The U.S. Supreme Court begins its 2023-2024 term this month, and several cases the court either has agreed to consider, or may still agree to hear, have important implications for Christians.
First, do federal agencies wield too much power today? The court will consider SEC v. Jarkesy, which will determine whether it is constitutional for a federal agency to enforce its rules through administrative hearings rather than the courts. Currently, most federal agencies hold the power of all three branches of government: They create rules, investigate violations, hold hearings to determine violations, and then impose penalties for violations.
And giving federal agencies too much power can have drastic consequences. For example, the Department of Health and Social Services under President Barack Obama mandated that businesses and non-church religious organizations, including Christian hospitals and schools, be required to provide contraceptives and abortifacients to employees.
Also, following the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage, the Department of Agriculture issued rules that effectively silenced opposition to gay marriage at sites where its employees served as inspectors.
So the SEC case—along with another one that involves government monitors who could try to impose radical social policies in the fishing industry—provides an opportunity to decrease the power of federal agencies and help restore the delicate balance of powers articulated in the Constitution, said Rena M. Lindevaldsen, professor of law at the Liberty University School of Law.
The Supreme Court has also agreed to consider two cases dealing with whether or not a public official can block someone from their personal social media account if the official also uses that account to communicate about issues related to the public office.
In O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier and Lindke v. Freed, officials posted information about policies or issues on their personal social media accounts, but then they blocked people who disagreed with them. Plaintiffs say those accounts had essentially become public forums and that blocking one point of view from such a forum is unconstitutional.
“There are all kinds of issues that conservative Christians would want to speak about with the public official and other members of the community, and they are the ones who are most likely to be silenced,” said John Bursch, senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom.
Cases the Court Might Consider
Counselors and Clients
Can a state interfere in the private conversations of a client and a counselor on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity? The state of Washington thinks it can, and Brian Tingley, a licensed marriage and family counselor, is asking the court to tell the state to keep out.
A 2018 state law prohibits any conversation between a counselor and a minor client intended to change that young person’s perceived gender identity or sexual attractions. Tingley’s suit, Tingley v. Ferguson, notes that the law allows conversations that aim to steer a young person toward a transgender identity but prohibits conversations that would help that person return to being comfortable with his or her sex, even if that’s what the individual wants.
“Washington’s Counseling Censorship Law violates freedom of speech and harms counselors as well as clients,” Bursch said. “The government has no business dictating what personal goals a client can pursue in counseling.”
Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones
In Vitagliano v. County of Westchester, the Becket law firm is representing Debra Vitagliano, who is arguing that Westchester County, New York, violated the Constitution by establishing a zone around abortion clinics in which no one may come within eight feet of another person to provide information or counseling, unless the other person consents. Repeated violations could result in up to a year in prison.
“The First Amendment protects the right to a free and peaceful exchange of ideas, which includes an individual’s ability to have personal conversations about matters of public concern in public places,” says Becket on its website.
In August, the county repealed the eight-foot rule in what some believed was an effort to render the point moot and make it less likely that the Supreme Court would take the case. But the court may decide to consider it anyway, in order to settle the issue of whether such buffer zones are constitutional.
One more case that will likely end up at the court this term is Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and it could be huge. The case addresses the FDA’s approval of chemical abortions, its removal of safeguards such as doctor visits, and its allowing the abortion pill mifepristone to be sold in pharmacies and sent through the mail. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld some restrictions on the pill, and observers expect the FDA to appeal to the Supreme Court: “There’s a strong possibility that the abortion pill will be front and center in this next term,” Bursch said. ©2023 BGEA
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