With offices across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court and more than seven decades of advocating there, BJC’s eyes are always on the courts. We vigilantly monitor religious liberty cases, and our attorneys file amicus curiae (“friend-of-the-court”) briefs at the U.S. Supreme Court and in other venues, often in collaboration with other religious and secular groups. For state and federal cases, we provide public comment and expert analysis.
These cases are often tricky to navigate. The position that best protects religious liberty for everyone may not be the obvious position at first glance. Drawing on our deep knowledge and grounded in historic Baptist tradition and experience, our litigation efforts defend our First Amendment rights of “no establishment” of religion and “free exercise” of religion. As lawyers, Baptists and Americans, we will stand for our principles even if our positions aren’t popular. Religious liberty is our client.
In the Courts
BJC argues against government display of the cross because we’re for the cross.
In The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, the question for the U.S. Supreme Court concerned a 40-foot cross on government land that towers over a major intersection in Bladensburg, Maryland. BJC filed a brief arguing that the monument is unconstitutional because it represents a government endorsement of religion. In response to the American Legion’s claims that, as a memorial to World War I veterans the monument has an objective and secular meaning, BJC counters: There is no more recognizable symbol of Christianity than the cross, and any attempt to deny that is offensive to Christians. In a splintered decision in 2019, the Court ruled that the cross could remain, but it relied on the memorial’s history and does not support new Christian-only monuments.
BJC’s position: Blatantly unconstitutional.
In Trump v. Hawaii, the Supreme Court addressed the White House’s third attempt to limit immigration from certain majority-Muslim countries. BJC argued that the government cannot enact laws designed to harm a specific religious group. But in June 2018, the Court upheld the validity of the travel ban as within the president’s immigration powers. BJC continues its opposition.
BJC says granting an exemption in this case would be dangerous for religious liberty.
The case was Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. It centered around a bakery owner’s refusal to make a cake for the wedding reception of a same-sex couple based on his religious beliefs, despite a state law requiring that businesses open to the public not refuse service due to LGBT status. BJC filed a brief on behalf of the state of Colorado, explaining that laws like this one — which covers discrimination against “disability, race, [religion], color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry”— protect religious liberty. Granting a broad exemption for this baker would open the door for other business owners to refuse service to customers in other protected categories on the basis of the business owner’s religious beliefs. For example, another commercial baker could use these same arguments to refuse to create a cake for an interfaith couple, an interracial couple or a couple where one had been previously divorced. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop, but it sidestepped the central question of whether the baker was entitled to an exemption. Instead it found that the Colorado commission had not been fair in its consideration of the matter.
Working in Coalitions in the Courts
Coming Soon: Amicus Brief Archive