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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.

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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.

U.S.

Because of Illinois case, U.S. Supreme Court tosses verdict saying attorneys can’t be forced to support political speech

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The U.S. Supreme Court has tossed a verdict that said lawyers are required to pay an annual membership just to practice in a state and an attorney working on the case sees Illinois is an example for other states.

Just as public employee unions can’t force nonmembers to pay representation fees, state bar associations can’t force lawyers to subsidize their operations and political activity, the U.S. Supreme Court said in a recent ruling about five months after it banned forced union fees in the landmark Janus vs. AFSCME decision.

Earlier this month, the nation’s high court threw out a 2017 lower court ruling in the North Dakota case, Fleck vs. Wetch, that allowed states to require lawyers to subsidize state bar associations.

The Supreme Court remanded the case without a formal ruling in light of the decision in the Janus case. In the Janus case, the Supreme Court ruled an Illinois state worker, Mark Janus, had his free speech rights violated by being forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

Justices tossed the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Fleck Vs. Wetch and ordered the circuit court to reconsider in light of Janus. The case centered around North Dakota attorney Arnold Fleck, who questioned why he needed to pay dues to The State Bar Association of North Dakota when their political interests diverged. In North Dakota, as in many other states, a lawyer must be a dues-paying member of the bar to practice law in the state.

Attorneys in Illinois aren’t required to pay dues to the Illinois Bar Association after passing the organization’s qualifying exam. In other states, attorneys must pay annual dues to the state bar association to practice law.

In its decision, the court ruled that offering an opt-out clause to forced dues wasn’t enough to protect free speech rights.

Goldwater Institute Vice President Timothy Sandefur, who helped defend the plaintiff from North Dakota, said lawyers shouldn’t have to pay hundreds of dollars a year just to work in a state.

“Being forced to join an organization like that violates the First Amendment right of freedom of association,” he said. “You can’t constitutionally be forced to join an organization or to subsidize political activities that you might disagree with.”

State bar associations often measure and endorse judges and other judicial appointments and seek to influence state legislators, some of whom are lawyers.

“The [American Bar Association] and groups like that have a great deal of influence in the political process,” he said.

Goldwater Senior Attorney Jacob Huebert said many states, Illinois included, have no requirements.

“Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and a bunch of others manage to regulate the profession without violating anybody’s First Amendment rights,” he said. “If they can do it, all states can do it.”

Watchdog.org writer Noell Evans contributed to this report.

Article by Cole Lauterbach with Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org

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U.S.

Bustos’ American-made flag bill passes in the House

Thomas Clatterbuck

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In 2015, the Federal government spent $4.4 million on foreign-made American flags. Almost all of these flags, which were used by the Department of Defense, came from China. Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos was appalled when she learned this from a veteran. Under current law, flags only need to be made of 50 percent American-made materials.

Bustos’ bill would require American flags purchased with taxpayer dollars be wholly produced in the United States. Yesterday, that bill passed the House. Bustos has been working on this issue for years; and this is not the first time her measure has made it out of the house.

HR 3121 will now go to the Senate to be voted on there.

You can watch Bustos’ speech in the player. You can read the bill here.

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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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