In sports such as hockey or soccer, if a team or individual scores three goals, it has performed what is called a “hat trick.” In the most recent term of the U.S. Supreme Court, there was a “hat trick” that occurred in the arena of religious freedom.
In one case, Shurtleff v. Boston, the right of a Christian group to have a Christian flag flown in a special celebration at City Hall in Boston, was upheld. Numerous requests by other organizations had been granted, but the Christian request was not. A vital element of the case was that the flag request was denied simply because the group wishing to fly it had stated it would be a Christian flag. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Christian group.
Another case, Carson v. Makin, restored the rights of parents to send their children to religious schools. This is a special program in the state of Maine allowing parents to choose other high schools in rural areas where it was impractical to place a high school. Religious schools were omitted by the state because, well, they were religious. Another foul that was remedied by the high court.
Then, there was the case of Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, in which the court ruled that a football coach who had walked to midfield to pray following games and had been terminated was within his Constitutional rights to participate in that free exercise of religion. Again, the Supreme Court favored religious freedom and supported the coach’s right to pray in this manner.
Three cases, three examples of threats to religious freedom averted. In the Kennedy case, an old standard used to decide religious liberty cases was finally put to rest. The website of First Liberty, the organization representing the coach, stated that the court victory for Kennedy helps rectify a precedent known as the “Lemon Test”, which has harmed and haunted religious freedom for 50 years. The decision builds on recent Supreme Court rulings that have said the “Lemon test” is no longer good law.
The test, named after the Supreme Court decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), made it too easy for people to claim they are “offended” by a religious display, then sue and win in court. The test caused many school administrators to mistakenly believe they had an obligation to suppress religious observances, often leading them to violate the rights of teachers and students.
Here’s a stunning tidbit from The Washington Stand: “Lemon v. Kurtzman has been cited by 2,283 court decisions at all levels of the judiciary, according to a count from CaseText.com.” That article noted:
From now on, decisions have to be based on the text of the U.S. Constitution, as understood through the original intent of its framers, the ruling held. “In place of Lemon and the endorsement test, this [c]ourt has instructed that the Establishment Clause must be interpreted by reference to historical practices and understandings,” must “accor[d] with history and faithfully reflec[t] the understanding of the Founding Fathers.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.)
It could be that new standards and restoration of freedom will be in effect, with a reduction of government interference with religious participation. Please keep in mind that our right to take part in religious activity is extended to us not by the government, but by God. You could contend that it is not a right that ideally should be removed by the heavy hand of government.
The Washington Stand article also notes this ruling “could allow for religious displays in front of public buildings, a common occurrence until liberal justices stated that a courthouse in Pittsburgh could no longer erect a Nativity scene and Chanukah menorah during the holiday season in 1989. It mentioned a case called Allegheny v. ACLU, a case involving a county allowing a religious display on public property, in which the majority opinion “cited the now-abandoned Lemon test in its first sentence.”
We live in times when Christians who desire to see a strong influence of Biblical principles in our country run the risk of being negatively labeled. That’s the tactic – label a person of faith as extreme and then marginalize them. Regardless, our desire should be to reflect Christ, to live according to His ways, and allow the Scriptures to direct our actions. In every area. We should be clothed in Him and known for our devotion to the Lord. The world can label us all it wants, but we can be faithful to Christ.
Thankfully, we live in a country where freedom of religion is hard-wired into our founding documents – we can rejoice in that and take advantage of it to share our Christian beliefs.