Religious freedom is a right, given by God and guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, that allows individual people or groups to practice a religion—or to practice no religion at all—both in private and also in public with a minimal amount of interference from the local, state, or federal government. The Constitution and other federal and state laws protect this right to determine both what we believe and, in a more limited sense, how we act on those beliefs.
Despite this being our first freedom, challenges to the right of individuals and organizations to practice this right arise constantly. That is why 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.
In 2018 ADF was at the forefront of a number of important legal cases. Here are their most significant victories for religious freedom for the year:
National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra — California passed a law that forced pro-life pregnancy centers to point the way to free or low-cost abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law and affirmed that the government can’t force Americans to express messages that violate their deepest convictions.
Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission — Colorado punished cake artist Jack Phillips—who serves everyone but doesn’t create cakes celebrating all messages or events—when he declined to sketch, sculpt, and paint a cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state’s order forcing Jack to create art that violated his conscience and found that Colorado had been “neither tolerant nor respectful of his religious beliefs.”
State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers — Facing the loss of everything she owns, Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, is being targeted by her state’s Attorney General after she politely declined a long-time customer’s request to create a floral arrangement at his same-sex wedding. The U.S. Supreme Court vacated a ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court that upheld the state’s hostility toward her beliefs, sending the question back to the state court to be revisited in light of the Court’s ruling in Masterpiece.
Cochran v. City of Atlanta — Kelvin Cochran dedicated more than 30 years of his life to fighting fires and protecting the communities in which he’s lived and worked. In 2015, Chief Cochran was fired from his post as Atlanta fire chief after he wrote a men’s devotional in his spare time that briefly mentions his belief in the biblical understanding of marriage and sexuality. In October 2018, the city of Atlanta agreed to pay Cochran $1.2 million in the wake of a federal court ruling that the city had violated his constitutional rights of free speech and freedom of religion.
Students for Life at Miami University of Ohio, Hamilton v. Trustees of Miami University of Ohio — In March, 2018, Miami University of Ohio agreed to change its unconstitutional policies that authorized officials at its Hamilton campus to require students to post signs “warning” others about their group’s pro-life display. As part of a settlement ending a federal lawsuit that ADF attorneys filed on behalf of the campus chapter of Students for Life, the university has agreed to revise its policies to respect the free-speech rights of all students, regardless of their viewpoint.
Students for Life at Ball State University v. Hall — Ball State University Students for Life had applied to receive $300 from mandatory student activity fees to share educational resources with pregnant and parenting students; however, Ball State officials denied the club’s request, because it advocates for pro-life views. Responding to a lawsuit from Alliance Defending Freedom, university administrators eliminated its unconstitutional policies in September 2018, allowing pro-life group members to peacefully engage their fellow students.
At the Cross Fellowship Baptist Church v. City of Monroe — The city of Monroe, North Carolina, enacted an unconstitutional zoning code that barred churches from three out of four sub-districts, where churches were previously allowed, and libraries, museums, and other nonprofits would continue to be allowed. This prohibited At the Cross Fellowship Baptist Church from holding worship services in its newly rented and renovated premises. Responding to a lawsuit from ADF, the city voted August 21, 2018, to amend its code to permit churches to freely locate to best serve the community.