Indiana AG Todd Rokita says religious freedom is under attack in SCOTUS
April is a month of religious observances. Christians celebrate Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter when we give thanks for the risen Christ. During the Passover, our Jewish friends commemorate the liberation of the Israelites from slavery and deliverance from Egypt.
But throughout the year, at different times and in different ways, people from many different traditions celebrate the fundamental role of faith in our lives.
Outside of formal festivals and rituals, we Americans practice faith in all aspects of our lives – at home, at school, at work, and everywhere we go.
Here in America, we enjoy a rich heritage of religious freedom. We are free to live out our core beliefs in any way we see fit as long as our conduct does not threaten the legitimate rights of others. The government cannot establish a state or national church.
That is what the First Amendment promises.
There is a reason religious freedom is the “first freedom” mentioned in the Bill of Rights.
As Thomas Jefferson said in 1809, “No provision of our constitution should be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of civil authority.”
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But these freedoms are constantly under attack. To preserve them, we must be prepared to fight for them.
As Indiana’s Attorney General, I’ve done just that with a great team of talented attorneys who serve with a servant’s heart.
On April 25, the United States Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a case involving these same issues.
The case happened in Bremerton, Washington, where coach Joseph Kennedy usually knelt in silent prayer for a few moments after each game. Then several players started to join him, huddled at the 50-yard line.
The Bremerton School District asked Kennedy to stop the prayers. When Kennedy insisted on following his conscience, he was placed on administrative leave.
So far, lower federal courts have denied Kennedy’s claims to assert his constitutional rights to engage in field prayer.
But now the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.
On behalf of Hoosiers, I stand with 26 like-minded attorneys general imploring the judges in an amicus brief to declare loud and clear that in America we have an absolute right to voluntary prayer.
I also work to protect religious liberty right here in Indiana.
This year, in two separate cases, I am defending the rights of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis to uphold Church doctrine on same-sex marriage in Catholic schools.
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One case involves an educator fired from Cathedral High School after marrying another man, and the other involves a guidance counselor fired from Roncalli High School after marrying another woman. Many religious schools see their teachers and counselors primarily in ministerial roles.
In the first instance, I filed a brief with the Indiana Supreme Court. In the second, I led a 16-state brief filed with a federal appeals court.
The message of each brief is fundamentally the same: it is for the Catholic Church, not the courts, to determine Catholic doctrine.
As a Catholic myself, I certainly meet those who disagree with our views on marriage. I have met people who find it strange, for example, the idea that priests and nuns should be celibate and celibate. Well, they are entitled to their opinions, but we are also entitled to ours. I would fight just as hard to defend any other faith in the same situation.
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We must remember that the framers of the Constitution sought to protect religion from government, not to protect government from religion.
Without exaggeration, we can describe the origins of religious liberty as uniquely American. To quote Jefferson again, it is “a liberty judged in other countries to be incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support”.
During this time of Easter and Passover, may we each pledge to do our part to protect the freedoms we so cherish.
Todd Rokita is Indiana’s attorney general.