13 times religious freedom has reached the Supreme Court | Deseret News National
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Alex Brandon, Associated Press
Faith

13 times religious freedom has reached the Supreme Court

Many expect the decision for the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby case will be announced by the United States Supreme Court this month as it ends its current session, which will redefine religious freedom in the workplace.

The court case concerns Hobby Lobby’s current workplace policy that denies workers from having the right to “potentially life-terminating drugs and devices” — like contraceptives, for example — as it goes against founder David Green and his family’s religious beliefs, according to The Becket Fund.

But this case isn’t the first time religious freedom has made its way to the Supreme Court. Here are 13 other religious liberty cases the SCOTUS has offered their judgment on, including more details on the Hobby Lobby case.

1943 – West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

Have you ever refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance? Well, in West Virginia in 1943 this could have gotten you expelled or made your parents lose custody of you. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that this practice violated the First Amendment, as students shouldn’t be forced to read the Pledge of Allegiance.

1947 — Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township

In New Jersey, a taxpayer filed suit when schools reimbursed parents of children for the costs of using public transportation to get to school, including Catcholic schools. The Supreme Court ruled that the state was not in the wrong, as schools were helping the well being of both secular and religious students.

1948 — McCollum v. Board of Education

The Champaign County Board of Education once had outside teachers come in to their schools once a week to offer religious education. Attendance was kept, harming students who didn’t attend. The Supreme Court ruled that this was a violation of the Establishment Clause as the government was in a way supporting religious groups.

1962 — Engel v. Vitale

Each day New York public schools used to start with a prayer the State Board of Regents wrote. And similar to many other decisions by the Supreme Court, it was ruled that states cannot require a religious exercise during the school day.

1963 — Abington School District v. Schempp

Pennsylvania law used to require students to read 10 Bible verses before the beginning of classes on a school day. This was deemed an “impermissible religious exercise” when two families sued the government, claiming it violated the U.S. constitution.

1968 — Epperson v. Arkansas

Susan Epperson, a teacher in Arkansas, sued the state over a law that prevented her from teaching about the theory of evolution. The Supreme Court later ruled that the state couldn’t stop teachers from teaching certain theories and educational material that might conflict with religious beliefs.

1971 – Lemon v. Kurtzman

Rhode Island and Pennsylvania were giving aid to church-related schools, and taxpayers weren’t exactly down for that. The Supreme Court ruled, then, that the states were violating the Establishment Clause as the government was becoming too involved with religious affairs.

1980 — Stone v. Graham

Kentucky once had a law that required public schools to have the Ten Commandments posted on the walls of every public classroom. This case eventually went to the Supreme Court, which, in a close 5-4 decision, decided this was a violation of the Establishment Clause.

1990 — Employment Div. v. Smith

Two employees ingested peyote — a hallucinogenic drug — as part of a religious exercise for their Native American church. They were then fired and didn’t receive unemployment benefits. The Supreme Court upheld this decision, saying it was totally within the rights of the employer to withhold benefits from workers.

1990 – Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens

All Bridget Mergens wanted was to start a Christian club at school. When she was denied, she sued the Board of Education, saying that the Equal Access Act should allow her to start the club. The Supreme Court ruled in her favor, saying the Equal Access Act was meant to give equal treatment for those of different religions.

1992 – Lee v. Weisman

Rhode Island used to have clergy members or religious folks speak at their graduations. But in 1992, the Supreme Court ruled in a close 5-4 decision that schools shouldn’t promote these kind of speeches, as it forces people to partake in a religious exercise.

2000 — Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe

In Santa Fe, Texas, it was commonplace for students to give pre-game prayers before their high school football games. But students became upset and filed suit. Soon after, the Supreme Court ruled this was a violation of the Establishment Clause as it was a form of the government intervening with religious affairs.

2014 — Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby

Hobby Lobby’s owner David Green does not provide employee benefits for contraception and other life-threatening drugs for religious reasons. Even though the 10th Circuit approved of this business practice at Hobby Lobby, the U.S. government appealed the decision. Arguments were heard on March 25 and a decision is likely to come this month.

Email: hscribner@deseretdigital.com Twitter: @herbscribner