured zeal.  He believed the fight for religious liberty was worthwhile and he insisted on action right away!”

At nearly 6-foot-five, Elder Perry’s commanding physical presence combined with his enthusiasm and optimistic style made him a powerful force for good. He spoke frequently about the importance of religion in society, the family and preserving religious freedom, emphasizing that the “essential freedoms of conscience, embedded in religious liberty, must be diligently preserved and protected.” He worked closely with leaders of other faith and religious institutions to promote the cause of religious freedom.

His support of faith started long before he was called as a member of the Twelve Apostles. Elder Perry often recounted the devastation of WWII in Nagasaki, Japan as one of the saddest experiences of his life. The loss of life and lack of food left many Japanese children to fend for themselves. He and his friends organized an orphanage with sisters from the Catholic Church and rebuilt local chapels during their off-duty time.

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