Here Are the Religious Liberty Battles You May See in the Supreme Court Next Year

This past week, the Daily Caller interviewed several legal experts who reported that in the next year the Supreme Court may weigh several faith-based cases after handing down several religious freedom victories in 2023.

In June, the court handed down two highly-anticipated decisions, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis and Groff v. DeJoy. The 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis decision dealt with the right of business owners to not be compelled to use certain types of speech, while Groff v. DeJoy regarded an employee’s right to a religious accommodation. 

These two cases have reportedly set the stage for several other cases to be brought before the Supreme Court in 2024.

“So far the court has only filled up around a third of its docket, maybe 20 out of 60 cases, or 20 out of 70 cases, and hasn’t really started filling in religious liberty cases yet,” Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told the Daily Caller. “So we’re more in a position of like, what are the big cases heading up to the Supreme Court in the near future?”

These two cases have reportedly set the stage for several other cases to be brought before the Supreme Court in 2024.

“So far the court has only filled up around a third of its docket, maybe 20 out of 60 cases, or 20 out of 70 cases, and hasn’t really started filling in religious liberty cases yet,” Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told the Daily Caller. “So we’re more in a position of like, what are the big cases heading up to the Supreme Court in the near future?”

Another case may be Hittle v. The City of Stockton, which is currently being argued in the Ninth Circuit Court regarding Fire Chief Ron Hittle who was fired for attending a Christian leadership conference. Due to the Groff decision, Hittle’s case may see an uptick in attention, according to Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute (FLI).

Groff involved a postal worker who was removed from his position after being unable to obtain a religious accommodation to not work on Sunday. The Supreme Court at the time ruled that an employer could only deny such a request if they could prove it would cause “substantially increased costs in relation to the conduct of [an employer’s] particular business.” 

The ruling changed nearly 50 years of legal precedent that had required an employee’s request be “reasonable” to prevent an “undue hardship” for the company, according to Shackelford.

“[Groff] changed the protection for religious liberty in the workplace and actually restores religious freedom in the workplace,” Shackelford told the Daily Caller. “But [the Supreme Court] didn’t go into detail on exactly how that would look and by laying out the new standard, they threw out the old standard. So you’re gonna have all these future cases that are going to come up that are going to play out with this new standard.”

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The Supreme Court could also take up a case involving Catholic pro-life activist Debra Vitagliano, who would be unable to pray outside of an abortion clinic or minister to women considering an abortion due to a Westchester County, New York, law that creates a bubble zone 100 feet around abortion clinics.

Becket sued on behalf of Vitagliano in 2022, arguing that the law violated her rights to express her faith and her concerns about abortion under the First Amendment. In 2000, the Supreme Court upheld a similar law in Hill v. Colorado wherein the justices said that the First Amendment right to free speech was not infringed by limiting protesters or sidewalk counselors from coming within eight feet of a woman or clinic worker.

Over the years, that decision has been criticized repeatedly, and Vitagliano’s case will go straight to the Supreme Court if accepted and challenge the original decision, according to Goodrich.

“[W]e challenged that under the free speech clause and the court said, there’s a lot of criticism of Hill, but only the Supreme Court can overrule its own decisions,” Goodrich said. “So we’re about to take on the Supreme Court and say, ‘Here’s the vehicle you’ve been waiting for to set your free speech jurisprudence straight.’”

All three attorneys said that while they cannot definitively predict how the court will rule on any given case, the justices’ record over the past 10 years indicates a strong stance on protecting the rights of religious Americans. 

“It’s really interesting, if you look at the last decade, or a little more, since 2011, the Supreme Court has heard 25 cases involving religious freedom issues and 24 out of 25 have been in favor of the religious freedom side,” Goodrich said.

“When religion flourishes, culture flourishes too,” Bursch told the Daily Caller. “The court has been [protecting] that because the language of this the US Constitution, is so plain and so broad in protecting those rights, and that going all the way back to our founding, the protection of religious liberty and free speech has been so strongly a tradition in our country, that the court is reluctant to curtail that in any way, even though government officials seem to be doing that with increasing frequency.”

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