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10 Critical Religious Liberty Cases Coming in 2019

Alliance Defending Freedom

Despite the continual threats to the religious freedom of Christians in America, there were a number of advances over the past twelve months (see: The 7 Most Significant Religious Freedom Victories of 2018). But continual vigilance is necessary, and we are fortunate to have groups like Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith, working to protect our liberties.

Although the new year is still a few days away, ADF is already preparing to defend a number of important legal challenges to freedom of religion. Here are ten cases coming in 2019 you should know about:

State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers

Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, is headed back to court in 2019, with ADF arguing her case before the Washington State Supreme Court. Although Barronelle serves all customers, the state of Washington and its attorney general are suing her in her business and personal capacity because she politely declined to create custom floral art for long-time customer’s same-sex wedding in 2013. While targeting Barronelle for her biblical beliefs about marriage, the state chose not to take action against a coffee shop owner who profanely berated and expelled customers because of their Christian beliefs—even though the incident was caught on video. If the government succeeds in punishing Barronelle for her beliefs, she and her husband could lose everything—their business, their home, and every penny they’ve saved.

Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington

In a case that could make a major difference for churches, religious schools, and other religious groups across the United States, Tree of Life Christian Schools is expected to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in early 2019. Represented by ADF, Tree of Life has been kept from using its own building for the past seven years simply because the City of Upper Arlington—near Columbus, Ohio—refuses to allow it to do so. The city’s ongoing discrimination against Tree of Life is a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)—a federal law passed unanimously by the House and Senate before being signed into law by President Bill Clinton. A win for Tree of Life would allow the school to double its current enrollment of 660 students—which represents 18 countries of origin and a high percentage of income-based voucher and scholarship recipients—and would set legal precedent that would help other Christian schools, as well as churches, synagogues, and mosques facing discriminatory government regulations. Learn more here.

Downtown Hope Center v. Anchorage

Driven by its faith to help women victimized by rape, sex trafficking, and domestic violence, Downtown Hope Center provides a safe place for sexually exploited women to sleep at night. But Anchorage officials are demanding that Hope Center allow men who believe they are women to disrobe and sleep three to five feet from women in its overnight sleeping facilities. As one woman who stays at the shelter put it, “I would rather sleep in the woods than sleep in the same area as a biological man.” If Hope Center follows its convictions and chooses to protect the privacy and dignity of the vulnerable women in its care, it could be forced to shut down its women’s shelter, depriving battered women of a much-needed safe place. ADF filed suit in federal court to protect Hope Center’s freedom to serve consistent with its faith. Learn more here.

New Hope Family Services v. Poole

New Hope Family Services is a Christian adoption provider and pregnancy center that has placed more than 1,000 children into adoptive homes since 1965. Yet, if the state of New York has its way, New Hope will have placed its last child into the arms of an adoptive family—all because of New Hope’s belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. In keeping with its Christian faith, New Hope places children only in homes with a married mother and father, while referring unmarried couples, same-sex couples, and others to nearby adoption providers. This October, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) gave New Hope an ultimatum: it could either violate its conscience by placing children in same-sex households, or submit a close-out plan for its adoptive services. Represented by ADF, New Hope has asked a federal court to stop the state’s campaign to shut down its adoptive services because of its biblical view of marriage. Learn more here.

Masterpiece Cakeshop Part II

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, is being harassed for his faith again by the state of Colorado. Less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2018 that Colorado cannot treat Jack differently than other cake artists who decline custom projects based on the messages they convey, the state has decided to prosecute him again for living out his faith. This time, an attorney asked Jack to create a cake designed pink on the inside and blue on the outside, which the attorney said was to celebrate a gender transition from male to female. Jack declined the request because the custom cake would have expressed messages about sex and gender identity that conflict with his religious beliefs. ADF filed a lawsuit against Colorado to immediately stop its attempts to punish Jack and ensure that he is not forced to express messages that violate his faith. Case page here.

Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski

One primary battlefield for free speech and religious liberty is the public university campus—many of which have instituted arbitrary, and often comically small “free speech” zones to chill speech. One of these zones was used to keep Chike Uzuegbunam from sharing the gospel at Georgia Gwinnett College. The policy—which Georgia Gwinnett has since abandoned—forbade any expression “which disturbs the peace and/or comfort of person(s)” and restricted speech to two tiny speech zones that made up less than 0.0015 percent of campus and were open only 18 hours per week. Administrators tried to get a free pass for repeatedly violating Chike’s rights by changing its policies and asking the court to dismiss his case. Although the trial court unfortunately did so, ADF appealed to make sure Chike’s rights are vindicated and to keep this all-too-common situation from repeating itself on other college campuses. Read more here.

Students for Life at California State University-San Marcos v. Abrego

Another major problem for free speech and religious exercise on public university campuses is the way administrators are putting their thumb on the scale through mandatory student fees. That was the case at Cal State San Marcos, which denied a Students for Life’s request to draw $500 from a $2.1 million pool of mandatory student fees in order to host an event to educate fellow students on abortion and the sanctity of life. Meanwhile, the university allocates $52 in mandatory student fees to two groups—the Gender Equity Center and the LGBTQA Pride Center—for every dollar it makes available to the other 100-plus on-campus groups combined. Students for Life and its campus president, Nathan Apodaca, is challenging the school’s unconstitutional use of mandatory student fees in federal court with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom. Read more here. Watch video here.

Redeemer Fellowship of Edisto Island v. Town of Edisto Beach

Redeemer Fellowship of Edisto Island, South Carolina, had rented the Edisto Beach Civic Center for Sunday worship on two occasions, but after the church proposed another rental agreement, the town council voted to reject the church’s application and amended the facility-use guidelines to ban all rentals for “religious worship services.” ADF challenged the town’s unconstitutional action in federal court, and is expecting a decision in early 2019.

Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix

On January 22, 2019, ADF attorneys will be arguing a case at the Arizona Supreme Court that involves two artists who risk jail time and fines if they violate a sweeping Phoenix criminal law. Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski co-own a Phoenix art studio called Brush & Nib Studio, which specializes in hand-painting, hand-lettering, and calligraphy for weddings and other events. Brush & Nib is challenging a city ordinance that, as Phoenix interprets it, forces the studio’s owners to use their artistic talents to create artwork celebrating same-sex marriage. The ordinance also forbids them from publicly expressing the Christian beliefs that prevent them from doing so and the beliefs that require them to create art celebrating only marriages between one man and one woman. The law threatens up to six months in jail, $2,500 in fines, and three years of probation for each day that there is a violation. Case page here.

Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey

Carl and Angel Larsen are professional storytellers who use film to help their clients tell their most important stories. They want to bring their talents to the wedding industry and use their gifts to promote their religious beliefs about marriage. Unfortunately, Minnesota’s government won’t allow them to do that. According to state officials, a state law mandates that if the Larsens tell stories that are consistent with their beliefs about marriage, then they must tell marriage stories that violate their beliefs as well. If they decline to do so, they would face steep fines and even up to 90 days in jail. The couple has challenged the law in federal court, and await a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Case page here.

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