- Justice Sotomayor Blasts Majority Opinion Written by Chief Justice Roberts
- Justice Roberts Wrongly Says All That Banning State Funding of Church Facility Achieves Is “A Few Extra Scraped Knees”
- Reduces Church and State Separation
The U.S. Supreme Court Monday morning ruled 7-2 that the government cannot ban a religious organization from receiving taxpayer funds for programs that supposedly do not have religious intent. The case involves a Missouri church that was denied funds from a state program that gives funds for schools who resurface playgrounds with materials made from recycled tires or tire scraps.
In what some see as turning separation of church and state on its head, the court ruled that because an organization is based in religion, the government cannot discriminateÂ against it by denying it funds for projects or programs that are not religious in nature.
Sure, there is a public good in playgrounds for school children being safe, and the Missouri program presumably reaches that goal. But the church, Trinity Lutheran, or any religious institution that apparently is now able to use taxpayer dollars for “non-religious” programs easily could use that same playground to teach children the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination and gay people should be put to death.Â
NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams makes the Court’s ruling clear.
“The U.S. Supreme Court reduced the wall of separation between church and state Monday in one of the most important rulings on religious rights in decades,” Williams reports. “The decision could doom provisions in 39 states that prohibit spending tax dollars to support churches. The states defended the limits as necessary to keep the government from meddling in religious affairs.”
An anti-gay hate group, Alliance Defending Freedom, argued the case on behalf of the church. The case isÂ Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer.
Chief Justice John Roberts authored the majority opinion.
â€œThe exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution .â€‰.â€‰. and cannot stand.â€
ADF attorneyÂ David Cortman “argued that the government should be neutral toward religion,” Williams notes. “Blocking the church from a widely available public program, he said, ‘imposes special burdens on non-profit organizations with a religious identity’ and amounted to hostility toward religion.”
But Missouri had claimed that its constitutional provision did nothing to interfere with a church’s religious activities. James Layton, the state’s former solicitor general, said Trinity Lutheran “remains free, without any public subsidy, to worship, teach, pray, and practice any other aspect of its faith however it wishes. The state merely declines to offer financial support.”
In the minority were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote the dissenting opinion. In a rare move for any justice, for only the second time in her eight years on the court Justice Sotomayor read aloud her dissent from the bench.
“To hear the Court tell it, this is a simple case about recycling tires to resurface a playground,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “The stakes are higher. This case is about nothing less than the relationship between religious institutions and the civil governmentâ€”that is, between church and state. The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church. Its decision slights both our precedents and our history, and its reasoning weakens this countryâ€™s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both.”
“Properly understood then, this is a case about whether Missouri can decline to fund improvements to the facilities the Church uses to practice and spread its religious views. This Court has repeatedly warned that funding of exactly this kindâ€”payments from the government to a house of worshipâ€”would cross the line drawn by the Establishment Clause.”
In this excerpt Sotomayor diplomatically blasts the Chief Justice, who wrote the majority opinion:
“So it is surprising that the Court mentions the Establishment Clause only to note the par-tiesâ€™ agreement that it ‘does not prevent Missouri from including Trinity Lutheran in the Scrap Tire Program.’ …Â Constitutional questions are decided by this Court, not the partiesâ€™ concessions. The Establishment Clause does not allow Missouri to grant the Churchâ€™s funding request because the Church uses the Learning Center, including its playground, in conjunction with its religious mission. The Courtâ€™s silence on this front signals either its misunderstanding of the facts of this case or a startling departure from our precedents.”
â€” Andrew Seidel (@AndrewLSeidel) June 26, 2017
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On World AIDS Day, DOJ Says Tennessee Law Discriminates Against Those With HIV
The Department of Justice celebrated World AIDS Day by calling out a Tennessee law that discriminates against people with HIV.
The DOJ released a report Friday that the state’s aggravated prostitution law violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. A person arrested under the aggravated prostitution law is normally changed with a misdemeanor, and faces up to six months in prison and a $500 fine. However, if the person arrested has HIV, the crime becomes a felony, and if they’re convicted, they would face between three and 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
“Tennessee’s aggravated prostitution law is outdated, has no basis in science, discourages testing and further marginalizes people living with HIV,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “People living with HIV should not be treated as violent sex offenders for the rest of their lives solely because of their HIV status. The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities are protected from discrimination.”
The law was originally passed in 1991. It classifies HIV-positive sex workers as violent sex offenders, according to WKRN-TV. This means that in addition to the sentence, those convicted are put on the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry, usually for the rest of their lives.
The DOJ advised the state—and particularly, the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, which enforces the statute most frequently, the department says—to stop enforcing the law. It also calls on the state to repeal the law and remove anyone from the registry when aggravated prostitution is the only offense. If this doesn’t happen, Tennessee could face a lawsuit.
Tennessee isn’t the only state to have laws applying to only those living with HIV. In 1988, Michigan passed a law requiring those with HIV to disclose their status before sex, according to WLNS-TV. The law is still on the books, but was updated in 2019 to lift the requirement if the HIV-positive person has an undetectable viral load. The law now also requires proof that the person set out to transmit HIV.
Laws like these can work against public health efforts, according to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH says these types of laws can make people less likely to be tested for HIV, as people cannot be punished if they didn’t know their status. In addition, critics say, the laws can be used to further discriminate. A Canadian study found a disproportionate number of Black men had been charged under HIV exposure laws.
World AIDS Day was first launched in 1988 by the World Health Organization and the United Nations to highlight awareness of the then-relatively new disease. The theme of the 2023 World AIDS Day is “Let Communities Lead,” calling on community leaders to end the AIDS epidemic.
Featured image by UNIS Vienna/Flickr via Creative Commons License.
John Fetterman Says Bob Menendez ‘Senator for Egypt,’ Should Be Expelled Next
Senator John Fetterman (D-PA) called Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) a “senator for Egypt,” and said he needed to be expelled from Congress, much like the now-former Representative George Santos.
Fetterman appeared on The View on Friday. The live broadcast aired as Santos had been kicked out of the House. When host Joy Behar asked what he thought of the vote, Fetterman immediately replied, “I’m not surprised.”
“If you are going to expel Santos, how can you allow somebody like Menendez to remain in the Senate? And, you know, Santos’ kind of lies were almost, you know, funny,” Fetterman said. “Menendez, I think is really a senator for Egypt, you know, not New Jersey. So I really think he needs to go.”
Host Sunny Hostin then asked if Fetterman was uncomfortable with expelling Menendez, as, like with Santos, he had only been indicted, not convicted.
“He has the right for his day in court and all of it, but he doesn’t have the right to to have those kinds of votes and things. That’s not a right,” he said. “I think we need to make that kind of decision to send him out.”
This September, Menendez was indicted on corruption charges. He is accused of accepting bribes of cash, gold and a car, as well as giving “highly sensitive” information about U.S. Embassy staffers in Cairo to the Egyptian government, according to USA Today. Menendez was forced to step down as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was replaced by Ben Cardin, Maryland’s Democratic senator.
Menendez denied wrongdoing, and has refused to resign, despite many calls to do so from both Democrats and Republicans.
“For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” Menendez said in a statement following his indictment. “Since this investigation was leaked nearly a year ago, there has been an active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists.”
This is not Menendez’s first brush with the law. Menendez was indicted in 2015 on federal corruption charges. He was accused of helping Salomon Melgen, one of Menendez’s campaign contributors, by intervening in a dispute with federal regulators and helping Melgen get a port security contract in the Dominican Republic.
In 2017, Menendez’s trial ended with a hung jury, and the Department of Justice declined to retry the case, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Menendez denied all wrongdoing.
House Votes to Boot George Santos 311-114
Representative George Santos (R-NY) has been expelled from Congress following a 311-114 vote; two House members voted “present.”
The expulsion of Santos follows a debate on his fate on Thursday. The vote required a two-thirds majority, or 290 of the 435-seat chamber. This is Santos’ third vote of expulsion; last month, a vote failed with 31 Democrats voting against, according to The Hill.
While the vote was decisive, some notable Republicans voted to save Santos, including House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN).
“We’ve not whipped the vote and we wouldn’t,” Johnson told CNN Wednesday. “I trust that people will make that decision thoughtfully and in good faith. I personally have real reservations about doing this, I’m concerned about a precedent that may be set for that.”
Santos himself had harsh words for the House following the vote. Leaving the capitol building, he briefly spoke with reporters.
“The House spoke that’s their vote. They just set new dangerous precedent for themselves,” he told CNN. “Why would I want to stay here? To hell with this place.”
He then cut his time short, telling reporters, “You know what? As unofficially no longer a member of Congress, I no longer have to answer your questions.”
Santos also faces 23 federal charges, which include fraud, money laundering and misuse of campaign funds, according to CNN. He has pleaded not guilty. An Ethics Committee report found evidence that Santos used campaign funds for Botox and even an OnlyFans account.
On Thursday, Santos said he refused to resign because otherwise, “they win.”
“If I leave the bullies take place. This is bullying,” Santos said. “The reality of it is it’s all theater, theater for the cameras and theater for the microphones. Theater for the American people at the expense of the American people because no real work’s getting done.”
Santos also threatened to file a resolution to expel Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY). Bowman pulled a fire alarm in September. Bowman pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge, and said it was an accident. He said he thought the fire alarm would open a locked door as he rushed to a vote. Bowman paid a $1,000 fine.
There have only been six total expulsions from the House, including Santos. Santos is the only Republican to ever be expelled from the House.
The previous expulsion was in 2002, when Representative James Traficant (D-OH) was expelled after a 420-1 vote. Traficant had been convicted on 10 counts of corruption-related crimes.
Before Traficant, Representative Michael “Ozzie” Myers (D-PA) was the first representative of the modern era to be expelled. Myers got the boot following his conviction for accepting bribes. Myers couldn’t keep out of trouble; in 2022, he was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison on charges of election fraud.
Prior to Myers, the only expulsions from the House were in 1861, at the start of the Civil War. Henry Cornelius Burnett (D-KY), John William Reid (D-MO) and John Bullock Clark (Whig-MO) were all expelled for joining the Confederacy.
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