By / Jun 30

Here are five recent Supreme Court rulings you should know about. The decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court often directly affect Southern Baptist pastors and churches and the people they serve. That’s why every year the ERLC actively engages in the judicial process on issues that hold immense importance for our churches and the gospel.

But the court also issues rulings in cases that, while they aren’t directly related to the issues we work on, intersect with or are related to topics of concern for Southern Baptists. Here are five recent Supreme Court rulings from the most recent term. 

Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admission v. UNC 

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on two cases brought by Students for Fair Admissions, Inc (SFFA). The cases—SFFA v. UNC and SFFA v. President and Fellows of Harvardaddressed the consideration of race in college admissions. The court was asked to consider whether institutions of higher education can use race as a factor in admissions, and whether Harvard College was violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by penalizing Asian American applicants, engaging in racial balancing, overemphasizing race, and rejecting workable race-neutral alternatives.

The court ruled that colleges and universities can no longer take race into consideration as an express factor in admissions, a landmark decision that overturns long-standing precedent. In the 1978 case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the court considered a quota system in place at the University of California and established the constitutionality of affirmative action programs 

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that for too long universities have “concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the only Black woman on the court, wrote that the majority had “detached itself from this country’s actual past and present experiences.” But Justice Clarence Thomas, the only Black man on the court, said, “While I am painfully aware of the social and economic ravages which have befallen my race and all who suffer discrimination, I hold out enduring hope that this country will live up to its principles so clearly enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States: that all men are created equal, are equal citizens, and must be treated equally before the law.”

United States v. Texas

In United States v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas and Louisiana lacked Article III standing to challenge immigration-enforcement guidelines issued by the Secretary of Homeland Security. These guidelines were issued in a memorandum by the Department of Homeland Security to the Acting Director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) instructing ICE officials to prioritize the removal of noncitizens who pose a threat to national security, public safety, or border security.

The purpose of these guidelines was to provide a framework for ICE to exercise prosecutorial discretion in immigration enforcement and to promote consistency and transparency in the enforcement of immigration laws. The Biden administration also argued that these guidelines were necessary to prioritize limited resources and focus on individuals who pose a greater risk to the country. However, Texas and Louisiana challenged the legality of these guidelines, arguing that they restrained ICE agents from fully enforcing immigration laws. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that Texas and Louisiana lacked standing to challenge these rules, reinforcing the federal government’s unique role in setting immigration policy.

Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh 

On May 18, the Supreme Court issued opinions in two related cases, Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh. In the Taamneh case, the court unanimously ruled that the plaintiffs’ allegations were insufficient to establish that the defendants (Twitter, Google, and Facebook) aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out the relevant attack. 

In both cases the plaintiffs made arguments related to the application of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act. Additionally, in the Gonzalez v. Google case, the plaintiffs argued that Google, through its subsidiary YouTube, aided, abetted, and conspired with ISIS by allowing the terrorist group to use its platform to spread propaganda and recruit members. The plaintiffs claimed that Google’s algorithms and revenue-sharing practices contributed to the spread of ISIS content on YouTube, and that Google should be held liable for the deaths of their family members in an ISIS attack in Jordan in 2016. In the Twitter v. Taamneh case, the plaintiffs alleged that Twitter, Google, and Facebook aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out an attack in Istanbul in 2017. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants provided material support to ISIS by allowing the group to use their platforms to spread propaganda and recruit members.

The court unanimously ruled in the Taamneh case that the plaintiffs’ allegations were insufficient to establish that the defendants aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out the attack. Based on that ruling, the court declined to address the issues raised about the application of Section 230 protection from liability for aiding terrorists in the Gonzalez v. Google case and remanded it back to the lower courts.

Haaland v. Brackeen 

In the case of Haaland v. Brackeen, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to reject challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal statute that aims to protect the future of Tribal Nations (i.e., the 574 federally recognized Indian Nations) and promote the best interests of Native American children. The case was brought by a birth mother, foster and adoptive parents, and the state of Texas, who claimed that the ICWA exceeds federal authority, infringes state sovereignty, and discriminates on the basis of race. 

The ICWA is a federal law that was passed in 1978 to protect the well-being and best interests of Native American children and families. The law aims to uphold family integrity and stability and to keep Native children connected to their community and culture. ICWA establishes minimum federal standards for the removal of Native children from their families and placement of such children in homes that reflect the unique values of Native culture.  

The Supreme Court rejected these challenges and upheld the ICWA, a victory for the Biden administration and several Native American tribes that defended the law. The majority opinion authored by Justice Amy Coney Barrett said the court “declines to disturb the Fifth Circuit’s conclusion that ICWA is consistent with” Congress’s authority under the Constitution in Article I. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were the only justices to dissent. 

Moore v. Harper 

The case of Moore v. Harper involved the controversial independent state legislature theory (ISL). This theory arose from the redistricting of North Carolina’s districts by the North Carolina legislature following the 2020 census, which the state courts found to be too artificial and partisan, and an extreme case of gerrymandering in favor of the Republican Party. ISL asserts that only the state legislature itself has the power to set the rules for making state laws that apply to federal elections, from drawing congressional district lines to determining the who-what-when-where of casting a ballot. 

The Supreme Court of North Carolina granted a rehearing in the underlying case, which prompted the justices to request additional briefing on whether they still had the power to rule in Moore. On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the “independent state legislature theory” in a 6-3 decision, affirming the lower court’s ruling that the congressional map violated the state constitution and dismissing the plaintiffs’ lawsuits. The case was decided in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh filing a concurring opinion, and Justice Thomas dissenting. The case was one of the most high-profile cases the Supreme Court has taken up in recent years, with former federal judge Michael Luttig calling it the “single most important case on American democracy—and for American democracy—in the nation’s history.”

By / Aug 18

On Sunday, the Taliban entered Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan and quickly took control of the city. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Hundreds of Afghan civilians were seen close to the runway and around parked planes Monday, with some hanging from boarding ramps as they scrambled to get into aircraft, hindering evacuation efforts.” Events in Kabul are changing by the hour, but one thing should be certain: The United States should swiftly offer refuge for those fleeing persecution. 

Southern Baptists have a long history of “ministering care, compassion, and the Gospel to refugees who come to the United States,” and encouraging our churches and families “to welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes as a means to demonstrate to the nations that our God longs for every tribe, tongue, and nation to be welcomed at His throne (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9–12; Psalms 68:5; James 1:27; Leviticus 25:35; Leviticus 19: 33–34).”

The ERLC advocates for the dignity of the sojourner in accordance with Scripture’s expectation on God’s people to minister to the vulnerable. God’s love for the immigrant, refugee, and foreigner is a specific and consistent biblical theme, and he calls his people to do the same. Christ, the greatest example of love, commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program

The U.S. has a long history of welcoming refugees fleeing persecution. The annual number of refugees is determined not by statute but by the president, in consultation with Congress. Under the Trump administration in 2020, refugee resettlement hit a record low of 15,000.

During the 2020 campaign, President Biden promised to “set the annual global refugee admissions cap to 125,000, and seek to raise it over time.” However, in April, he issued a memo instructing the Department of State to keep the refugee admissions at 15,000. Evangelical leaders urged the Biden administration to immediately reset the refugee ceiling as promised In May, President Biden officially raised the refugee ceiling to 62,500.

What is Priority 2 refugee status?

The U.S. government defines the term refugee as “any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Priority 2 (P-2) refugee status is granted to “groups of special humanitarian concern identified by the U.S. refugee program.”

Why should P-2 status be offered for Afghans?

On August 2, the Department of State announced a Priority 2 (P-2) designation “granting U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) access for certain Afghan nationals and their eligible family members.” While this action is commendable, it does not explicitly call for P-2 designation for Christians and other religious minorities. Non-Muslims will face almost certain persecution under the Taliban.

In an Evangelical Immigration Table letter to President Biden, the table organizers made the case for the protection of other vulnerable Afghans: 

“there are many other Afghans likely to be at risk of persecution under Taliban rule, including Christians and other religious minorities, women and girls who have pursued the opportunity for education, and others associated with the U.S. presence in Afghanistan who may not qualify for Special Immigrant Visas. The United States should do everything reasonably possible to protect these individuals and, should they make the decision that they must flee as refugees, prioritize them for resettlement to the United States. Specifically, we urgently request you increase P-2 processing of Afghan refugees to the United States. The current policy of only allowing those who are in a third country to qualify for P-2 status is untenable and does not honor their commitment and sacrifice.”

By offering Priority 2 refugee status to Afghans fleeing persecution, our nation can demonstrate that this country is a safe haven for the persecuted and those whose human rights have been abused and whose religious freedom has been violated.

How has the ERLC advocated for refugees?

The ERLC has advocated for a robust refugee resettlement program by making the case that the program has long enjoyed both broad bipartisan support in Congress and in the communities these men and women have enriched, including many Southern Baptist churches. We have urged both the Biden and the Trump administrations to maintain a strong program for those fleeing persecution around the globe.

Additionally, the ERLC has supported and advocated for the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act, which designates Hong Kong residents as Priority 2 refugees and streamlines their admission process to the United States. This bipartisan bill opens up an asylum path for frontline activists in immediate danger. Additionally, the bill instructs the secretary of state to coordinate the intake of Hong Kongers as refugees with other like-minded countries. Passage of this bill would send a clear message to Beijing that the United States does not support the CCP’s attempt to silence its dissenters by denying them fundamental human rights.

The ERLC has also supported and advocated for the Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act. This bipartisan bill designates Priority 2 refugee status for ethnic Uyghurs and others who are suffering from arbitrary arrest, mass detention, and political and religious persecution by the Chinese government. 

How can you get involved?

Pray. Ask the Lord to protect Christians in Afghanistan and help them remain courageous. Pray for vulnerable people trying to flee persecution. Ask God to grant them swift escape and guide them to a refuge and safe haven. 

Volunteer. Find opportunities in your local community to assist refugees as they are being resettled. World Relief has partnership opportunities throughout the country and provides plenty of opportunities to get involved.

Advocate. Call your local congressperson and senators and ask them to urge the Biden administration to prioritize providing a safe haven for those fleeing persecution in Afghanistan.

By / Feb 20

None can love freedom heartily but good men;
the rest love not freedom, but license.” — John Milton

The world is comprised of two groups of people—us and them—from which we are constantly resorting and regrouping. Right/Left, Red State/Blue State, Black/White, Arab/Jew. In times of normalcy, this shifting of allegiances and drawing of tribal lines occurs at a leisurely pace. But in times of perceived crisis, such as the recent murder of a dozen French satirists, the process accelerates at breakneck speed.

From reading about this latest terrorist attack one could get the impression that it was the epicenter of the “clash of civilizations” between Islam and Western liberalism. Turning from a tragedy to a farce, the affair has reinforced the stereotype of Muslims as violent totalitarians and of Westerners as profane libertines. Reacting to this caricature, many otherwise thoughtful people feel they have to side with the puerile satirists for fear of giving the impression of kowtowing to the Islamic extremists.

My preference would be to reject this false dichotomy, for I do not support the aims of the French magazine—I am not Charlie Hebdo —nor do I support the violent Muslim protestors. I’d prefer another grouping of “us and them.” Like Milton, I prefer to stand with the good men who “love freedom heartily” (unlike the jihadists) and apart from those who “love license” and use their talents to blaspheme my Lord and heap disdain upon most cherished beliefs (as Charlie Hebdo has always done).

(The jihadists and the cartoonists, of course, are not equally culpable. Drawing offensive cartoons and murdering people are not morally equivalent; they are not even in the same moral universe. This doesn’t really need to be said, of course, for no one outside of an Al Qaeda training camp truly believes they are comparable. Yet if you don’t make that point pristinely clear you will eventually be charged with moral relativism. Such is the degraded state of discourse today. We feign outrage and misrepresent those with whom we disagree in our rush to signal to others which side of the “us and them” line we are on.)

Equating the two as if they were equal would indeed be an embrace of moral relativism. No one has done that. However, we should not overlook the fact that while they are not morally equivalent, both sides are morally tainted. Our choice is to side with victims over murderers, not with righteous defenders of truth over unhinged religious fanatics.

Nine years ago we endured a similar controversy when a Danish newspaper published cartoons of a Mohammad and some Muslims reacted violently. Newspapers across Europe began to republish the offending cartoons in order to show they had no respect for religion of any time. France Soir said it published the images in full to show “religious dogma” had no place in a secular society, and Germany’s Die Welt argued there was a “right to blaspheme” in the West.

The American media hasn’t fully adopted this position, for they selective about what sacred cows they will gore. For decades the media has been willing to offend Christians while refusing to take similar actions that would offend Muslims. But most critics of the media aren’t as upset about that double-standard as they are the implied assumption that the media is refusing to champion their own beatified bovine: the inviolable right to say whatever we want, whenever we want, wherever we want, however we want.

Whereas the West was once measured by our highest ideals, we now champion the lowest common denominator. Past generations of Americans could agree, however, reluctantly, that we had a responsibility to protect acts of speech that were stupid or offensive. Now we rush to the ramparts to defend the treasured “right to blaspheme” and mock and deride the very idea that anything (other than our own freedoms) can be considered sacred.

We are even offended by media outlets that refuse to offend the religious sensibilities of our neighbors—even when it serves no legitimate journalistic purpose. For many people nowadays, the willingness to offend someone’s religious beliefs is one of the highest purposes of journalism and a marker of secular integrity. Offending the easily offended is the responsibility of the press (but only when it comes to religion—all other classes are still untouchable).

What is needed is a broader perspective on our duties and responsibilities, especially as Christians. Yes, offensive speech must be defended. But “good men” ought to carry out the task with a sigh of opprobrium. Standing against the brutality of terrorists does not mean we have to stand in the muck with those who champion the baser elements of our culture.

I believe that, like religious liberty, freedom of speech is a divinely permitted freedom that demands constant vigilance. But just once I’d like to be called upon to champion speech that is true, honorable, just, and pure. Just once I’d like to defend a freedom that wasn’t vulgar, degraded, and profane. Just once I’d like to defend freedom of speech that aspired to the ideals and standards of Jesus Christ rather than to the nihilistic inclinations of Charlie Hebdo. Just once I’d like to defend those who love true freedom and not just the license to offend.

Joe Carter
Joe Carter serves as a communication specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. You can follow him on Twitter at @joecarter.