Leslie C. Griffin
Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Boyd School of Law. Prof. Griffin, who teaches constitutional law and bioethics, is known for her interdisciplinary work in law and religion. She holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School. She is author of five editions of the Foundation Press casebook, Law and Religion: Cases and Materials; co-author, with Joan H. Krause, of Practicing Bioethics Law; co-author, with Marci A. Hamilton, of Learning Constitutional Law, and editor of Law and Religion: Cases in Context. She is also the author of numerous articles and book chapters about law, religion, politics and ethics. Her most recent article, What Did Those Sixteen Justices Say?, 58 Willamette L. Rev. 163 (2022), is about the sixteen Catholics who have been Justices on the Supreme Court.

Prof. Griffin has written numerous briefs defending employees’ civil rights. She is a critic of the ministerial exception, and wrote amicus briefs in Hosanna-Tabor and Our Lady of Guadalupe School arguing that neither employee was a minister.

Before moving to UNLV, Griffin was the Larry and Joanne Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics at the University of Houston Law Center, and a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law. Prof. Griffin clerked for the Honorable Mary M. Schroeder of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and was an assistant counsel in the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates professional misconduct by federal prosecutors. Before law school, she was a professor in the Theology Department at the University of Notre Dame.

Columns by Leslie C. Griffin
Updates on Lawsuits against Religions

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on three recent cases involving lawsuits against religious employers by former employees. Professor Griffin explains the facts and outcomes of each case and argues that the expansive ministerial exception doctrine permits employers to discriminate at will simply by labeling employees as “ministers.”

Goodbye to the Establishment Clause

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, in which the Court allowed a public-school football coach to lead players in his public Christian prayer. Professor Griffin argues that the decision effectively deletes the Establishment Clause from the Constitution and elevates the free exercise rights of a few individuals.

What Did the Justices Say About Football Prayer? The Oral Argument in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on Monday’s oral argument in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which presents a question about the intersection between the Free Exercise Clause, the Establishment Clause, and government speech jurisprudence. Professor Griffin describes how various Justices approached the case and what we might learn about how they are inclined to vote.

Supreme Court to Decide Between Establishment and Free Exercise in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on a recent case the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear that presents an apparent conflict between the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment. Professor Griffin describes the background of the case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District and explains the significance of the legal issues at stake.

Why We Still Like Separation of Church and State

Penn professor Marci A. Hamilton and UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin explain why the separation between church and state is such an important principle in American democracy and describe ways in which this separation is being eroded. Professors Hamilton and Griffin urge courts and lawmakers to keep the states and the nation from being run by the world’s religions.

Believing Anita Hill

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on a new book by Anita Hill, who famously testified about her sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas before his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Professor Griffin praises Hill’s book for chronicling the history of gender violence and for demanding meaningful reform to address gender violence at all levels of society.

Beverly Brazauskas’s 2003 Case Against the Diocese

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin describes a recent conversation with Beverly Brazauskas—a woman who in 2003 lost a lawsuit against a Catholic bishop and diocese—in which Brazauskas reflects on her case. Professor Griffin points out that Brazauskas’s loss epitomizes the saying “you can’t win when you go up against the church” because religion in the United States is often treated as above the law.

Can Philly and LGBTQs Still Win?

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, in which the Court held that Philadelphia’s refusal to contract with Catholic Social Services for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agreed to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Professor Griffin joins numerous Catholic leaders in urging Catholic believers—a majority of whom support allowing LGBTQ couples to adopt children, contrary to CSS’s position in this case—to tell their leaders to support all families, including gay families.

Mrs. Billie B. McClure

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin reflects on one of the earliest litigated ministerial exception cases, in which Billie Marie Barrett McClure sued the Salvation Army in 1971 for providing men with superior housing benefits as compared to women. Professor Griffin describes how the language of the petition for certiorari in that case (which was denied) raised some of the very issues that the Court did not fully consider until Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, which it decided in 2012.

Why We Like Smith: We Want Neutral and General Laws to Prevent Harm

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin and University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton describe how the current Supreme Court is furtively undermining neutral and general laws by embracing a so-called “most favored nation” theory. Professors Griffin and Hamilton explain that under this dangerous approach, otherwise neutral laws that might incidentally burden religious exercise (such as zoning laws or public health regulations) are constitutionally suspect if they create any exceptions for purportedly secular activities, and, they argue, this can result in legal discrimination and harms to groups including LGBTQ+ individuals, children, those with disabilities, and others.

A Whistleblower “Minister” Loses in the Illinois Supreme Court

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on a recent decision by the Illinois Supreme Court characterizing a “lay principal” at a Catholic school as a “minister” and therefore dismissing her claim under the Illinois Whistleblower Act under the so-called “ministerial exception.” Professor Griffin argues that the ministerial exception gives churches pure religious freedom to dismiss all legal claims against them, rendering them entirely unaccountable for their unlawful actions.

Stigma and the Oral Argument in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin explains why stigma is a central concept that came up during oral argument before the Supreme Court in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. Griffin points out that some religions have long supported racial discrimination, citing their religious texts, but courts prohibited such discrimination, even by religious entities. Griffin argues that just as religious organizations should not enjoy religious freedom to stigmatize people of color, so they should not be able to discriminate—and thus stigmatize—people based on sexual orientation.

When Do Ministers Win and Lose?

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin describes the legal landscape after the U.S. Supreme Court’s July 2020 decision in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, in which the Court took an expansive view of the ministerial exception. Griffin describes two recent decisions by U.S. Courts of Appeals ruling in favor of an employee and against a religious employer, demonstrating that ministers still have a chance (albeit a small one) of winning their antidiscrimination lawsuits.

The Ministerial Exception Allows Racial Discrimination by Religions

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin describes the ministerial exception—a First Amendment rule created by courts that bars the application of anti-discrimination laws to religious organizations’ employment relationships with its “ministers”—and enumerates some of the cases in which the exception led to dismissal of a lawsuit. Griffin argues that we as a society cannot achieve full justice as long as courts interpret religious freedom to include a ministerial exception that condones racial discrimination lawsuits.

Women Lose at the Court

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on three recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in which religion has won, at the expense of women. Griffin explains why the Court’s decisions in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru (and the consolidated case, St. James School v. Biel), Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania (and the consolidated case, Trump v. Pennsylvania), and Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue together amount to sanctioned and government-funded discrimination masquerading as religious freedom.

Good Rights News Now, Bad Rights News Later?

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the Court held that under Title VII, an employer cannot fire an employee simply for being gay or transgender. Griffin considers what might happen next term when the Court takes up the question of whether religious organizations are exempt from these generally applicable laws and thus may discriminate against LGBTQ employees (and others).

They Are Still Teachers

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on the oral argument the U.S. Supreme Court heard on Monday in the combined cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel, which bring before the Court the question of the ministerial exception. Griffin explains that the ministerial exception is an affirmative defense that keeps the facts of a case from ever going to a judge or a jury and argues that a broad construction of the exception—as advocated by the religious employers in those cases—would be devastating to the careers of thousands of Americans teaching our children and caring for our sick in religious organizations across the country.

Religions Harm People

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin points out ways in which religions harm people—manifested today as an insistence on exemptions to social COVID-19 distancing orders. Griffin argues that telling the truth about religion should not be viewed as a form of discrimination and endorses Katherine Stewart’s recent book, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, which provides a detailed explanation of how the Religious Right has used its power to advance religion-based government in harmful ways.

Obey the Law

In light of a case currently on the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket for this term, UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin explains the importance of requiring employers and others to obey generally applicable laws not targeting specific religious practices—the result of the Court’s holding in Employment Division v. Smith. Griffin argues that it is hard to imagine a peaceful United States if organizations had a constitutional or statutory right to discriminate against all types of people.

What Will the Court Say About Religious Freedom?

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on the oral argument the U.S. Supreme Court heard this week in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which presents the justices with questions about the meaning of the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment. Griffin describes the questioning by the justices and predicts that the outcome in this case will demonstrate how many justices still believe in the separation of church and state.