Anti-abortion demonstrators cheer during a rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, March 20, 2018, as the Supreme Court hears arguments in a free speech fight over California's attempt to regulate anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
SALT LAKE CITY — The First Amendment's free speech clause was once best known for protecting civil rights activists and anti-war protesters. But today, it's playing a growing role in cases affecting conservative religious Americans.
Two of the most notable religion cases before the Supreme Court last term hinged on free speech claims. In National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, the justices considered whether pregnancy centers that oppose abortion rights should be forced to share information about abortion access. In Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a Christian baker described his wedding cakes as a form of speech, asking to be protected from having to express support for same-sex marriage by selling a cake to an LGBT couple.
The Supreme Court sided with the conservative religious plaintiffs in both cases, although Masterpiece Cakeshop ultimately wasn't decided on free speech grounds.
Evangelical Christians watched the Supreme Court's actions closely, hoping the First Amendment would protect their increasingly unpopular views. The free speech clause has renewed significance for evangelical Christians at a time when their views on social issues are out of step with most Americans, said Andrew Lewis, author of "The Rights Turn in Conservative Christian Politics: How Abortion Transformed the Culture Wars."
"Rather than saying certain views are more moral, they'll say they have a right to express their views," he said.
This free-speech fight taking place in state houses and courtrooms has given evangelical Christians deeper respect for other communities who feel silenced by government policies, said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
"There's a sense of empathy for others that comes with having basic freedoms challenged for oneself or one's own group," he said.