Marci appeared on The Aftermath and was part of the team who filed the civil lawsuits on behalf of the Masterson victims and Valerie Haney.
She is one of the country’s foremost experts on First Amendment Law as it relates to religion.
Marci eloquently and persuasively highlights something I have often said, conservative Supreme Court justices are overly zealous in their efforts to protect religions, and the umbrellas they establish allows scientology to get away with murder.
I am reprinting her article in full below with some commentary from me interspersed as it relates specifically to scientology in green.
As religious litigants succeed in expanding their opportunities for government-sourced income streams, and eschew the legal obligations on everyone else, they also persist in their expectations of no public accountability about their finances. Unlike other nonprofits, they maintain their tax-exempt status without having to truthfully disclose their actual finances, donors, or lobbying activity. The result is a greater capacity to pursue government funds under cover, e.g., the PPP loans through which the Catholic dioceses and parishes raked in $1.4 billion, and an ever-increasing power to impose their beliefs on their employees, whether co-believers or not.
Scientology also took out PPP loans, as I have commented before, they claim their staff (employees) are volunteers and they are paid like volunteers (essentially nothing and certainly not enough to live on), so no jobs were saved, which was the purpose of these forgivable “loans.”
As for no public accountability, this is the greatest benefit that scientology accrues from religious tax exempt status. They never have to disclose how much of the money they collect is spent, and for what. The tens of millions they extract from people for hurricane relief that is never spent. The hundreds of millions for buildings that is wasted. And most importantly, the fortunes paid out to Private Investigators and Lawyers to carry out Fair Game.
The “Equality” That Increases Religious Entities’ Fortunes
There was a time when the “separation of church and state,” that concept devised by Baptist preacher John Leland and embodied in James Madison’s First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, meant that the government was foreclosed from moving tax proceeds into religious coffers. Madison, the drafter of the First Amendment, railed against taxpayer support of religious education in his 1785 Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. He said not even “three pence” in taxes should flow from a citizen to support religious education. Why? Because government financial support of religion is bad for religion and bad for government; it leads to a union of power that the framing generation understood leads to tyranny.
This analysis of the Establishment Clause should be what strict conservatives fall back on. But the very thing the framers of the Constitution and Bill of Rights feared — the European model of state religion lorded over by a monarch — has in many respects come to pass.
One of the projects of religious lobbyists and some law professors since the 1990s has been to open the sluice to increased government funding of religious education and activities. They shrewdly adopted the vernacular of “discrimination,” arguing that if any other entity was receiving taxpayer funds, well, then, they should, too. Their first major success was in 1995 in Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, where the Court ruled 5-4 that the University of Virginia was required to financially support a religious club engaged in proselytization if it also supported secular clubs. The decision planted the seed they hoped to cultivate that religious entities must be treated “equally” with all others that receive government dollars. They reasoned that if they are not included as beneficiaries of public funds, they are victims of discrimination. Don’t worry about James Madison’s concern about corruption and an unholy union of power. Instead, accept that religious entities and secular entities are the same when it comes to funding.
How many times does scientology cry “discrimination”? It is their favorite term of victimhood.
In 2017, the Roberts Court gave that seed a heavy watering with the Chief Justice’s majority opinion in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, holding that a church must receive recycled rubber playground resurfacing if other playgrounds did as well. This Term, in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, Roberts took the Court one step farther, holding that the government cannot have a scholarship fund that includes private schools but not religious private schools. This was a victory for private religious schools’ coffers.
The Exceptionalism That Permits Them to Discriminate
While they have posed as the victims of unfair discrimination in government funds, religious entities have also pushed an agenda of discrimination against their employees. In other words, they have seen no need to draw a connection between public values like nondiscrimination and the fact they are demanding taxpayer proceeds and tax-free status.
In the 1980s, religious lobbyists with their supportive law professors took to the legislatures to demand what they are fond of calling “autonomy.” They frequently argue that they are so special that while they should be treated as “equals” in terms of finances, they should not have to obey the laws meant for everyone else. They may piously demand “equal” treatment when it comes to government dollars, but they are determined to be able to discriminate against their employees at will in as many ways as possible. Three cases this Term enhance their power to discriminate.
Again, this is the scientology hymn that is sung most often in court. We have the right to abuse people — we are a religion and you cannot tell us what we can do. We can even establish phony stacked-deck “arbitration” with rules we make up as we go along, and you cannot do anything about it.
This Term, the Roberts Court in an opinion by Justice Alito enlarged the ministerial exception in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel, to hold that lay teachers at Catholic schools are not protected by the federal laws against age discrimination or disability discrimination. Alito intoned how very religious their teaching activities were, without once making a nod to how devastating it can be to lose your job because of your age or cancer diagnosis. Employees of religious entities beware: regardless of what the faith believes, they can violate your civil rights on a whim (after they pay you a pittance compared to other private schools and public schools).
The less-noticed moment of a newly defined power to discriminate appeared in the Bostock v. Clayton County case where Justice Gorsuch wrote for the majority. The headline from this case was that “sex” in Title VII includes LGBTQ and so employers would not be permitted to discriminate against their gay or trans employees. This seemed like such a progressive opinion! Yet, read the opinion to the end where Gorsuch laid the foundation to permit anyone to discriminate against LGBTQ under Title VII if they are able to articulate a religious reason for it.
This is the sort of expanded protection that scientology cheers in the halls about. They know that if they are ever challenged in court over their homophobic practices, they will be able to escape liability by claiming “religious belief” (claiming one thing in court and another publicly has never been a problem for scientology just look at what they promote about refunds to those handing over cash “money will be promptly returned if you are not satisfied” and then what happens when they are taken to court for not living up to their promises).
At the end of the majority opinion, Gorsuch went out of his way to point out that the employers in that case did not raise a religious defense to the claims, but if they had, there is an escape hatch: RFRA. Before you become comfortable thinking, well, that won’t apply to major corporations, please remember Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In that case, a for-profit lucrative arts and crafts chain successfully invoked RFRA to deny women employees contraceptive coverage that conflicted with the owners’ faith. That would otherwise be a violation of the women’s rights against gender and religious discrimination under Title VII, but as Gorsuch declared, RFRA is a “super statute.” Thus, Bostock modified by RFRA opens the door to discrimination against LGBTQ employees by individuals, nonprofits, and for-profit organizations.
RFRA’s capacity to undermine public health in Hobby Lobby was reinforced this Term in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, where the majority, in an opinion by Justice Thomas, held that the Trump administration’s evisceration of the contraceptive mandate (requiring no-cost contraception for all women) through broad religious and moral exemptions was supported by RFRA. As with all of these decisions, the spotlight was trained on the religious actors while their victims essentially sat in the dark, off to the side, ignored by the justices who were busy constructing a separate world for fellow believers without the bothersome Lockean obligations of a shared society.
Essentially, the conservative members of the Court have built a functional and operational establishment. They have created entitlements to government support, while they have built shelter for religious entities and business owners from the principles of fairness and accountability that undergird Title VII.
Madison sagely described the effect of religious establishments on civil society: sometimes they “erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority” and at others, “they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny.” Either way, according to Madison, they have not been “the guardians of the liberties of the people.”
Amen to that.