The Supreme Court’s most recent term has produced a series of important rulings protecting religious freedom, most recently in the case of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru. Howard Slugh explains:
In Morrissey-Berru, the Court reaffirmed that the First Amendment ensures that religious institutions may decide “free from state interference, matters of church government as well as . . . doctrine.” As the majority opinion noted, this concerned the Founders because, prior to the American Revolution, Britain used its authority to dictate who could serve as religious functionaries in the colonies. For example, in 1771, the British ordered New York to only accept schoolmasters licensed by the bishop of London.
The Supreme Court [thus] determined that, in order to avoid that sort of abuse, the First Amendment prohibited the government from interfering in religious organizations’ decisions regarding their hiring and firing of religious officials. . . . Critics [of the ruling] may concede that, while avoiding such meddling was important in the 1700s and 1800s, it is no longer necessary today. They would claim that the government no longer seeks to control religious doctrine, and therefore the Court can allow some level of government intrusion into internal religious affairs.
The critics are incorrect for two main reasons. First, that is simply not how law works. Even if the concerns that motivated the First Amendment passed, the Court cannot unilaterally weaken the First Amendment’s protections. Only Congress and the American people, acting through the proper procedures, can amend the Constitution. Second, the critics are also wrong about the facts; government entities in the United States still threaten to impose their religious orthodoxy on dissenting groups. The protections of the First Amendment remain as necessary now as they ever were in the past.
In . . . 2014, the city of Houston issued a subpoena demanding religious leaders’ sermons relating to “homosexuality” or “gender identity.” The city eventually relented, and the subpoenas’ purpose is disputed, but their breadth and intrusiveness remain chilling. Over the last century, the government has expanded to the point where it now touches nearly every area in American life. As the reach of the state has grown, so has its capacity to impose its views on religious dissenters.