Monday, August 19, 2019

The greatest threat to LGBTQ equality at the Supreme Court does not involve LGBTQ people

George Q. Ricks
George Q. Ricks is hoping that the Supreme Court will require a religious exemption to a state law due to his extremist fundamentalist Christian beliefs.
via Becket Fund
Conservative lawyers are seeking a hearing before the Supreme Court for a case could upend efforts to uphold existing state and municipal nondiscrimination laws. I am referring to Ricks v. State of Idaho Contracting Board. The case has nothing to do with gay or transgender people but it asks the Court to revisit Employment Division v. Smith. In Smith the Court held that the Free Exercise Clause requires no religious exemptions from laws that are neutral and generally applicable.

George Q. Ricks, a construction worker, wanted to obtain a license as an independent contractor. Idaho requires an applicant to provide his social security number. Ricks claims that he has a religious objection to providing his social security number as a condition of employment. He is willing to provide other forms of identification. Ricks is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Some fundamentalist Christians believe that being identified by any number, especially a social security number, is having the “Mark of the Beast.” The concept comes from Revelation Chapter 13. Apparently the Antichrist is going to require the Mark in order for you to buy or sell stuff or … or, I have researched this matter and cannot grasp what the objection is. It all seems profoundly silly to me but I suppose that Mr. Ricks takes it seriously.

Should the Court choose to hear the case we could be in trouble even if the justices rule against Ricks. If the language in the opinion shreds Smith in any way then that could serve to nullify existing laws by suggesting that religious exemptions are required even to laws that are neutral and generally applicable.

That could mean that an idiot like Barronelle Stutzman (that florist) could successfully challenge Washington's nondiscrimination law. If the Court rules in favor of Mr. Ricks then we are in deep trouble. That would directly overturn Employment Division v. Smith and it would recognize religious exemptions regardless of how extreme or even nutty they are.

The potential good news is that the Court is asked to decide 7,000 to 8,000 cases per term and hears oral arguments in around 80. Assuming that Clarence Thomas would want to hear this case he will have to convince three other justices of its importance. The majority opinion in Smith was written by Justice Scalia. Let us hope that is protected territory or at least a place that the justices do not want to revisit.

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