Don’t Get Cocky


Near the end of the first “Star Wars” movie, just before the Millennium Falcon is about to jump into hyperspace, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker find themselves in a dogfight with some of the Empire’s pesky little jets (called TIE Fighters, if you care). Luke scores a couple of “kills” and is jubilant, but Han Solo brings him back to earth (or Alderaan, or wherever) with a line that has become one of the enduring memes from this classic movie: “Great, kid! Don’t get cocky.”

I thought about this scene as I was tempted to gloat over some recent court decisions that favor religious liberty.

Take, for example, the 7-2 decision by the Supreme Court that Trinity Lutheran Church could, in fact, accept material provided by the state for its playground. Lower court rulings said that supporting the church in this way was preferential treatment of the church and amounted to the “establishment” of one religion over another. The High Court said that Trinity Lutheran received no benefit not available to all other nonprofit organizations, and that it should not be excluded merely because it was a religious organization.

Additionally, the High Court agreed to hear the case of Colorado cakemaker Jack Philips. Philips believes that making a cake for a same-sex ceremony amounts to affirming or participating in the event, and he has refused to do so. Two men filed an anti-discrimination complaint against him, and the case has been winding its way through the legal process for the past couple of years. It appears to many court observers that Philips has a strong case and that the outcome could set precedent for many similar cases now in lower courts or before commissions in towns and counties across the country.

In deciding a North Carolina case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejected an appeal of the lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s Senate Bill 2, also known as the “Magistrates Bill.” This 2015 law says magistrates and registers of deeds employees can, according to NC Family (formerly the North Carolina Family Policy Council), “recuse themselves from performing duties related to marriages due to a sincerely held religious belief.”

John Rustin, NC Family’s president, said, “This is a significant victory for religious freedom. Senate Bill 2 ensures that the fundamental religious liberties of magistrates and registers of deed’s staff are accommodated and protected, and this ruling acknowledges that the government cannot force public servants to surrender those rights simply because they seek a job that allows them to serve their fellow citizens.”

These victories are welcome, especially after a long string of significant defeats, including the 2015 Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage and the February 2017 Washington Supreme Court decision against florist Baronelle Stutzman’s objection to participating in a same-sex ceremony.

But it is too early to declare victory and go home. Jack Philips, for example, hasn’t yet won his case. He was merely given the opportunity to make his case. I would also add, as someone who has been writing about religious liberty cases for more than 20 years, this arena of the law resembles nothing so much as a game of Whac-a-Mole. About the time you whack one of these cases back into the hole from which it came, another case pops up elsewhere.

We should note, too, that those on the other side of these cases include the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union, and—sadly—our own government, using hate-speech or anti-discrimination laws as their excuses for pouring virtually unlimited legal firepower into the cases.

All of which takes me back to where I started, to make this observation: While these recent religious liberty victories are welcome, we should not revel in them. Rather, we should consider these victories a brief reprieve, a moment in which we can prepare for the next fight.

The Empire will strike back. In the words of Han Solo, “Don’t get cocky.”

Image courtesy of YouTube.

Warren Cole Smith is an investigative journalist and author as well as the Colson Center vice president for mission advancement.

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  • Just one of many voices

    Love the analogy!

  • Phoenix1977

    Don’t get cocky, indeed. The North Carolina case is quite likely to make it’s way to the US Supreme Court which, in the past, already took a stance against the First Amendment rights of government employees (Garcetti vs. Ceballos, 2006), even with a legal heavy hitter and traditionalist like Anthonin Scalia on the bench.

    Same goes for Jack Phillips’ case. Why do you think the HRC and ACLU are so glad the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case? In the past 20 year the US Supreme Court has not once ruled against LGBT rights. A ruling by the Supreme Court will not only settle this case but also the cases of Baronelle Stutzman and Aaron and Melissa Klein, as all potential case following. But, even more importantly, it will also protect LGBT rights in 18 states that have no anti-discrimination laws. And the HRC and ACLU have reason to be carefully optimistic. The 5 Justices who ruled in favor in the Obergefell case are still on the bench and Neil Gorsuch is a wild card, who, in the past, ruled in favor of LGBT rights, supports LGBT rights organisations and has quite a few personal gay friends. And while Gorsuch said he admired Scalia in an interview both sides of the argument agree he is not the traditionalist Scalia was.
    However, the advice goes for LGBTs and their champions as well. Although the cards are not bad in the Jack Phillips case and the case from North Carolina Justice Kennedy has proven himself to be a little unpredictable in the past. So he might just swing his vote as he did in the past. Still, I think LGBTs have more cause for optimism than conservatives do. Everything in society points in that direction. So, to keep in the Star Wars analogy: these few lucky shots don’t mean the return of the Jedi just yet.

    • Steve

      This is not against LGBT rights but for religious freedom. They can co-exist.
      In a society rights need to be balanced for people to live together in peace. I don’t have the right to do anything I want. There are some boundaries. Part of having intelligent discussion is to find where the right balance is.
      The activist LGBT people should really take a hard look at what they would think if they were being forced to do things against their conscience. Similarly, people fighting for religious freedom need to honestly assess just how far that goes within a society.
      I think we all need to start thinking just as much about our responsibilities as about our rights.
      A responsible citizenry is much more functional than a disparate number of victim groups.

      • Just one of many voices

        Very well said! Especially the part about boundaries & balance! (Have you read “Boundaries” by Dr.’s Henry Could & John Townsend?)

      • Phoenix1977

        No, they cannot co-exist. Not if religious freedom means giving people a free pass to discriminate against groups of people. The law applies to everyone, including religious people.

        We don’t have to think hard what it would mean to being forced to do anything. Most of us lived it because until not so long ago it was reality. Until the 1969 LGBTs were used to being harassed, abused, violated and even killed for no other reason than their sexuality. Until 1977 being gay made you eligable for a indefinite stay in a mental institution where you had no rights, not even to preserving your physical integrity.
        Until 2003 being gay in 12 states made it possible for the police to arrest you, even if you kept your sexuality private in your own home. Because the suspicion of gay sexual activities was enough for the police to be allowed to violate your home and search it, arresting everyone present during that search.
        Until 2011 being gay was a one way ticket out of the US military, no matter how long and how well you served your country. Every gay man and woman being found out was discharged dishonorably, making it quite difficult to find a job in the private sector.
        Until 2013 being gay, even in a monogamous relationship, made sure you had no social or financial security. Under DOMA no one had to recognize your relationship, not even if you had it “secured” with legal documents. Still relatives of your loved ones could keep you away from a dying partner in a hospital and sell the home you built with him / her simply because you were of the same gender. The courts did not respect the wishes of same-sex couples until the Supreme Court ruled DOMA unconstitutional.
        Until 2015 being gay made sure you could not formally commit to your same-sex partner with all the rights and obligations tied to such a commitment. Think about tax laws but also spousal privilege in a court of law or having a joined mortgage.
        And until today being gay allows religious people to openly discriminate against you, ridicule you and putting a damper on what is supposed to be anyone’s happiest day in his or her life.
        So we don’t have to imagine anything. We have lived it. And I promise you we will never live it again!

    • Scott

      Still fighting a war against truth and peace. I would think working with your rival to achieve the same basic rights/freedoms for each seems the best path. Note: That freedom would have to allow for ideological differences including the right NOT to agree. Studies show the world is getting more religious… not less.

      • Phoenix1977

        We can agree not to agree. We cannot agree to allow a certain group of people the right to openly discriminate against others purely because of their religion.
        The studies “showing” the world becoming more religious are done by, sponsored by or published by organisations or interest groups that have an interest in getting people to believe that. Objective data collection by impartial bureaus (like, for example, ESTAT, the European statistical analyses bureau) does not support that hypothesis. It only shows an increase in religion in parts of the world that have no political or economical impact in the world. Even Islam only rises in countries where the majority lives in poverty, like Syria or large parts of Indonesia. In countries rich of oil, where the poverty is negligible, even Islam is getting less important.

  • Zarm

    I strongly object to this article.

    That scene was very clearly right near the END of the original Star Wars, just before they arrived at the Rebel Base and started gearing up for the final battle. Accuracy in reporting, Breakpoint! Just because we’re believers doesn’t mean some of us aren’t still minutiae-obsessed nerds! 😉

    (The rest of the article makes a good point, however.)

    • Gina Dalfonzo

      You’re absolutely right. I edited the piece but let that slip by. Mea culpa. I’ll fix it! 🙂