Analysis and Commentary on Speech and Religion
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.

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 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.

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.

Upcoming Execution Tests Trump Administration’s Commitment to Religious Liberty

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on a religious liberty issue presented by the upcoming execution of Wesley Ira Purkey. Sarat explains that Purkey’s spiritual advisor is unable to attend Purkey’s execution due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he points out that for the federal government to carry out the execution anyway would belie its purported commitment to religious liberty.

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).

Hey Twitter—How About Protecting the Rape Victims, Too? And Mr. President, You Lack the Power to Deter Social Media from Fact-checking

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton comments on Twitter’s recent announcement of a policy to label tweets containing “misleading information.” Hamilton argues that this change is long overdue, but is only the tip of the “Twitter cruelty iceberg,” pointing out that Twitter has empowered celebrities accused of sex assault to attack victims (and whistleblowers), and Twitter should do something about that, as well.

The President Cannot Order the States to Open Houses of Worship During COVID-19

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton argues that the President does not have the power to order states to open houses of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hamilton discusses the limitations on federal power with respect to states and religious entities and praises the wise members of the clergy who are resisting opening before it is safe.

The Things That Are Caesar’s

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the recent oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, which raises the question how broadly to construe the word “minister” within the ministerial exception to anti-discrimination law required by the First Amendment. Colb explains where the ministerial exception doctrine might be headed and suggests that an exemption even for criminal misconduct against ministers might be within the existing doctrine.

What’s at Stake in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue? What the Equal Protection Clause Means in the Context of Classifications Based on Religiosity

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and UC Davis emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein comment on a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that raises the question whether a religiously neutral student-aid program in Montana that affords students the choice of attending religious schools violates the religion clauses or the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Amar and Brownstein express no opinion as to whether the courts’ often-expressed concerns about striking down invidiously motivated laws can be effectively overcome, but they contend that jurists who reject invalidating invidiously motivated laws must explain why reasons sufficient in other contexts are not persuasive in this case.

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.

Toxic Religious Liberty in the COVID-19 Era

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that governors and lawmakers should not be granting religious exemptions to stay-at-home orders imposed due to COVID-19. Hamilton points out that there are two prerequisites for legitimate religious exemptions, and the exemptions granted in twelve states have met neither.

The Lessons the Coronavirus Crisis Can Teach Us About the Religious Liberty that Serves the Public Good (aka the Framers’ Religious Liberty)

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, describes some of the lessons the novel coronavirus pandemic can teach us about religious liberty. Hamilton points out that COVID-19 is nondenominational and nonpartisan, yet we are already seeing some groups claim to be exempt from the public-health prohibitions on large gatherings, on the basis of their religious beliefs.

The Perils of Relying on the Wrong Clause—Grounding the Ministerial Exception at the Supreme Court

GW Law professors Ira C. Lupu and Robert W. Tuttle explain why the path the U.S. Supreme Court might be about to take in ministerial exception cases—relying on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment—is dangerously misguided. Lupu and Tuttle argue that the ministerial exception rests primarily on the Establishment Clause and is strictly limited to employment decisions about who leads or controls a faith community, or who transmits a faith.

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.

A Win for Equal Pay: The Third Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds A Law Designed to Address Wage Gap

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upholding a local law designed to address the wage gap. Grossman describes the landscape of equal pay law and the efforts some states and localities have made to address the inequity.

Discrimination and the “Leveling Down” Puzzle

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf considers how much freedom the government has to “level down” in response to a finding of impermissible discrimination. Dorf discusses several of the U.S. Supreme Court’s precedents on leveling down and points out that these decisions are difficult to reconcile with each other and leave unresolved the questions whether and when leveling down is permissible.

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 Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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