5 Supreme Court cases to keep your eye on

May 8, 2020

No corner of society is exempt as our nation grapples with the complexities of work during a pandemic. Our church services and school classes moved online. Americans in every industry had the hours of their shifts change, are working from home, or, sadly, for tens of millions, were laid off as jobs evaporated. In Washington, D.C., Congress is in and out of recess, balancing the need to legislate with the safety of its members and staff. Most executive branch employees, whose work is not directly related to the coronavirus response, are also working remotely. And beginning this week, the Supreme Court traded in the bench and marble columns for a conference call line.

The Supreme Court is famous for its tradition and decorum. The court kept their proceedings insulated to those in the room even through decades of technology advances that placed the Senate floor live on CSPAN and White House meetings as they happen on Fox News. There are no cameras in the courtroom. Press and the public who make it inside take notes with a pen and paper. The audio of the oral arguments is recorded and released with a transcript after the gavel strikes.

This makes what began on Monday of this week all the more remarkable. The nine justices dialed in to connect by phone with the lawyers whose cases they would hear, and the public was able to listen in real time. The Supreme Court adapted to the circumstances and carries on with its work.

This year’s docket is full of significant cases for issues the ERLC engages ranging from religious liberty to medical standards in abortion clinics to the defintion of “sex” in civil rights law. The following is an overview of some of the key cases on which the ERLC filed an amicus brief, also referred to as a “friend of the court” brief, and will be decided in the coming months.

Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Two of these cases of interest will be heard and decided between May and June. The first is Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which was heard this week on May 6. This case, yet again, considers the religious exemption from the HHS contraceptive mandate. Although such an exemption to this mandate was previously honored for religious organizations like the Catholic Ministry, Little Sisters, a few states sued in federal court to remove it. Jeff Pickering of our Washington, D.C., office covered the arguments in an article earlier this week. We are urging the court to guarantee this religious exemption and protection of conscience once and for all, consistent with their prior 2016 ruling.  

Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morissey Beru

The second case to be heard this month is Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morissey Beru, set for oral arguments on May 11. After the contract of a teacher performing religious functions at a faith-based school was not renewed—the reason given by the school was poor performance—the teacher sued. This case debates whether the First Amendment’s religion clause allows courts to second-guess a religious organization’s employment decisions when the employee performs religious duties. The ERLC filed an amicus brief asking the court to maintain protections of the ministerial exception and to protect religious schools from this kind of government intervention.  

Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC

The Court will also be ruling this term on Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, which was consolidated with two others, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and Altitude Express v. Zarda. This set of cases raises the question of the meaning of the word “sex” under federal civil rights law dealing with employment discrimination. The Court will be answering the question of whether Title VII prohibits discrimation based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This opinion could have sweeping effects, and the issues at stake will continue to fuel legislative battles following the opinion. The ERLC filed an amicus brief in these cases alongside other religious institutions that contend "sex" in Title VII does not include either classification of orientation or identity. 

June Medical Services LLC v. Russo

The next case the ERLC filed an amicus brief on is June Medical Services LLC v. Russo. This case seeks to determine the constitutionality of a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to meet the same medical standards as all other ambulatory surgical centers, which includes securing admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. This case is the first time the Supreme Court has taken up an abortion-related case since the addition of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. While this ruling could have an impact on the viability of abortion clinics to remain open in Louisiana, that’s not the primary issue the justices are asked to consider. The ERLC’s brief argues that this case is simple: states have the right and responsibility to ensure the safety of their citizens. This includes protecting women from the haphazard practices of abortion clinics that not only kill unborn children, but also prey upon women in crisis. We hope that the court will uphold this common sense law that simply brings abortion clinics in line with the same safety standards applicable to all others in the medical community they claim to belong to.  

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue

The final case, which has already been argued and an opinion is pending, is Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. This case deals with the ability of student aid to be used at private religious schools. The ERLC filed an amicus brief arguing that religious organizations should not be discriminated against and should be eligible for generally available and religiously neutral student aid. This case is an important opportunity for the court to protect students from religious discrimination.  

While we worked diligently and now pray earnestly that the Supreme Court will make decisions that uphold life, religious liberty, and the freedom of conscience, we ultimately place our trust in God to fulfil his plans and use us along the way. As the psalmist declares, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psa. 20:7 NIV).

ERLC intern Hannah Daniel contributed to this article.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24