David Cortman on Religious Liberty Updates
Date: October 20th, 2013
Can a public high school choir group choose to sing Christmas songs at a concert? Is it legal to pray to Jesus before a city council meeting? And does the federal government have the ability to mandate certain actions from businesses that might go against the owner’s rights of conscience? We explore these, and a few other, cases with David Cortman, senior counsel and vice president of litigation with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
Our discussion begins with an examination of a recent controversy over the choice of songs by an elite choir group in Wisconsin. Upon finding out that the students were going to sing music with religious content, the local school board stepped in to stop this. However, Mr. Cortman explains how a simple letter from the ADF helped to clarify the legalities of the issue and reverse the school board decision. He further details how there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the legal status of many of these “school songs” cases, but they nonetheless keep cropping up year after year.
The next issue we take up is one that is currently being debated in court — the issue of whether or not prayers can be allowed before a city council meeting. Tony challenges David on this case, noting how a prayer with specific denominational content could alienate a constituency in the community, thereby inhibitting their equal access to the wheels of policy. Mr. Cortman explains the legal issues surrounding this case and some of the previous court decisions that support his position. We learn a number of interesting legal terms that are coming into common use nowadays, including “offended observer” and “eggshell plaintiff.”
Our coversation then takes us to the issue of the recent Health & Human Services mandates surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). While the lawsuit by Hobby Lobby has been well-publicized in the media, there are a number of other similar court cases swirling about the legal system, including one involving the Conestoga Wood Specialties company, which employs about 900 workers in Pennsylvania. Finding the requirement to provide insurance that covers abortifacient drugs to be a violation of their religious principles, the owners of this privately-held company are seeking redress in the US legal system. In addition to viewing this as a matter of religious liberty, we also examine its broader implications for governance, including the limits (or lack thereof) for unelected bureaucracies to create regulations that circumvent the normal legislative process of making laws.
We finish our interview with a brief look at other matters that are seen as threats to religious freedom, including the use of zoning laws to restrict church growth and property usage, as well as potential changes to tax-exempt status for religious groups and other such organizations. Mr. Cortman explains why smaller organizations are often unaware of these changes and what they can do to become more knowledgeable about the policy environment that has direct impact on them. Recorded: October 18, 2013.
NOTE: The views expressed in this and all of our podcasts, reflect only the host and individuals interviewed. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Baylor or any other institution affiliated with this program.
David Cortman’s bio at the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn (as mentioned in the podcast).
Marsh v Chambers (as mentioned in the podcast).
Erik Stanley on Clergy and Free Speech.
Philip Muñoz on Catholic Bishops, Religious Liberty, and Health Care Mandates.
Matthew Franck on Hosana-Tabor and Ministerial Exemptions.
David Wills on Religious Charity and Taxes.
Jeremy Lott on Episcopalians, Ex-Atheists, Health Care, and German Circumcision.
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