Analysis and Commentary on Speech and Religion
Hate Crimes and Free Speech

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explains why the view that hate crime legislation violates the freedom of speech is incorrect and has radical and undesirable logical implications. Professor Colb points out that speech in this context is used as a basis for inferring a person’s motive, and people generally agree that motive can be a relevant consideration in determining whether certain conduct is permissible.

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.

The Pentagon Papers Case through the Mists of Time: Understanding the Court’s 6-3 Decision in the Most Important First Amendment Case Ever

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in New York Times Co. v. United States, known as the “Pentagon Papers” case, Touro Law professor Rodger D. Citron describes the Pentagon Papers litigation and shows how the whirlwind pace contributed to the lack of consensus in the Court’s decision. Professor Citron draws upon books by James C. Goodale and David Rudenstine and reminds us of the challenges and complications attendant to a case that is celebrated by many today as, in the words of Adam Liptak, “a potent vindication of press freedom.”

Reforming the Vatican’s Code of Canon law, #MeToo Insights, and Zero Tolerance

Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler comments on the recent overhaul of the Vatican’s Code of Canon law, pointing out areas in which it shows promise and also its possible shortcomings. Despite some features that warrant skepticism, Professor Wexler argues that the reforms reflect a serious reckoning with past scandals, evolving understandings of consent, and an attempt to use the criminal code to deter bad behavior both by sexual abusers and those who would protect them, rather than their victims.

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.

Series of Recent Statements from Rutgers University Illustrates the Complexity of Institutional Speech in Higher Education

Using recent statements from Rutgers University as an example, Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar describes certain cautionary factors that high-level university administrators should bear in mind before engaging in institutional speech. Dean Amar explains the complexity of institutional speech in higher education and suggests that even well-intentioned speech can lead to unexpected criticism and responses.

“Most Favored-Nation” (“MFN”) Style Reasoning in Free Exercise Viewed Through the Lens of Constitutional Equality:

In this second of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law professor emeritus Alan Brownstein continue their discussion of why the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent “Most Favored Nation” (MFN) approach to the Free Exercise Clause of First Amendment is troubling on a number of levels. Dean Amar and Professor Brownstein point out that an MFN-style approach is virtually guaranteed to cause geographical inequality because it relies upon fortuitous secular analogues.

What Facebook and its Oversight Board Got Right and Wrong in the Trump Case

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on last week’s announcement by the Facebook Oversight Board with its verdict regarding the company’s treatment of former President Donald Trump’s suspended account. Professor Dorf argues that the Board’s ruling makes sense in many respects, but makes two mutually exclusive demands of Facebook: clear rules for the sake of predictability and at the same time, flexibility for moderators to consider the individual context of a situation.

Exploring the Meaning of and Problems With the Supreme Court’s (Apparent) Adoption of a “Most Favored Nation” Approach to Protecting Religious Liberty Under the Free Exercise Clause: Part One in a Series

In this first of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law professor emeritus Alan E. Brownstein discuss the U.S. Supreme Court’s apparent adoption of a “most favored nation” approach to protecting religious liberty under the Free Exercise Clause. Dean Amar and Professor Brownstein describe some of the problems with this approach and point out that the reason religious exercise receives constitutional recognition and protection is not because the Constitution assigns some heightened value to religious belief and practices over secular interests, but because we do not want the state to interfere with religious choice and the autonomy of religious individuals to associate with a religion of their choice.

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.

Analyzing the Recent Sixth Circuit’s Extension of “Academic Freedom” Protection to a College Teacher Who Refused to Respect Student Gender-Pronoun Preferences

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein comment on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals by the Sixth Circuit holding that the First Amendment protects a college teacher who refused to respect student gender-pronoun preferences. Dean Amar and Professor Brownstein argue that the court may have reached the wrong outcome on the facts, and in doing so it unnecessarily decided the extent to which a key Supreme Court case should or should not apply to the public higher education setting.

Could Clarence Thomas Be Right About Twitter?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent concurrence by Justice Clarence Thomas in a case in which the Court vacated as moot a federal appeals court ruling that the president cannot block users’ access to his Twitter account. Professor Dorf explains why Justice Thomas’s reasoning is deeply flawed, but he points out that Justice Thomas’s conclusion that the First Amendment might permit Congress to forbid Twitter from moderating content on its site finds unlikely support in arguments historically put forth by progressive politicians and scholars. In their view, very large private actors who exercise power over people’s lives comparable to and sometimes even exceeding that of government should be subject to the same sorts of norms that the Constitution applies to the government.

Sidney Powell Files a Brief Embracing Fact-Free Politics

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a brief filed by Donald Trump’s former lawyer Sidney Powell in a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems. Professor Dorf argues that Powell’s motion to dismiss the case should fail, but he notes that the argument presented in her brief is more subtle than is generally acknowledged.

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 Upside-Down Treatment of Religious Exceptions Cases in the Supreme Court

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to reject an emergency application from the State of Alabama to lift a stay on the execution of Willie B. Smith III. Professor Dorf observes the Court’s unusual alignment of votes in the decision and argues that, particularly as reflected by the recent COVID-19 decisions, the liberal and conservative Justices have essentially swapped places from the seminal 1990 case Employment Division v. Smith, which established that the First Amendment does not guarantee a right to exceptions from neutral laws of general applicability.

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.

Obstacles to the Biden Agenda Include Americans’ Belief in Nonsense

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the willingness of Americans to believe lies and misinformation, pointing to confirmation bias and social media bubbles as playing key roles in this problem. Professor Dorf argues that we must render Trumpism beyond the pale, in part by shunning those who spread lies and minimizing opportunities for them to spread dangerous misinformation and incite riots.

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.

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

Samuel Estreicher
Samuel Estreicher

Samuel Estreicher is the Dwight D. Opperman Professor, Director, Center for Labor and Employment... more

Leslie C. Griffin
Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las... 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 Fels Institute of Government 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

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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