As the new year approaches, here is my annual attempt at picking the most important developments of the past year. My nominations for the 2013 Top Ten Church-State and Religious Liberty Developments are:
1. The U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor strikes down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in an opinion by Justice Kennedy that triggers judicial and legislative expansion of marriage equality to a total of 18 states and the District of Columbia by the end of 2013.
2. Judicial challenges by Catholic- and conservative Christian-owned small businesses to the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate generate an intense legal debate over whether corporations have religious exercise rights. The U.S. Supreme Court grants certiorari in two cases raising the issue.
3. A decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court in Elane Photography requires a commercial photography business to serve same-sex couples on the same basis as opposite-sex couple, despite the photographer’s religious objections to same-sex marriage. A preliminary Colorado administrative decision takes the same approach on wedding cakes. In a related development, Britain’s Supreme Court holds that its anti-discrimination laws require Christian hotel owners to rent rooms to same-sex couples.
4. U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Town of Greece case. The Court will decide on the constitutionality of opening city council meetings with sectarian prayers.
5. Numerous challenges by religiously-affiliated colleges and social service agencies to a compromise that was intended to accommodate their objections to the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate raise the issue of how to define a “substantial burden” on religious exercise under RFRA. Courts have reached differing conclusions.
6. European Court of Human Rights decides four cases from Britain on religious accommodation of Christian employee’ religious beliefs. Decisions call for a case-by-case balancing approach.
7. Egypt continues to struggle with the future role of the Muslim Brotherhood (which the government now brands a “terrorist” group) and with what its constitution should say about the role of religion.
8. Federal district court strikes down most of Utah’s anti-polygamy law.
9. A variety of recent cases and legislative initiatives in the U.S. and elsewhere raise the question of what qualifies as a “religion”– Scientology, yoga, Humanism, Naturism.
10. Federal district court holds Internal Revenue Code parsonage allowance provisions violate Establishment Clause.