SCOTUS roofWritten by Don Byrd

In a column for USAToday, former BJC General Counsel Oliver “Buzz” Thomas makes the case that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s decisions regarding religious liberty undermined the Constitution’s free exercise of religion protections. Justice Scalia’s majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, Thomas notes, characterized the court’s prior “accommodation of religious exercise . . . as a ‘luxury’ the nation could not afford.”

That decision, he explains, left a mark:

The results were immediate and profound. States were permitted to prohibit Native Americans from using peyote in their ancient religious rituals. Sikhs were forced to doff their turbans for hard hats at construction sites. The Supreme Court vacated a Minnesota decision extending First Amendment protection to Amish farmers forced off the highways for refusing to affix large warning signs (“worldly symbols” to the Amish) to their buggies despite evidence that that their more modest silver reflector tape was equally effective. It was, in short, open season on religious freedom in America. If Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate had been in effect, neither Hobby Lobby — nor anyone else — would have stood a chance challenging it in court. 

The Baptist Joint Committee’s Brent Walker also commented on Justice Scalia’s “damaging” religious liberty views in a radio interview with Welton Gaddy. Scalia’s opinion in Employment Division v. Smith “pretty much gutted the protections in the Free Exercise Clause,” Walker argued. Baptist News Service reports on the interview here