1. Supreme Court again faces same-sex-wedding issues in Wash. florist case. 

By Robert Barnes, The Washington Post, June 7, 2018, Pg. A7

The Supreme Court acknowledged in its ruling about a Colorado baker this week that “further elaboration in the courts” will be necessary to answer whether a business owner’s religious rights can provide exemption from laws that require equal service to a gay couple who decide to marry.

The court is scheduled to review a petition from a florist in Richland, Wash., who refused to provide a floral arrangement for a longtime customer when he told her it was for his wedding to another man.

The Supreme Court has three choices as to Arlene’s Flowers: grant the petition for the term that begins in October; decline the case and leave in place the Washington Supreme Court opinion, which is similar to those in other states with laws that protect on the basis on sexual orientation; or send it back to the state court with instructions to rehear the case in light of the Masterpiece decision.

Accepting the case would imply that at least one side of the ideologically divided court feels confident it would prevail on the question of whether a business owner’s religious or free speech rights trumps state anti-discrimination laws.

Declining the case would leave the status quo in place. And remanding it to the Washington court would buy more time for it and other courts to weigh in. There are numerous lawsuits across the country concerning wedding vendors — photographers, videographers, calligraphers among them — who don’t want to participate in a same-sex marriage.


2. Loose lips sink a Supreme Court case. 

By George F. Will, Columnist, The Washington Post, June 7, 2018, Pg. A19

“Loose lips sink ships” was a World War II slogan warning Americans against inadvertently disclosing important secrets, such as troop ships’ sailing schedules. On Monday, the Supreme Court showed that loose lips can sink cases.

In Colorado in 2012, a Christian baker declined the request of a same-sex couple to decorate a cake for a reception celebrating their marriage in Massachusetts.

On Monday, the court held 7 to 2 for the baker, but only for him. Writing for the court, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy (with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Elena Kagan and Neil M. Gorsuch joining in the judgment) concluded that the Civil Rights Commission manifested animus regarding the baker’s religious beliefs. For example, a notably obtuse member said that “despicable” rhetoric about freedom of religion had been used to justify slavery and the Holocaust.

[I]t is maddeningly problematic to begin carving out exemptions from obedience to laws of general applicability that are neutral regarding religion. Wedding planners, photographers, flower arrangers, even chauffeurs who have religious objections to same-sex weddings can claim, with varying degrees of plausibility, that their activities are “expressive” and therefore their varying degrees of “participation” in religious events implicate the two First Amendment provisions the baker invoked.

In this case, the court prudently avoided trying to promulgate a limiting principle that would distinguish essentially expressive conduct from that with merely negligible or incidental expressive elements. But because the principle remains unformulated, other cases will come to the court lacking the sort of convenient escape hatch that the court found in the commission’s loose lips. Looking down the road, Kennedy on Monday warned that “there are no doubt innumerable goods and services that no one could argue implicate the First Amendment.”

Friends of the First Amendment should not be impatient for the court to embark on drawing ever-finer distinctions about which commercial transactions, by which kinds of believers, involving which kinds of ceremonies, implicate the Constitution’s free-speech and free-exercise guarantees. Taking religious advice, the court on Monday acted on the principle that “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” which means: Cope with today’s ample troubles and cope with tomorrow’s when they arrive, as surely they will.


3. Discrimination Law Isn’t Supposed to ‘Punish the Wicked’, The antireligious ‘animus’ Justice Kennedy rejected is common among culture warriors of the left. 

By Ryan T. Anderson, Mr. Anderson is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a co-author of “Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination”, The Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2018, Pg. A17

A 7-2 win at the Supreme Court is a big deal. But some advocates of religious freedom minimized the importance of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, saying it was a narrow ruling that applies only to the manifest hostility to religion the commission showed in adjudicating Jack Phillips’s case. Religious-liberty opponents have claimed the decision is an open door to invidious discrimination, including racism. Both views are wrong.

The hostility to Mr. Phillips and his beliefs isn’t unusual. The rhetoric Justice Anthony Kennedy condemned—and cited as examples of constitutionally impermissible animus—is often heard from antagonists who attempt to ruin religious believers. Comparisons to racism and Nazism such as the Colorado commission made are standard for left-liberal culture warriors.

Consider Philadelphia, whose local government recently announced it would no longer work with Catholic Social Services on foster care. That effectively closes Catholic foster care in the city, because the government has ultimate responsibility for children in need. If the government won’t work with a foster agency, that agency can’t help children.

Why did Philadelphia do this? Not because the Catholics do a bad job: the city ranked Catholic Social Services as the second-best foster-care agency of the 28 it worked with. The sole reason is that the Catholic agency doesn’t place children with same-sex couples.

Catholic Social Services has never received a complaint from a same-sex couple wanting to foster a child. Same-sex couples could foster or adopt a child from another agency. Yet Philadelphia officials were willing to shut down a good agency that causes no harm merely to send a message that its religious beliefs are intolerable—precisely what the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop said the government may not do.

Catholic agencies decline to place children with same-sex couples not for reasons of sexual orientation, but because, as Pope Francis has said, “Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother.” The issue isn’t whether gay people can love or care for children—of course they can—but in the church’s view, the two best dads in the world cannot make up for a missing mom, and vice versa.


4. Chinese persecution of Christians worst since Mao. 

By Bradford Richardson, The Washington Times, June 7, 2018, Pg. A1

Watchdog groups say the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in China is at its most intense since the Cultural Revolution, as churches are shuttered, Bibles confiscated and believers arrested at rates not seen in decades.

Evidence of the crackdown was in plain view this week, when police raided Early Rain Covenant Church, an underground parish in the southwestern Sichuan province, to preempt a memorial service commemorating the 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre of anti-government protesters.

According to ChinaAid, an advocacy group that documents human rights abuses in the communist nation, 17 people were violently detained, including Pastor Wang Yi and his wife, who attempted to block the door.

Pastor Bob Fu, founder and president of ChinaAid, said the number of people arrested in China for exercising their religious freedom “has reached the highest level since the end of the Cultural Revolution.” He cited internal figures showing a nearly fivefold increase in the number of Christians who were persecuted by the government last year.

“For Christians alone, last year we documented persecution against 1,265 churches, with the number of people persecuted over 223,000. And that is just the tip of the iceberg,” Mr. Fu said. “In 2016, there were 762 cases of persecution, according to our documentation, with the number of people persecuted 48,000. It really is almost five times [as much].”

He said ChinaAid knows of 3,700 Christians who were arrested in 2017, up from 3,500 the previous year. Some religious dissenters and human rights activists have been detained for years, Mr. Fu said, with their families left to wonder if they are still alive.

The spike in Christian persecution comes as critics say political and religious freedoms have been curtailed under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, who Mr. Fu said will go down in history as “a sort of Chairman Mao, Jr.,” who carried out a “little Cultural Revolution.”

New Regulations for Religious Affairs went into effect on Feb. 1 requiring houses of worship to register with the government.

Mr. Fu said Western governments and corporations could be applying more pressure on the communist regime. He condemned Apple for agreeing to comply with regulations that would give authorities easier access to text messages, emails and other data stored by Chinese citizens in the iCloud.


5. An underappreciated attorney general, Jeff Sessions continues to safeguard the First Amendment right to religious freedom. 

By Steve King, Steve King, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Iowa, is chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice and chairman of the Conservative Opportunity Society, The Washington Times, June 7, 2018, Pg. B3

With little fanfare, Mr. [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions is quietly and unassumingly building one of the most successful records of conservative accomplishment ever seen at the DOJ.

I could talk about Mr. Sessions’ accomplishments broadly. 

Instead, I’d like to talk about Mr. Sessions’ work on an issue that isn’t as glamorous as those above. Like the man who champions it, it is an issue that seemingly flies beneath the radar. It is the issue of every American’s First Amendment right to religious freedom.

The U.S. Supreme Court has just defended a Colorado cake baker’s right to have his sincerely held religious beliefs respected by a hostile and biased State Civil Rights Commission. The full, unfettered power of the State of Colorado had been deployed to force this individual baker to violate his conscience.

The baker needed allies. It isn’t easy for one man to withstand the will of the state; particularly when the state’s use of force is marketed as a benevolent act of secular kindness and mandated tolerance. Frankly, the baker didn’t have many people willing to ride to the sound of battle when he sounded the trumpets.

But Jeff Sessions did. He put the Justice Department on the case in support of the Colorado baker, Jack Phillips. Mr. Sessions understands that the U.S. Constitution protects the expression of religious belief in public, and that constitutional rights are not necessarily forfeited as the cost of doing business.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a man who understands the emphasis the left has placed on ridding the public square of all semblance of religious belief, and he understands how much we all will lose if they get their way. He is also the rare man who is not only fighting back against this cultural tide, but is affirmatively posting wins that safeguard the liberties we prize.

Conservatives ignore and forget Mr. Sessions’ religious liberty successes at our peril. We should be thankful for him. It could well be that without a man like Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the helm of DOJ, our First Amendment rights wouldn’t have a prayer.


6. Hindus accuse Church of ‘destabilizing’ Indian government after 2nd pastoral letter. 

By Nirmala Carvalho, Crux, June 7, 2018

An archdiocese in India is saying a pastoral letter by the archbishop has been taken out of context by the nation’s media, amid complaints from a leading Hindu organization that the Catholic Church is trying to destabilize the government.

Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrão of Goa and Daman, who also holds the honorary title of Patriarch of the East Indies, wrote the letter on May 20, and it was read in all parishes in the archdiocese on June 3.

The 14-page document was on the Church’s preferential option for the poor, but also touched on the current social and political situation in India, which will hold national elections in 2019.

“At the time of elections, the candidates confuse the minds of many people by making false promises. And the people, on their part, often sell their precious vote for selfish, petty gain. Today, our Constitution is in danger, reason why most of the people live in insecurity,” the pastoral letter stated in a section on the social mission of the Church.

On Wednesday, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) – a rightwing Hindu nationalist group with ties to the BJP – claimed the Vatican was conspiring with local Indian Churches to destabilize the government.

According to the 2018 report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, religious liberty has “continued a downward trend” in the country.


7. Bond between Benedict, Francis runs through Italy’s ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, June 7, 2018

 “Don” Giacomo Tantardini – which is what Italians call priests, although he was just “Tantarda” to the students – was an early disciple of Don Luigi Giussani, founder of the Communion and Liberation movement. The heart of Giussani’s vision was the centrality of an “encounter” with Christ, and Tantardini had great luck translating that for alienated young people who thought the Church was all about ritual, wealth and power.

As Tantardini ministered to the youth he helped to convert, he realized the vast majority had absolutely no background in religious practice at all, so in 2001 he decided to put together a brief collection of the simplest Christian prayers along with everything somebody needs to know to make a good confession. The result, Chi prega si salva (“Who Prays is Saved”), went on to become the Italian equivalent of Chicken Soup for the Soul – one of the most popular brief spiritual books ever published, though in Tantardini’s case arguably with greater substance.

One admirer of Tantardini and his book was Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, who wrote a preface for a new edition of Chi prega si salva in early 2005, shortly before his election to the papacy. Benedict is actually a big fan of the ciellini, as members of Communion and Liberation are known – he celebrated Giussani’s funeral Mass, and members of a related group of consecrated lay women, Memores Domini, nicknamed the German pontiff’s “guardian angels,” still run his household.

Another big admirer of Tantardini is Pope Francis, who considered him a close friend in Rome when the future pope was the archbishop and cardinal of Buenos Aires. For his part, Tantardini told friends he was carrying Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina “in his heart” as his candidate for pope in 2005. When Tantardini was ailing before he died in 2012, Bergoglio performed a confirmation Mass as a favor and urged everyone to pray for his good friend.

Now Francis has added his voice to the chorus of praise for the latest edition of Tantardini’s little book, penning a preface for a new edition. The preface is dated March 28 but was published Tuesday by L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. It will be printed together with Benedict’s earlier reflection.

As a footnote to the double-barreled papal endorsements, it’s worth recalling that in the court of popular opinion, Benedict and Francis are often styled as representing different options for the Church.

For sure, there are contrasts at what one might call the level of ecclesiastical policy: Francis is inclined to give control over liturgical translation to local bishops’ conferences, while Benedict had it in Rome; Francis has signaled a “yellow light” for communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, while under Benedict it was a solid “red.”

Yet, if asked, both men undoubtedly would say that those questions, while important, aren’t the heart of the matter. Instead, they’d say, it lies in one’s relationship with Christ, expressed in prayer – and at that level, both clearly see in Tantardini a reliable guide.

All of which is perhaps a reminder that today’s tensions in the Catholic Church, while undeniable and pressing, often don’t quite cut to the core – and, inside that core, Benedict and Francis often seem far more profoundly united than anyone may really understand.


8. A blow to reproductive rights, Arkansas has made access to safe, legal abortion even more difficult. 

By The Washington Post, June 7, 2018, Pg. A18, Editorial

THE SUPREME COURT’S refusal to hear a challenge of an Arkansas law governing medication abortion had immediate effects.

At issue is a 2015 law that requires abortion providers to have a signed contract with a physician with admitting privileges at a hospital in order to provide medication abortion.

A federal district court judge in 2016 blocked the law from taking effect, determining that the medical benefits were few at best and were far outweighed by the burdens it imposed.

But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit vacated the district court decision, saying no determination had been made of how many women would be affected. The Supreme Court — which in 2016 struck down a Texas law that was similar to that in Arkansas — declined to hear the case. For the time being, that means medication abortions are effectively banned in Arkansas, the first state to do so.

Planned Parenthood is right to call this law dangerous and has asked for emergency relief as the case moves forward. The court should grant that relief.


9. Pope’s abuse investigators headed back to Chile June 12-19. 

By Inés San Martín, Crux, June 6, 2018

In what amounts to Pope Francis’s latest attempt to resolve a massive clerical sexual abuse crisis, the Chilean bishops’ conference announced Wednesdaythat his top two investigators will return to Chile June 14-17, visiting a diocese where a controversial bishop has been accused of covering up acts of abuse.

The bishops’ statement said that Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, a former official of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Spanish Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, a current official of the congregation, will be in the diocese over those three days.


10. China’s Two-Child Policy. 

By Bloomberg News, June 6, 2018, 3:19 PM

Please have another baby. That’s China new message for couples after decades of limiting families to just one child. Why the turnabout? China’s aging. By 2040, projections show that 24 percent of the population will be aged 65 or older, a slightly higher rate than in the U.S. and more than twice India’s share. This threatens an economic boom that’s been built on a vast labor supply. And there may not be enough able-bodied people to take care of all those seniors. So in 2016, China changed its rules to allow as many as two children. But many couples weren’t convinced that two were better than one. So China may remove the limits altogether. 

China’s State Council is now weighing whether to end family-size rules.


11. The baker isn’t the only winner in the wedding cake ruling. 

By Kristen Waggoner, Kristen Waggoner, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, argued on behalf of Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop in their case before the Supreme Court, The Washington Post, June 6, 2018, 10:55 AM

Government hostility toward people of faith has no place in America. The state of Colorado, however, displayed that sort of anti-religious bigotry in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The Supreme Court finally weighed in, and its decision forbids the state from bullying people whose faiths teach them that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

Instead of respecting Phillips’s beliefs about marriage, the state labeled those beliefs discriminatory. That disparaged not only him but also the millions of others — from faith traditions as diverse as Islam and Christianity — who hold the same belief.

One state official said that using religious freedom “to justify discrimination” is “a despicable piece of rhetoric,” comparing Phillips’s efforts to protect his freedom to arguments raised by slaveholders and Nazis. And the government ordered Phillips to teach his employees, which consist of his family members, that he was wrong to operate his business consistently with his convictions. 

Such harsh treatment of beliefs fundamental to Phillips’s religious identity demeans his existence as a man of faith. It sends the unmistakable message that his religion is not welcome in public — that he must hide who he truly is and what he deeply believes. 

But the state didn’t stop there. It forced Phillips to either create wedding cakes that celebrate same-sex marriages in violation of his faith or completely give up his work as a designer of wedding cakes. In essence, the government demanded that he choose between two of his core identities — Christian and wedding-cake artist.

The Supreme Court’s ruling said that “the outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts.” Some interpret this to mean that the decision benefits only Phillips. That reads the ruling too narrowly. The court was deeply troubled by the fact that the state had punished cake artists who declined to celebrate same-sex marriage but had exonerated those who refused requests to criticize same-sex marriage. Most government officials presented with similar circumstances will interpret their nondiscrimination laws the same way; this means that many other artists who share Phillips’s religious beliefs about marriage will benefit from the court’s decision.

The court’s decision announced that the government was wrong to punish Phillips for living according to his beliefs about marriage. Those beliefs must be respected. Let’s hope government officials throughout the country get that message.


12. Social Conservatism After Masterpiece Cakeshop, Religious liberty is a losing game. 

By Sohrab Ahmari, Commentary Magazine, June 6, 2018

After a winter of discontent, social and religious conservatives had reason to cheer on Monday when the Supreme Court ruled for Jack Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop. 

The majority holding turned on the overtly anti-religious and anti-Christian animus displayed by some members of the state commission. Those sentiments, which were never retracted by the commission, meant to a majority on the Supreme Court that Phillips didn’t get a “neutral” hearing. Had the commissioners kept their hatred of traditional Christianity close to their chests, would Justice Kennedy and the liberals on the court who joined him have ruled differently? Quite likely.

Even before Obergefell discarded centuries of moral tradition by judicial fiat, progressives went on offense, demanding total submission. The Phillips case, for example, predated Obergefell by three years. Phillips was the first defensive battle; there will be many more.

These are worthy battles to fight, not least because the protagonists are as courageous and compelling as Phillips and Lightcap. But I do wonder whether religious freedom, without more, suffices to protect faith and tradition in the public square. 

[A]s the Phillips case showed, the inner logic of today’s secular progressivism puts the movement continually on the offensive. A philosophy that rejects all traditional barriers to individual autonomy and self-expression won’t rest until all “thou shalts” are defeated, and those who voice them marginalized. 

Defending traditional morality on the basis of religious liberty alone, in other words, risks cornering religious conservatives in the long-term. The alternative, of course, isn’t to give up on religious freedom. That defensive battle must continue to be fought. But religious conservatives should also go on the offensive and once more formulate a substantive politics of the common good. We live in an age of great moral and ideological ferment and rethinking. Even the left is in flux, as evidenced, for example, by the #MeToo phenomenon, which at heart involves a secular rediscovery of the fundamental differences between men and women.

Religious conservatives have answers to these dilemmas. They can’t afford to retreat, and they shouldn’t.


13. Against the Masterpiece Cakeshop Killjoys. 

By David French, National Review, June 5, 2018, 6:58 PM

A day after the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, I find myself in an uncomfortable position on two counts. First, I’m more optimistic and pleased than I was yesterday (I’m far more comfortable with cynicism). And, second, I find myself disagreeing with some of the smartest folks in conservatism.

The primary common thread in these critiques is the concern that Justice Kennedy merely granted a stay of execution. Run the same case through a process cleansed of overt anti-religious bigotry and clear double standards, and the axe will fall.

First, Jack Phillips avoided disaster. As Winston Churchill said, “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” Going into the oral argument, the smart money said that Phillips faced an uphill climb. I talked to multiple constitutional litigators who were desperately afraid of the case. They didn’t like Jack’s case, and — at the very least — they wanted to bring a different challenge at a different time, when Kennedy was off the Court. To turn what was predicted to be a likely loss on the case’s core question into a 7-2 victory upholding free exercise in the face of anti-Christian bigotry is a simply delightful result.

Second, to those who are convinced that Kennedy would rule differently in the absence of anti-religious animus, why didn’t he do so in this case? He didn’t have to decide the case on free-exercise grounds. In fact, of all the justices, he’s one of the least likely to avoid the smaller decision in the quest for the bigger statement. Remember, this is the author of Obergefell we’re talking about.

Third, it may not be as easy to present the clean case as you think. Remember, many of these cases come out of state civil-rights commissions that are highly ideological and often outright hackish. They’re undisciplined and biased as a matter of course, and as much as they may try to be more rigorous in the future, they can’t do anything about the past. Religious-liberty attorneys are hunting through the records of other cases for similar statements. Don’t be surprised if they like what they find.

Fourth, even if you present the clean case, other plaintiffs have better First Amendment claims than Phillips. It was clear from his opinion that Kennedy intends to evaluate free-speech claims on their specific facts, and many of the cases in the pipeline are more favorable on the facts than the Masterpiece case. Just as I spoke to conservative constitutional litigators who didn’t like Jack’s case, there are progressive litigators who liked it very much and wanted this to be the case the court decided.

Fifth, depending on Kennedy’s retirement plans, it’s highly likely that the next version of the case will be decided by a different Supreme Court. If Trump can appoint Gorsuch 2.0 (or even someone with half his horsepower), then the “bullet dodged” becomes “victory delayed.”

Finally, Kennedy did give people of faith a lasting gift. He rebuked one of the more common and vicious leftist talking points — the claim that “religious liberty” is a mere pretext for bigotry.