Please, Can Someone Help Explain Religious Freedom to Gary Johnson?

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson recently sat down with Townhall.com’s Guy Benson for a fascinating interview covering a number of different topics. In “Part II” of the interview, Johnson intimated that he disagreed with his running mate Bill Weld’s one-time suggestion that Stephen Breyer or Merrick Garland would be ideal Supreme Court nominees, and he suggested that he would not be opposed to a bill protecting the unborn after 20 weeks (though he also insisted that he did not object to the pro-abortion Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling being “the law of the land”).

However, when the discussion turned to religious liberty, Johnson seemed completely out of his depth, something which should come as no surprise to The Pulse 2016 readers who have followed our coverage of his numerous, head-scratching remarks on the subject.

First, Johnson again tried to draw a distinction between Utah’s religious liberty compromise legislation and the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which Johnson views as problematic (though his reasons for doing so are flawed, as I pointed out here). Most tellingly, when Benson asked Johnson how Indiana’s RFRA law differs from New Mexico’s RFRA — which Johnson signed as governor — the Libertarian had a quick reply: “I don’t know.”

Next, the interview moved on to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision:

BENSON: … Was Hobby Lobby, the decision from the Supreme Court — was that rightly decided, in your view?

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“Game-Changer”: Little Sisters’ Case Sent Back to Lower Courts

The Little Sisters of the Poor rally outside of the Supreme Court on March 23, 2016 (photo credit: American Life League via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

In a decision that is widely being touted as a win for religious liberty and the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Supreme Court today announced it would be remanding the various cases involved in Zubik v. Burwell back to the lower courts so that the parties involved could work out a compromise with the federal government.

USA Today reports:

The justices unanimously sent the cases back to federal appeals courts in hopes that they can emerge with a way to honor the objections of religious non-profit groups, such as charities and hospitals, while still guaranteeing free birth control to their employees.

“The court expresses no view on the merits of the cases,” the opinion stated. “In particular, the court does not decide whether petitioners’ religious exercise has been substantially burdened, whether the government has a compelling interest, or whether the current regulations are the least restrictive means of serving that interest.”

Lawyers for the Little Sisters hailed the decision as an important victory:

“This is a game-changer,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the Little Sisters of the Poor in one of the seven lawsuits. “The court has accepted the government’s concession that it can get drugs to people without using the Little Sisters. The court has eliminated all of the bad decisions from the lower courts.

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Good News for Little Sisters of the Poor?

The Little Sisters of the Poor and supporters rally outside of the Supreme Court on March 23, 2016 (photo credit: American Life League via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

In Zubik v. Burwell, the set of cases in which the Little Sisters of Poor and several other religious nonprofits are challenging the right of the U.S. government to force them participate in the delivery of contraceptives, including abortifacients, via their Obamacare-mandated health insurance plans, the Supreme Court took an unexpected step on March 29 — and the results are starting to come in.

Before the tragic death of Justice Antonin Scalia, this case was expected to be a 5-4 victory for the nonprofits. Without him, it was expected to be a 4-4 tie, leaving intact (but without the binding effect of precedent) all the cases that had been consolidated under the Zubik name — all but one of which had gone against the nonprofits.

Neither is happening. On March 29, after hearing oral arguments in the case, the Court issued a most unusual order, telling both sides to file new briefs on possible options that might relieve the nonprofits of all moral complicity in evil as they see it, while still accomplishing the government’s goals. This order was given, as Supreme Court orders (but not opinions) always are, in the name of the Court as a whole, not any individual Justice or set of them.

The Court even helpfully put its own suggestion on the table, remarking that, perhaps, if mere non-inclusion of the offending devices and chemicals could, without further action by the nonprofits, signal to the insurance company that they had to provide them, and no contraception-triggering “opt-out notice” were demanded from the nonprofits (unlike the Obama administration’s present “compromise” “accommodation”), this might satisfy everyone’s consciences and we could all go get a pizza. Continue Reading