Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Fels Institute of Government Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the founder, CEO, and Academic Director of CHILD USA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit academic think tank at the University of Pennsylvania dedicated to interdisciplinary, evidence-based research to prevent child abuse and neglect. Before moving to the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Hamilton was the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.

Hamilton is the leading expert on child sex abuse statutes of limitations and has submitted testimony and advised legislators in every state where significant reform has occurred. She is the author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge University Press), which advocates for the elimination of child sex abuse statutes of limitations. She has filed countless pro bono amicus briefs for the protection of children at the United States Supreme Court and the state supreme courts. Her textbook, Children and the Law, co-authored with Martin Gardner, will be published Fall 2017 by Carolina Academic Press, formerly Lexis/Nexis.

Hamilton has been a vocal and influential critic of extreme religious liberty, advocating for the vulnerable about overreaching. Hamilton successfully challenged the constitutionality of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) at the Supreme Court in Boerne v. Flores (1997), and defeated the RFRA claim brought by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee against hundreds of child sex abuse survivors in Committee of Unsecured Creditors v. Listecki (7th Cir. 2015). She has represented numerous cities dealing with church-state issues as well as claims brought under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA). The author of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty (Cambridge University Press), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, she is also a columnist for Verdict on

Hamilton has been honored with the 2018 Pennsylvania State University Department of Philosophy Distinguished Alumni Award, the 2017 University of Pennsylvania Law School Louis H. Pollak Public Service Award, the 2016 Voice Today, Voice of Gratitude Award; the 2015 Religious Liberty Award, American Humanist Association; the 2014 Freethought Heroine Award; the National Crime Victim Bar Association’s Frank Carrington Champion of Civil Justice Award, 2012; the E. Nathaniel Gates Award for outstanding public advocacy and scholarship, 2008; and selected as a Pennsylvania Woman of the Year Award, 2012, among others. She is also frequently quoted in the national media on child abuse and neglect, statute of limitations, constitutional, RFRA, RLUIPA, and First Amendment issues.

Hamilton clerked for United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Judge Edward R. Becker of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Professor Hamilton is a graduate of Vanderbilt University, B.A., summa cum laude; Pennsylvania State University, M.A. (English, fiction writing, High Honors); M.A. (Philosophy); and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, J.D., magna cum laude, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Order of the Coif.

Columns by Marci A. Hamilton
Wake Up Good People: Overruling Roe v. Wade Is Just One of the Three Fronts in the Religious War Against America

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton describes three fronts in the war by religious conservatives against America: (1) the fight against abortion and contraception, supported by a minority of Americans, (2) a demand that those who share the same religious beliefs should be above the law, and (3) a demand that religious entities be treated “equally” with any others receiving government dollars. Professor Hamilton calls upon the majority of Americans—including congresspeople—who don’t share these beliefs to act and vote, and to stop deferring to religious actors before they turn our country into a theocracy.

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.

Texas’s Extreme Abortion Law Threatens Girls’ Lives

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton describes how Texas’s extreme anti-abortion law threatens the lives of female children in that state. Professor Hamilton argues that the law is effectively encouraging citizens to engage in economic trafficking of vulnerable girls, particularly girls who have been subject to sexual predators.

A Tale of Two States and the Roads Taken and Blocked to Child Protection

Penn professor Marci A. Hamilton describes how New York and Pennsylvania differ in their approaches to protecting child victims. Professor Hamilton praises New York for taking substantial steps to protect abuse survivors, in sharp contrast to Pennsylvania, where the state legislature has repeatedly failed to take meaningful action to give survivors access to justice.

The Time Has Come: Local, State, and Federal Officials Need to Mandate COVID-19 Vaccination Now

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton calls on local, state, and federal officials to require COVID-19 vaccination in order to effectively address the acute health crisis the virus’s variants imminently pose. Professor Hamilton argues that we should treat those who refuse to get vaccinated, without sound medical reasons for doing so, the same way we treat drunk drivers: civilly and criminally liable.

The Supreme Court’s Hits and Misses on Children’s Civil Rights During the 2020 Term

Marci A. Hamilton, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and CEO of CHILD USA, discusses several decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court this past term that affect children’s rights: Fulton v. Philadelphia, addressing whether a religious social services agency can refuse to place children with same-sex couples; Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., addressing whether a teen could be punished for speech on Snapchat, off school grounds and addressed to her own audience; and NCAA v. Alston, addressing whether the NCAA can deny student-athletes education-related benefits while exploiting their athletic achievements. Professor Hamilton notes that two of these three benefit children, while Fulton, which focuses exclusively on the adults involved and not the children, leaves open the possibility that states can pass neutral laws to meaningfully value the needs of children.

The Cosby Conviction Reversal Reveals a Faultline in Our Justice System for Sex Assault Victims: Unfairly Short Statutes of Limitation

Marci A. Hamilton, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and CEO of CHILD USA, comments on the recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturning Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction. Professor Hamilton argues that the decision illustrates the need for states to reform both civil and criminal statutes of limitations (SOLs) to give sexual assault and abuse survivors their day in court.

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.

The Evangelization of Lawlessness: RFRA Was the First “Big Lie”

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, argues that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was the first “big lie” in that purported to “restore” case law but actually gave religious actors the right to be above the law. Professor Hamilton notes two bills that have been introduced in Congress that would take measures to carve back RFRA’s destructive reach and which would not, contrary to some claims, threaten true religious liberty.

The Steps the Biden Administration Needs to Take to Rescue the U.S. from the Precipice of Theocracy

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, describes the steps the Biden administration needs to take to bring the country back from the precipice of becoming a theocracy. Professor Hamilton highlights action items with respect to the Department of Justice, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment, tax exemptions and accountability, and governmental financial support for organizations engaged in discriminatory practices.

To Our Elected Representatives in Congress: The Framers Wouldn’t Be Surprised a President Attempted a Coup, Just Disappointed You Didn’t Stop It Sooner

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, pens an open letter to members of Congress, describing Wednesday’s insurrection by pro-Trump extremists as predicable (even predicted) to the Framers and calling upon Congress to impeach and convict the President. Professor Hamilton argues that Donald Trump is the embodiment of what the Framers expected from rulers: self-centered corruption, greed, and no care for the common good.

The Rhetoric About a “Decline” in Religious Liberty Is Good News for Americans

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, explains why the rhetoric about a “decline” in religious liberty actually signals a decline in religious triumphalism, and is a good thing. Professor Hamilton describes how religious actors wield the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) not as a shield, but as a sword to destroy the lives of fellow Americans.

The Questions I Would Have Asked Judge Amy Coney Barrett Before Voting for Her to Ascend to the United States Supreme Court

Marci A. Hamilton—a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars—offers eight questions she would have asked Judge Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearings. Hamilton points out that questioning a person’s religious affiliation is considered taboo because of the false, public mythology in the United States that religion is always good and pure, despite overwhelming evidence that religion, which is run by humans, often perpetuates domestic violence against women and children.

The Construction of a Supreme Court to Thwart a Majority of Americans

Marci A. Hamilton—a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars—warns of a Supreme Court with at least six Catholics, far greater representation than in the general population of the country. Hamilton points out that the disconnect between the composition of the Supreme Court and the rest of the United States is partly a result of the courts being the final haven for those who have lost the culture wars, given that the majority of Americans endorse greater civil rights for the oppressed.

Reflections on Our First Two Female Supreme Court Justices

In honor of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton and former clerk to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, reflects on our country’s first two female Supreme Court Justices and their similarities and differences. Hamilton points out that a majority of Americans support a woman’s right to choose abortion in at least some circumstances and the right to contraception and warns the President and the Senate to think long and hard before they replace Ginsburg on the fly with a someone who is a threat to abortion and contraception.

The Biggest Threat to Herd Immunity Against COVID-19 May Be the Religious Freedom Restoration Act(s) and State Religious Exemptions

Marci A. Hamilton—a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars—argues that the biggest threats to herd immunity against COVID-19 are federal and state religious liberty statutes and religious/philosophical exemptions. Hamilton describes how the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and its state-law equivalents came to be in the United States, and she calls upon legislators at all levels to amend RFRA so that once we have developed an effective and safe vaccine, we might as a country develop herd immunity and prevent more unnecessary deaths.

Religious Entities Flex Their Muscles Through the Roberts Court, Playing Both Sides of the Discrimination Coin

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, describe how legal entities wielded their religious identity as both a shield and a sword last term before the U.S. Supreme Court. Hamilton points out that religious entities won key cases that allow them to receive from government funding while enjoying exemptions from neutral generally applicable non-discrimination laws.

A Modest Proposal: A Heartbeat Bill for Those Who Don’t Wear Masks

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton draws upon a strategy used by anti-abortion advocates in suggesting a way to encourage (or coerce) more people into wearing masks to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Hamilton proposes requiring persons who opt not to wear a mask in public (1) to watch, on a large screen, an adult's beating heart for 30 seconds, and (2) to be read a statement about how their decision unreasonably endangers others.

The Scope of Bostock v. Clayton County’s Contribution to LGBTQ Rights Is Not as Broad as You Might Think: Beware the “Super Statute” RFRA

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton applauds the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, holding that gay and transgender employees are protected under Title VII, but she cautions that that Bostock’s contribution to LGBTQ rights is curtailed by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Hamilton calls for repeal, or at least significant reform, of RFRA to protect the civil rights of LGBTQ individuals restore the values of mutual dignity and respect enshrined in law.

The Response to President Trump’s Shameless Religious Photo Op Gives Me Hope for the Future

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton praises the response of liberal clergy in response to President Trump’s seemingly opportunistic photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. Hamilton calls upon these religious leaders to continue speaking out loudly in the name of inclusion, love, and truth.