Written by Don Byrd

Monday is the beginning of the 2018-19 term of the U.S. Supreme Court. One task for the justices will be sifting through the numerous petitions pending before the Court to determine whether to decline them or take them up. A handful of the cases that will be waiting for them involve religious liberty questions. Here is a quick run-down of those cases.

Patterson v. Walgreen Co. is an employment discrimination case. The employee, Darrell Patterson, is a Seventh Day Adventist whose religious beliefs do not permit him to work on Saturdays. A training instructor, Mr. Patterson was fired by Walgreens after he refused to conduct an emergency session on a Saturday. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Walgreens, on the grounds that the company had provided reasonable accommodation by offering him other positions within the company. For more, see the Seventh Day Adventist Church press release detailing the case.

Morris County Board v. Freedom From Religion Foundation is a case involving government funding of churches through historic preservation grants. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that such grants violate the state constitution’s ban on aid to religion. Morris County is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether the decision runs afoul of the ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church, which held that the First Amendment does not allow the State of Missouri to exclude a church from grants for non-religious use despite the state constitution’s provision barring aid to religion.

City of Pensacola, Florida v. Kondrat’yev is one of two cases pending before the Supreme Court that involve a large memorial cross maintained on publicly owned land. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 34-foot Pensacola cross is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, a view also shared by an amicus brief to the appeals court joined by the Baptist Joint Committee. The 11th Circuit panel, however, explained that they disagreed with the precedent requiring that outcome.

Maryland-National Capital Park v. American Humanist Association is the other memorial cross case. Here, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unconstitutional the 40-foot cross in a Bladensburg, Maryland park. The 2-1 appeals court rejected arguments that a cross can be seen as a secular rather than religious symbol. For more, see the First Liberty Institute’s press release announcing their appeal.

R.G. and G.R. Funeral Homes v. EEOC is an employment discrimination case in which a transgender employee argues she was fired because of her change of gender identity. Her employer claims that the firing is protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because requiring them to allow the employee to present herself as a woman substantially burdens their religious exercise. The 6th Circuit rejected the substantial burden argument and sided with the employee and the EEOC. 

Kennedy v. Bremerton School is a school prayer case involving a high school football coach’s practice of praying on the field with his team after games. The coach was placed on leave after refusing to agree to abandon the practice.  The 9th Circuit rejected the coach’s request for an injunction that would reinstate him, finding that he was a public employee and not a private citizen on the field after games and thus the prayers violate the Establishment Clause.