Analysis and Commentary on Speech and Religion

Justice O’Connor Deserves Better Than Her Brethren Gave Her in American Legion v. American Humanist Association

Marci A. Hamilton—a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars—discusses how the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority opinion in American Legion v. American Humanist Association rejects without giving proper respect to the “endorsement test” that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor first championed as a way of maintaining separation between church and state. Hamilton argues that the endorsement test was the right test at the right time in history and that the majority in American Legion attempted to erase Justice O’Connor’s contribution to the Court’s Establishment Clause doctrine.

After Supreme Court Ruling, Are Profane Trademarks Truly “FUCT”?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a decision the U.S. Supreme Court issued this week invalidating a provision of the Lanham Act that prohibited registration of “immoral” and “scandalous” trademarks. Dorf provides a brief history of the legal protection for profane speech and considers the implications of a more precisely worded statute regulating profanity for trademark registration purposes.

The Supreme Court Dramatically Narrows the Establishment Clause in American Legion v. American Humanist Association

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, comments on the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, in which the Court upheld against an Establishment Clause challenge a large cross on public land in Maryland. Hamilton argues that in reaching its conclusion, a majority of the Court ignores the purpose of the Establishment Clause—to create a bulwark against the tyranny that results from the joinder of government and religious power to rule.

Christians Win Again in the Supreme Court

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin discusses the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week upholding the display of a World War I memorial cross on public land. Griffin argues that the majority erroneously and unnecessarily complicated the question asked by the Establishment Clause, effectively forgetting that the United States is not a Christian nation and that the Constitution requires the government not to prefer one religion over any other (or none at all.

What Should the Court Do With That Cross?

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on a case heard by the US Supreme Court this week raising questions about the Establishment Clause. Griffin summarizes some of the main points of each of the advocates in the case and argues that the Court should provide a clearer standard—a straightforward rule that one religion cannot be preferred to another.

The Heckler’s Veto vs. The Podium Pullback: Why Public Universities Should be Given Room to Craft Data-Informed and Viewpoint-Neutral Policies to Govern Speaker Events

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on a challenge presently facing public (and many private) universities: how best to handle student organizations’ invitations of contentious speakers to speak on campus. Amar points out the legal limitations to some proposed solutions and argues that the law should adapt to a changing world to allow universities more options to craft data-informed and viewpoint-neutral policies.

What the Alabama Confederate Memorial Case Says About Modern Constitutional Doctrine

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains why a recent decision by an Alabama trial court was constitutionally misguided while also illustrating some of the prominent and problematic features of modern First Amendment and federalism doctrines. Amar describes the reasoning behind the ruling, points out the flaws in the analysis, and then offers two takeaway points that we might learn from the opinion.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan Proves Once Again the Church Will Never Reform Itself without the Law and Civil Society Behind It

Marci A. Hamilton—professor and resident senior fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania and founder, CEO, and Academic Director of CHILD USA—comments on an op-ed by New York City’s Archdiocese’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan that Hamilton characterizes as full of “misstatements and ugly implications.” Hamilton disassembles Dolan’s claims and explains why litigation—not mediation, as Dolan claims—is critically essential for the victims of child sex abuse to access the justice they deserve.

Why Facebook’s Hate-Speech Policy Makes So Little Sense

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on Facebook’s global efforts to block hate speech and other offensive content and explains why formula-based policy necessarily makes very little sense. As Dorf explains, accurate determinations of hate speech require cultural understanding and evaluations of cases on an individual basis, but this approach also necessarily injects individual bias into those decisions. Thus, Facebook’s policy, while not ideal, may be but one of a handful of inadequate options.

Tension Between the Vatican and American Bishops Over Next Steps in the Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis: Could We See the Beginning of a Schism?

Marci A. Hamilton—the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania—describes the growing tension between the Vatican and American Bishops with respect to clergy sex abuse and considers whether a schism might be imminent. Hamilton refers to and draws upon a column she wrote in 2002, in which she argued that disagreement between American bishops and the Vatican over the correct path for dealing with clergy sex abuse was foreordained.

Supporting Religion is Not Always Good for Religious Freedom

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin explains why broad support of religion is not necessarily good for religious freedom. Specifically, Griffin looks at the position of Judge Brett Kavanaugh on a number of issues from his time on the bench and before, and predicts that as a justice of the US Supreme Court, he is unlikely to ensure everyone’s constitutional rights are protected, but only those of certain groups.

Seeking Forward-Looking Justice for #ChurchToo

Illinois law professor Lesley Wexler comments on the #ChurchToo movement, a campaign arising from the viral #MeToo movement, that seeks to raise awareness of sexual assault in the specific context of churches. Wexler describes the similarities between the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, as well as some key differences, and explains that any meaningful change must come largely from within these communities due to challenges in church doctrine and philosophy, particularly with evangelical churches.

FDA Plan to Censor “Milk” in Plant-Based Food Names May Violate the First Amendment

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf explains why the FDA’s recent announcement that it intends to restrict the word “milk” on food labels may present First Amendment issues. Dorf points to the US Supreme Court’s decision last year in Matal v. Tam—which rejected the Patent and Trademark Office’s denial of a trademark to a band on the ground that the name was offensive—as evidence of the Court’s skepticism about the government making ideological judgments in the grant or denial of rights to exclusive use of a word.

Justice Kennedy’s Replacement and the Religious Test Awaiting

Marci A. Hamilton, professor and resident senior fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania, comments on this week’s news from the US Supreme Court—its decisions upholding President Trump’s travel ban, striking down a California law affecting so-called crisis pregnancy centers, and the news that Justice Anthony Kennedy will be retiring. Hamilton cautions that the cases portend that, President Trump will, in effect, impose a religious test on candidates for Justice Kennedy’s replacement—a requirement expressly prohibited by the Constitution.

Attitudinal and Doctrinal Takeaways from the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein discuss two doctrinal issues raised in the Supreme Court’s majority and concurring opinions in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Amar and Brownstein explain how Colorado could have reached the results it reached without disfavoring religion or religious liberty/equality at all, and they point out that the Court’s focus on the motives of the commissioners is unusual given the Court’s prior decisions on the role of invidious motives.

When Is an LGBTQ Rights Case Not About LGBTQ Rights? When It’s the Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision

Marci A. Hamilton— one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Practice and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania—comments on the recent decision by the US Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Hamilton explains the scope and limitations of the Court’s decision and notes the significance of its narrow holding in that case.

Rape, Racism, Free Speech, and Fraternities

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb examines two (real, but slightly altered) conversations in order to explore the thoughts and feelings that might affect the weight we give to principles that support our positions, while disregarding the same principles when they run contrary to our positions. Colb describes the interrelatedness of conversations that arise regarding rape, racism, and free speech, specifically in the context of college fraternities, but applicable to many other situations.

Understanding Free Speech Controversies on College Campuses: A Summary of a Very Helpful Conversation Between Two Leading Analysts—Erwin Chemerinsky and Geof Stone

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar relates insights on campus free speech principles that came up during a recent discussion with renowned constitutional commentators Erwin Chemerinsky and Geof Stone. Among the insights are some possible explanations for why many college students today seem opposed to allowing offensive speech on campus, the different perspectives on the proper role of university officials regarding controversial guest speakers, and the question of when the costs of providing security for controversial speaker events justifies the cancellation or termination of the event.

The War Over Women’s Health: The Supreme Court Considers Validity of California Law Mandating that Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers Disclose if They Are Not Licensed

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the recent oral argument in NIFLA v. Becerra, in which so-called Crisis Pregnancy Centers challenge California’s Reproductive FACT Act as violating their First Amendment right to free speech by requiring posted information about medical licensure and abortion. Grossman points out that Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor seemed to believe that if California’s FACT Act violates the First Amendment, then so too would laws in other states requiring that doctors engage in anti-abortion (or abortion-deterrent) speech.

The Constitutional Issues Driving the Events in the Hit Movie, The Post

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein describe and analyze the two main legal doctrines that give rise to the action in the blockbuster movie The Post, which chronicles the efforts of journalists at the Washington Post and the New York Times to publish the Pentagon Papers. As Amar and Brownstein explain, the rule against prior restraint and the collateral bar rule animated many of the motives, moves, and countermoves that were documented in the acclaimed film.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, holds the James J. Freeland Eminent Scholar... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973.... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately... more