On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, concerning the refusal of Catholic Social Services to place children with same-sex parents. The court’s ruling on the matter could have far-reaching implications, possibly expanding religious freedom in ways particularly beneficial to religious minorities. Asma Uddin and Howie Slugh explain:
[I]n 1990, . . . the Supreme Court in Employment Division v. Smith said that the First Amendment, which protects the “free exercise” of religion, prohibits only laws that target religion. So long as a law applies to everyone, it is permitted. While this may sound unobjectionable, the decision actually allows governments effectively to prohibit core religious practices—like the ability of a Jewish police officer to wear a ceremonial head covering—without justification.
While Smith restricted the religious freedom of all Americans, religious minorities suffered the most harm. . . . A legislature is more likely to pass a generally applicable law that accidentally burdens a little-known Jewish practice than a well-known Christian practice. Smith thus put the fate of uncommon and unknown religious beliefs at the mercy of majorities.
Courts have cited Smith to deny a Jewish parent the right to reject an autopsy on her child, a Jewish police officer the ability to wear a skullcap, and a Muslim corrections-officer trainee the ability to maintain a religiously required beard. If the court were to reconsider Smith, these plaintiffs wouldn’t necessarily win, but at least they would have their day in court.
Americans are rightly proud that in our country we can find countless examples of religious expression and practice—from Christians praying in public and Jews eating kosher meals to Sikhs carrying ceremonial daggers, or kirpans, at work, and a Muslim congresswoman wearing her hijab on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Read more on New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/04/opinion/supreme-court-religion.html