Adoption, abortion and the pledge: Controversial religious liberty cases (11 items)
Faith leaders say threats to religious liberty in the United States and abroad are increasing.
While many abuses abroad are overt actions of violence against minority religions, the domestic threats are at times more subtle, relying on court rulings and lawmaking to balance the rights of free speech and the exercise of religion against claims of discrimination and equal rights.
The following list highlights prominent cases in which religious freedom is a central issue.
1 of 11. Hobby Lobby
Some 37 lawsuits have been filed by for-profit companies against the federal government over a requirement under the Affordable Care Act that employers provide contraceptive coverage through company health care plans. The most high-profile case involves Hobby Lobby, a national craft store chain whose owners say the birth control mandate would require them to provide abortifacients in violation of their Christian beliefs.
The government contends that for-profit corporations, unlike a church, do not have religious freedom rights and exempting them from government requirements would effectively allow the owners to impose their religious beliefs on employees. Meanwhile, the company owners argue that making money doesn't disqualify someone from exercising their religious beliefs and that they shouldn't have to deny their faith to make a living.
Conflicting rulings from the circuit courts have legal experts predicting it is sure to reach the Supreme Court, possibly in the next year.
2 of 11. Birth control
Another 30 lawsuits have been filed over the contraception mandate by nonprofits, such as religious affiliated schools, hospitals and charities. The nonprofits argue that an accommodation offered by the federal government to use a third party to administer the contraception benefit is an accounting trick that doesn't clear their conscience of having a role in providing birth control to someone. The religious employers say anything short of a full exemption is a violation of their religious freedom.
But some legal experts say the accommodation puts enough distance between the birth control and the employer that the plaintiffs may have a tough time proving the mandate places a burden on their religious freedom.
3 of 11. Sexual orientation discrimination
Nearly 180 U.S. cities have passed ordinances that include sexual orientation among categories protected against discrimination. Some ordinances have been praised for eliminating bias against lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgendered people, while other ordinances have been blasted for targeting people of faith who believe same-sex relations are sinful.
The most far-reaching ordinance was passed this month in San Antonio, where appointees and members of city boards and commissions are prevented from engaging in bias “by word or deed.” The Texas attorney general claims the ordinance violates free speech rights of city officials or anyone doing business with the city and predicted it would be challenged in court.
4 of 11. Business owners right to say no to sexual orientation
Many local and state laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation have resulted in some business owners coming under fire because their religious beliefs prohibited them from serving same-sex clients. A recent case garnering publicity was a bakery in Oregon that ended up shutting down over the controversy, which included an investigation by the state. Another high-profile case involved a photographer in New Mexico who violated that state's Human Rights Act by declining to shoot a lesbian commitment ceremony.
According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 85 percent of Americans support the right of the photographer to say no.
5 of 11. Faith-based adoption agencies
In addition to private businesses, religious affiliated service providers have run afoul of state equal rights laws. Catholic charities have shuttered their adoption and foster care services in several states because their beliefs prevent them from placing children with same-sex couples, which disqualifies the faith-based agencies from government funding.
A bill before Congress would bar federal funding to adoption services that do not place children with gay couples. But another legislative proposal before Michigan lawmakers would exempt faith-based adoption agencies from the state's anti-discrimination laws, so they could continue to provide services without violating their conscience or losing public funding.