Top Ten Religion and Rights-Related Stories of 2014

As the academic and calendar years come to an end, we look back at our top ten religion- and rights-related stories of the year.

  1. God vs. the Gavel. Professor Hamilton published the new edition of God v. the Gavel. Originally published in 2005, the first edition presciently warned against some of the events that came to pass in 2014, most notably Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
  2. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court granted extreme religious freedom to employers who believed, but could not prove, that contraceptives are abortifacient. The majority ignored the religious and reproductive liberty of women while Justice Ginsburg’s dissent wisely warned against the startling breadth of the Court’s decision.
  3. Town of Greece v. Galloway. By the same 5-4 vote, the Court upheld the Christian prayer practice of the Town Board of the Town of Greece, New York, even though “during the more than 120 monthly meetings at which prayers were delivered during the record period (from 1999 to 2010), only four prayers were delivered by non-Christians. And all of these occurred in 2008, shortly after the plaintiffs began complaining [and litigating] about the town’s Christian prayer practice and nearly a decade after that practice had commenced.”
  4. Hobby Lobby Implications. In the worst application to date of Hobby Lobby, a federal district court ruled that a member of the FLDS (the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints) did not have to testify during an investigation of child labor law violations because the witness’ belief is church secrecy was protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
  5. Abortion. Tennessee voters passed an amendment making it easier for their legislators to restrict abortion rights. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Texas’ restrictive new abortion laws, which impose medically unnecessary licensing requirements on abortion providers. And commentators expect new abortion restrictions after Republican successes in the November state gubernatorial and legislative elections.
  6. Personhood. In better news, voters continue to reject personhood laws, which not only ban abortion completely but also prohibit contraception, reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization, stem cell research and some cancer treatments.
  7. Same-sex marriage. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals became the first federal appeals court to recognize a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The Fourth, Seventh and Ninth Circuits soon followed. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 35 states and the District of Columbia. In the Catholic world, a proposal backed by Pope Francis that would have committed the church to more openness to gays and lesbians failed to receive the required 2/3 of the vote at the Synod on the Family. A majority of the bishops, however, did support the proposal.
  8. Children’s Rights. Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on the education and protection of children.   It was historic because Malala is still a child, at age 17, and it is the first time that a Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded solely for the protection of children. Both of the recipients have been outspoken, tireless advocates for the education and rescue of children in the face of powerful forces in their societies, Malala in Pakistan and Satyarthi in India.
  9. The War on Teachers. The Roman Catholic war on teachers continued throughout the country as schools fired gay and lesbian teachers and their supporters and then threatened to fire teachers who do not sign contracts renouncing their constitutional rights to marriage, reproductive freedom and free speech.
  10. Sex Abuse and SOLProfessor Hamilton explains here that child protection issues are now front and center in the media, and in 2014 there were developments (some forward, some backward) at the state, federal, and global levels. This is a big deal because until about 12 years ago, there was mostly silence about child protection.
Leslie C. Griffin

Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law. Professor Griffin, who teaches constitutional law, is known for her interdisciplinary work in law and religion. She holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.