Judge Alito warns of dangers to free speech and religious liberty

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Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito testifies before the House Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 7, 2019. (Associated Press)

Conservatives have been watching an accelerated, alarming crackdown on basic Constitutional rights during the coronavirus pandemic, but the intolerance has been growing for some time, according to a Supreme Court justice.

In a Nov. 12 virtual keynote speech to a conference of the conservative Federalist Society reported on by FOX News, Justice Samuel Alito said religious liberty and free speech are among Americans’ personal freedoms being imperiled by government overreach during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Tolerance for opposing views is now in short supply,” Alito said of the current state of discourse in the nation’s law schools and the “broader academic community.” Many recent law school graduates claim they face “harassment” and “retaliation” for any views that depart “from law school orthodoxy,” he explained.

“In certain quarters religious liberty has fast become a disfavored right,” he said. “For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom. It’s often just an excuse for bigotry and it can’t be tolerated even when there’s no evidence that anybody has been harmed.”

Alito pointed to the Supreme Court cases of the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns who were exempted from a requirement to provide birth control coverage to employees, and to the case of a Colorado baker who was allowed to turn down as customers a gay couple who wanted a cake for their wedding and refused to go elsewhere.

No one employed by the Little Sisters of the Poor asked for birth control coverage, and the gay-wedding couple were offered a free cake by another shop and had celebrity chefs scrambling to be seen as their rescuers, he said.

“The question we face is whether our society will be inclusive enough to tolerate people with unpopular religious beliefs,” he added, saying Christians deserve protection just like any of the religious minority groups in cases he has judged over the years.

Alito, 70, said the pandemic has “resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty” and that the U.S. can’t allow such restrictions to stand after the pandemic has passed. He also said that churches have been treated unfairly compared to other businesses during the pandemic, as in the case of casinos being allowed to operate in Nevada.

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