Lawsuits That Could Define Our Freedoms

The United States of America is the home of the free and the home of the brave. But what freedoms, exactly, are protected in America?

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the first of the ten amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights, lists five freedoms that are to be protected: The freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, of petition, and of assembly.

Two of those freedoms will be further defined in two ongoing court cases.

The first freedom being fought over is the freedom of speech. 

Mark Steyn, a writer and conservative political commentator, and others are being sued by Michael Mann, a global warming advocate, for disagreeing with and criticizing Mann’s scientific findings about global warming.

The lawsuit originating in October 2012 is still on-going. One of the lessons of this case? If you dare to question or disagree with an established climate scientist connected with the government, be prepared to lawyer up- whether or not the libel suit has any merit is beside the point. The suit will be so long and arduous that according to Steyn, “the process is the punishment.” The process of legally defending yourself could bankrupt you.

Robert Tracinski from Real Clear Politics calls Mann a “coward and a liar” for “for hiding behind libel laws in an attempt to suppress criticism.”

Robert Tracinski from Real Clear Politics calls Mann a “coward and a liar” for “for hiding behind libel laws in an attempt to suppress criticism.” Tracinski thinks that this trial could be the “trial of the century.” Why? Because “it may determine, not merely whether the environmentalists can shut down industrial civilization, but whether they can shut down the independent thinking of skeptical dissidents.”

There is another trial taking place in the United States Supreme Court that also could be called the trial of the century. 

The Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities vs. Sebelius case is challenging Obamacare’s “contraceptive mandate”- the requirement that businesses offering healthcare to their employees must provide plans that cover all federally approved contraceptive options at no extra cost to the employee.

These two companies are owned and operated by Christians who believe that the contraceptive options are tantamount to abortion, which does not align with their beliefs, and therefore do not wish to provide these options.

The Religion News Services has summarized the two central questions of the case: 

1. Does Hobby Lobby as a corporation have religious rights protected by the First Amendment?

2. Have those rights been violated under a 20-year-old statute that sets a high bar for government interference of religious freedom?

The statute in question is the Religious Reformation Act which states, “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” This means that the government cannot substantially burden one’s free exercise of religion without compelling government interest.

This court case will further decide the question of whether for-profit corporations with religious owners can exercise their religious freedom as an extension of “corporate-personhood.” Many have argued that the concept of religious freedom only applies to individuals, not companies. But are companies not owned, operated and comprised of individuals? What is a company without the individuals?

There are others in opposition to the case who believe it violates women’s rights, but the opposite could be argued as well. If Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities win women who work for these companies will have the freedom to choose which kind of contraceptive they support and which they do not. The contraceptive mandate takes that choice away from them.

This case will not only effect these two companies, but will also do much to decide the fate of the approximately 100 other businesses and non-profit entities who have filed similar suits against the contraceptive mandate.

The outcome of these court cases, Mann vs. Steyn and Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities vs. Sebelius, will show us just how free we really are… or aren’t. 



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