New York Times frets over religious right’s winning streak at Supreme Court

A New York Times story this week fretted about the Supreme Court’s recent track record of ruling in favor of religious groups and quoting figures fearing Christian conservatives are “weaponizing” First Amendment protections at the expense of progressive interests.

The piece by Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak was headlined, “An Extraordinary Winning Streak for Religion at the Supreme Court” and reported on a new study finding religious organizations winning 81% of relevant cases before the Roberts Court, a period which dates to 2005. 

By contrast, the study found, religious interests won just 46% of relevant cases before the Court when it was led by Chief Justice Earl Warren between 1953 and 1969

A sharp partisan divide has emerged as well. Judges appointed by former President Donald Trump have sided with religious interests 72% of the time over the past five years, while Democrat-appointed judges have done so just 10% of the time over the same period. Liptak acknowledged that while the justices once shared a bipartisan commitment to freedom of religion, studies now find a solid correlation between party appointment and adherence to that principle. 

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“[C]laims of religious freedom, brought mostly by Christian groups, have increasingly been used to try to limit progressive measures like the protection of transgender rights and access to contraception. On top of that, a culture war erupted about how best to address the coronavirus,” Liptak wrote.

The report also quoted one of the study’s authors, Washington University in St. Louis political scientist Lee Epstein, as saying, “just as the majority has weaponized free speech in service of business and conservative interests, it’s using the religion clauses to privilege mostly mainstream religious organizations.”

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Liptak harkened back to 2018 comments by liberal Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan that the conservative majority was “weaponizing the First Amendment.” Liptak used her comments as the hook for a front-page story headlined, “How Conservatives Weaponized the First Amendment.”

“Conservative groups, borrowing and building on arguments developed by liberals, have used the First Amendment to justify unlimited campaign spending, discrimination against gay couples and attacks on the regulation of tobacco, pharmaceuticals and guns,” he wrote.

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NewsBusters writer Clay Waters called the Times “hypocritical” for celebrating Supreme Court decisions that align with its political views while taking a negative tone toward First Amendment victories for conservatives.

“No matter how often we see it, it’s still exceedingly strange to read about the First Amendment, previously beloved by journalists, as a cynical threat to the progressive cause,” Waters wrote.

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