On one level, the death and taxes ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts has little ultimate -- stress ultimate -- significance for journalists and religious activists who are following the big wave of lawsuits that are headed to the court on a host of issues linked to religious liberty, free speech and freedom of association. Obviously the six or seven issues cited by the U.S. Catholic bishops, Orthodox Jews, conservative Protestants and others are legal bombs that remain alive and ticking.
However, if you want to know whether your local newspaper was paying attention to the church-state implications of this decision, all you really need to do is search its coverage for several important words -- "Ginsburg" and "Becket."
Why is that? Here is some crucial material from a lengthy and very useful post, care of reporter Michelle Boorstein and editor Elizabeth Tenety, at the "On Faith" site at The Washington Post:
“I think the court’s decision makes clear Obama is still subject to legal challenges and that the Supreme Court is willing to entertain that the HHS regulations violate the rights of religious freedom,” said Hanna Smith, senior counsel at the Becket Fund, a D.C. firm involved in some of the 23 pending lawsuits against the White House. The lawsuits all focus on opposing a mandate announced by the Department of Health and Human Services after the law was passed.
Mark Rienzi, another Becket attorney, said in a phone conference call that the ruling today only spoke to whether Congress had the right to pass the act -- not on the details of how it’s implemented. ...
The attorneys honed in on two parts of Thursday’s ruling. One, from the majority opinion, said: “Even if the taxing power enables Congress to impose a tax on not obtaining health insurance, any tax must still comply with other requirements in the Constitution.”
The second, from Justice Ruth Ginsberg, (sic) said “A mandate to purchase a particular product would be unconstitutional if, for example, the edict impermissibly abridged the freedom of speech, interfered with the free exercise of religion, or infringed on a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause.”
In other words, "Stay tuned."
At some point, there will be arguments over whether old-fashioned liberals want to change the church-state equations that they have defended for decades, most recently during that right-wing reign of terror known as the Bill Clinton administration.
Meanwhile, dig into that Boorstein-Tenety effort. There's all kinds of information in there. And for more info on Rienzi and Smith's insights into this first health-care decision, check out this Catholic News Agency piece. For example, about that quote from Justices Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan:
The direct mention of religious freedom as a reason to find such a mandate unconstitutional is a hopeful sign in the battle over the contraception requirement, Smith said. She explained that these two statements are “essential” in suggesting that the court may strike down the contraception mandate if asked to rule on it, a positive indication for defenders of religious freedom.
You think any of this will draw coverage in the next six months or so?