3 Court Cases That Have Taken Religious Freedoms Too Far

As upheld by the First Amendment, anyone and everyone has the right to practice their religion of choice or not practice one at all. While people have the right to go to court when they feel their religious freedoms are infringed upon, those cases have sometimes yielded results that beg the question if these freedoms are impinging on other people’s civil liberties and if the religious freedom argument has gone too far.

Let’s take a look at a few of these cases.  

Braidwood Management v. Becerra

The most recent example of a court ruling that’s ruled too far in favor of religious freedom is the case of Braidwood Management v. Becerra where a Texas judge ruled that the Christian non-for-profit company did not have to cover the HIV prevention drug known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) under its health insurance. 

The company argued it did not want to cover the cost of the drugs because they “facilitate and encourage homosexual behavior and sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman.”

This ruling by Judge Reed O’Connor, who formerly was a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill and tried to appeal the Affordable Care Act in 2018, goes against the Obama-era act, which requires health insurers to cover the full cost of certain preventative medical treatments. 

If the decision stands, it could lead to health complications and even deaths that would have been preventable. For example, some people would have to pay out of pocket for cancer screenings that would have been covered by their employers, which could cause patients to put off screenings until it’s too late, Vox reports.

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. 

The Braidwood Management v. Becerra decision is very similar to the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. case where the Supreme Court ruled that requiring family-owned private businesses to pay for insurance coverage of contraception for employees under the Affordable Care Act violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.  

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote that the ruling had limited scope because “the court ruled only that a federal religious-freedom law applied to ‘closely held’ for-profit corporations run on religious principles.” He said those corporations were unlikely to win if “they objected to complying with other laws on religious grounds.”

At the time, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg disagreed with the majority, saying it gave too many rights to corporations and could apply to a number of corporations and numerous laws. 

Kennedy v. Bremerton School District

In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, football coach Joe Kennedy said Bremerton School District violated his first amendment right by not allowing him to pray at midfield at the end of games. In a 6-3 decision with Republicans in majority and Democrats in dissent, the court ruled in favor of coach Kennedy, saying him leading prayers at the end of games was his Constitutional right since they happened when the game was over “when he wasn’t responsible for students and was free to do other things,” the Associated Press reported. 

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the decision “sets us further down a perilous path in forcing states to entangle themselves with religion.”

The dissenting justice also wrote that players “recognize that gaining the coach’s approval may pay dividends small and large, from extra playing time to a stronger letter of recommendation to additional support in college athletic recruiting.” She added that “some students reported joining Kennedy’s prayer because they felt social pressure to follow their coach and teammates.”

Advice for Employers 

Religion is a touchy subject, but employers should do their best to accommodate all employees, regardless of faith. When coming up with internal policies and practices or when reviewing the health insurance you offer to employees, consider their needs, even if they don’t necessarily align with your personal or the views of leadership at the highest levels. 

To learn more about different religions and how to consider and accommodate the needs of employees who observe different holidays and customs, read “How to Educate Teams on Different Religions and Cultures.”