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Prayer Caucus Co-Chairmen: SCOTUS’ Failure to Review Washington State’s Coercive Regulation Disturbing

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressional Prayer Caucus Chairmen, Congressman J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) and Senator James Lankford (R-OK) issued the following statements today in response to the United States Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case of Stormans v. Wiesman:

“The Supreme Court’s refusal to review Washington State’s extreme and unnecessary regulations is, in the words of Justice Alito, ‘an ominous sign’ for religious freedom in America,” said Forbes. “It is possible to both respect the religious beliefs of a pharmacist and also help customers secure the prescription they are seeking. As a nation founded on the fundamental right of religious freedom, the United States has a tradition of protecting the conscientious objector that has endured throughout our history, but the Court has done great damage to these protections by allowing Washington’s regulation to stand.” 

“This decision by the Supreme Court denies the free exercise of religion as a fundamental human right,” said Lankford. “In order to exercise this right, individuals must be able to live out their faith in the public square; otherwise, the right is relegated simply to the freedom of worship. With this case, the Court put the access to contraceptives above the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. Conscience protection has always been honored in America, until now. This decision allows any government to compel a person to violate their faith or surrender their family business. That is un-American.”

In 2007, the Washington State Pharmacy Board passed regulations mandating pharmacies to stock and dispense the ‘morning after pill.’ The Stormans family, owners of a small grocery store and pharmacy, declined to stock the drug because of their religious, moral, and ethical beliefs. Despite the fact that 30 pharmacies within five miles of the family’s drugstore sell the drug and even though the state has stipulated that the family’s objections “do not pose a threat to timely access to lawfully prescribed medications,” the state has persisted in forcing the family to comply with this regulation. The family was placed under investigation and threatened with the loss of their pharmacy license.

In total, 43 U.S. Senators and Representatives signed an amicus curiae brief urging the Supreme Court to take the case. A copy of the brief, which provides a survey of federal and state laws protecting conscientious objectors, can be found here. Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas, issued a fifteen-page dissent to the Court’s denial of cert, stating: “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have great cause for concern.”