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Supreme Court pick wins applause from religious freedom advocates

February 9, 2017

Judge Neil GorsuchWASHINGTON Pro-life leaders and religious freedom advocates hailed President Trump’s choice of Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.

Gorsuch “has an excellent record on religious freedom,” Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, told CNA.

“He has decided many cases that address that issue, and he’s shown that he understands how to read the law,” she added, citing as an example the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was at the heart of the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision and the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Professor Michael Moreland, a visiting law professor at the University of Notre Dame, called the judge “a superb nominee to the Supreme Court” and added that “he is a brilliant and careful jurist, and he has an especially strong record in cases involving religious freedom.”

President Trump on Jan. 31 announced his selection of Judge Gorsuch, currently on the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court which has existed since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia one year ago.

“Judge Gorsuch has a superb intellect, an unparalleled legal education, and a commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its text. He will make an incredible Justice as soon as the Senate confirms him,” Trump stated.

Gorsuch is an Episcopalian, and if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he would alter the religious balance of the Court, which currently features five Catholic and three Jewish justices.

He attended Columbia University and Harvard Law School, and earned his doctorate at Oxford University, “where he was supervised by the internationally acclaimed philosopher of law and theorist of natural law and natural rights John Finnis,” said Robert George, Princeton law professor and former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

In his time on the Tenth Circuit, Gorsuch presided over major religious freedom cases like the cases of Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor against parts of the Obama administration’s contraception mandate that employers provide cost-free coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacients in employee health plans.

In the Hobby Lobby case, decided by the Supreme Court in 2014, the Green family-owned craft chain claimed that the mandate violated the owners’ religious beliefs because it forced them to provide coverage for drugs they considered to be abortifacients in employee health plans, and thus drugs they conscientiously objected to providing.

Gorsuch ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby on the Tenth Circuit. The Supreme Court later agreed.

The Little Sisters, meanwhile, claimed that the so-called “accommodation” offered by the Obama administration to objecting non-profits to opt-out of the mandate still forced them to violate their religious beliefs.

This was because in notifying the government of their objection, with the knowledge that contraceptives would still be provided to their employees, they would still “facilitate access” to contraception, which they believed to be cooperation with an immoral act.

The Tenth Circuit ruled against the Little Sisters, saying that with the “accommodation” offered, the sisters did not prove that a “substantial burden” was put on their faith by the government.

The dissent, which Judge Gorsuch joined, stated that “when a law demands that a person do something the person considers sinful, and the penalty for refusal is a large financial penalty, then the law imposes a substantial burden on that person’s free exercise of religion.”

“All the plaintiffs in this case sincerely believe that they will be violating God’s law if they execute the documents required by the government. And the penalty for refusal to execute the documents may be in the millions of dollars. How can it be any clearer that the law substantially burdens the plaintiffs’ free exercise of religion?”

The judge also “rejected a crude separationist view of the Establishment Clause” in his 2009 opinion about a Ten Commandments display outside an Oklahoma courthouse, Professor Moreland added.

Pro-life leaders also praised the selection of Gorsuch. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, called him “an exceptional choice” for the Supreme Court.

“All too often, our efforts to protect unborn children and other vulnerable humans have been overridden by judges who believe they have a right to impose their own policy preferences,” Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, said in a statement.

Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson said in a statement that the Knights applaud the president’s Supreme Court nominee stating: “From his writings and his record, it is clear that he will interpret the Constitution as it was written, including our First Amendment right to religious freedom, and the right to life of every person.”

Catholic News Service contributed


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