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Supreme Court rules in favor of Christian baker

Thomas Clatterbuck

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Photo Credit: FreeImages.com/Paul Flores

The US Supreme Court handed down a decision today ruling that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had violated the First Amendment rights of a baker who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding. In the 7-2 decision, the majority found that while the equal protection rights of same-sex couples needed to be respected, the Commission had not considered the baker’s beliefs with neutrality when making their decision.

Background

This case focuses on Jack Phillips and his cake shop in Colorado. In 2012, Phillips was approached by a same-sex couple who wanted to purchase a cake for their wedding. At that time, gay marriage was not yet legal in Colorado. Phillips, citing his strong Christian belief, refused. In response, the couple filed a complaint against Phillips with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The Commission rejected the baker’s claim that being forced to create the cake would be compelling artistic expression. They also rejected his claim that he found gay marriage to be offensive to his beliefs.

Today’s ruling

The 7-2 ruling today overturned the decision of the lower courts. Their decision focused on two key elements. First, the Civil Rights Commission has repeatedly ruled that bakers have the right to refuse to make cakes with offensive messages. It had sided with bakers who refused to make anti-gay marriage cakes in the past.

But in this case, Justice Kennedy noted a clear hostility towards the beliefs of Mr. Phillips. When the Commission and then Colorado Court of Appeals, treated his beliefs as illegitimate, they were, “thus sitting in judgement of his religious beliefs themselves.” Going on, “A principled rationale for the difference in treatment of these two instances cannot be based on the government’s own assessment of offensiveness.”

“It hardly requires restating that government has no role in deciding or even suggesting whether the religious ground for Phillips’ conscience-based objection is legitimate or illegitimate. On these facts, the Court must draw the inference that Phillips’ religious objection was not considered with the neutrality that the Free Exercise Clause requires.”

Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented.

The implications going forward

Although this was a major victory for Phillips and the First Amendment, it was not a sweeping ruling. In the final paragraph, Kennedy writes, “The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

This language suggests that the Court may be open to hearing other similar cases in the future. But by affirming that Commissions must be neutral towards religious beliefs, this decision should give considerable protection to those who hold beliefs that are out of favor.

You can read the full decision here.

Senior strategist, statehouse reporter and political correspondent for Springfield Daily. Graduate of District 117 and UIS. Thomas covers stories in both Morgan and Sangamon Counties, as well as statewide politics.

News

IEMA: Make sure donations go to reputable hurricane disaster recovery groups

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Make sure that you make a difference.

That’s the advice from Illinois’ emergency managers as people look to help in the aftermath of now-Tropical Storm Florence.

Whether you are donating money or your time, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency says it’s important to give to reputable charities and aid organizations.

IEMA’s Rebecca Clark says a lot of people are going to want to help now that Florence has moved through parts of North Carolina.

That’s great, she adds, but wants to make sure the help that people offer makes it to the hurricane zone.

“It’s really important that people who are looking to help make sure they find a reputable organization, to make a difference,” Clark said.

Clark said that a number of organizations in Illinois need volunteers to help as they send aid to the Carolinas and other states impacted by Florence.

“One place that we like to send people is the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster [organization],” Clark said. “It maintains a database of volunteer and charity organizations that are involved in a number of ways.”

As always, there will be some scammers looking to take advantage of the storm.

Clark said Ready.Illinois.Gov also has a list of reputable charities that people can trust.

Article by Benjamin Yount, Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org 

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Business

Davis hosts organic farming roundtable with Jayson Werth

Thomas Clatterbuck

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Organic farming is big business in Illinois. 80 percent of Illinois households buy at least one organic food product. Farmers that take on the extra challenges of farming without the aid of synthetic chemicals or GMOs are rewarded with premium prices. With demand outstripping supply for organic food, legislators are looking for ways to help farmers take advantage of the opportunities organic farming provides.

This afternoon, Congressman Rodney Davis met with 30 local stakeholders in the organic economy, including local farmers and university researchers, to discuss the 2018 farm bill and how Washington can better serve this growing movement. Davis was joined by special guest Jayson Werth, who owns an organic farm in Macoupin County.

Quality control is a key issue for organic producers. The term “organic” is valuable for farmers that follow the rules. If farmers who do not follow the guidelines are allowed to use it, the value for farmers and consumers is lost. In the past, foreign farms had been flooding the American market with “organic” products. However, much of this supply was not up to American standards.

Better enforcement has been helpful in curbing these abuses. Recent crackdowns on mislabeled products from places like Turkey has led to a dramatic decrease in the imports of foreign organic foods. This has boosted the prices for American farmers. But fighting fraud is a never ending battle, and staying ahead of the new products is a lot like “regulatory whack a mole.”

Farmers were also concerned about the delay in the “Pasture Rule” for organic farm animals. While the rules about plants are rigorous, the rules for organic animals are much weaker. Smaller farms that try to follow the rules are often at a disadvantage to larger operations that exploit the weak rules. Panelists blamed the USDA rather than the legislature for the lack of strong rules. The Pasture Rule is also not in the House version of the Farm Bill. Davis attributed this to the nature of the legislative process, but was confident it would be in the final reconciled version.

Advocates for Organic

Organic farmers in Illinois have strong, local advocates in Washington. Congressman Rodney Davis serves on the House Agriculture Committee and chairs the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research.  He was recently awarded the “2018 Organic Champion Award” by the Organic Trade Association for his work supporting organics.

Baseball star Jayson Werth is also a strong proponent of organic farming. Werth became interested in organic products during his time as a professional baseball player. He credited organic products with helping him stay competitive later in his career. Now, Werth owns a farm with 300 certified organic acres, and advocates for organic farming in Washington.

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Education

Davis hosts House VA Chairman Roe for Veteran Education Benefits Roundtable

Thomas Clatterbuck

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The GI Bill has been one of the most successful government benefit programs in history. By providing veterans an opportunity to attend college at low cost, generations of veterans have been able to successfully transition back into the civilian workforce. The recently passed Forever GI Bill helped expand how veterans and their families can take advantage of their benefits.

But like any government bureaucracy, the rollout of the new GI Bill has had some hiccups. To learn more about how the program is working in the real world, Congressman Rodney Davis (R-13) hosted an education roundtable in the new UIS Student Union with representatives from universities and community colleges in the 13th. Congressman Phil Roe (R-TN), who chairs the House’s CA Committee, was a special guest.

Compliance costs were one of the main issues colleges face when dealing with the VA. Chairman Roe referenced a Vanderbilt study that says ensuring compliance for just one student can cost $10,000 per year. The variety of systems being used to process student data is part of the problem. The VA does not use the National Student Clearinghouse, one of the main reporting tools used for other functions. This adds to the regulatory burden. A lack of clear rules is sometimes an issue as well. Often, the VA will issue policy advisories, rather than rules. Some participants felt these advisories were created without sufficient input from those who will be affected by them.

Unfunded mandates also pose their own problems. Fighting suicide in the veteran population is a worthy cause, and colleges can be on the front lines of that. However, as one participant noted, it everything costs money. When the state fails to provide funding for good programs, those cost gets passed on to students.

But despite the issues the schools brought up, there was also good news. In pervious GI Bills, the service time requirements did not account for early discharge due to injury. Now, individuals who receive a Purple Heart will be eligible for education benefits regardless of how long they served. Additionally, rumors that some veterans would be unable to transfer their benefits to their children due to service length were dispelled. Both Davis and Roe indicated they gained useful policy insights from the meeting, especially on expediting the work-study funding process.

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