The U.S. Supreme Court gets religion. Really gets it. It has to, as the top arbiter of the First Amendment in a nation of 328 million people and roughly 90,000 units of government.
The applicable part of the amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … ." But it's long since been about more than Congress. And so in three significant rulings during its soon-to-be-concluded 2019-20 term, the court found:
• That a state tax credit program cannot direct money to private schools without including religious ones.
• That religious institutions are exempt from discrimination claims when they fire employees whose job was to help teach the institution's beliefs.
• That a presidential administration may allow employers to opt out of the Affordable Care Act's requirement to provide contraceptive care if they have religious or moral objections.
The latter two opinions were issued Wednesday; the tax credit ruling, last month. Together, they represent a notable expansion of religious prerogative.
You'll notice that each situation is more than a matter of whether people may worship as they choose. The religious rights upheld Wednesday will have an adverse impact on others: Two women who taught fifth-graders in Catholic schools cannot sue, even though they believed they were fired for age and health reasons, because a "ministerial exception" lets religious institutions make such decisions unchecked. And an estimated 70,000 to 126,000 women could lose access to cost-free birth control under the ACA.
Meanwhile, the court announced that it will issue its final three rulings of the term on Thursday. Those include a case involving jurisdiction over former tribal lands in Oklahoma — specifically, whether their status as reservations is indeed "former" — and two involving access by Congress and the courts to President Donald Trump's financial records.