Analysis and Commentary on Speech and Religion
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 Gaudalupe 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.

The Unacknowledged Clash Between the Supreme Court’s Interpretation of the Religion Clauses and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment

Illinois law dean Vikram David Amar and UC Davis law professor emeritus Alan Brownstein comment on a largely unacknowledged clash between religious accommodations and exemptions on the one hand, and core free speech principles which the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized, on the other. Amar and Brownstein describe this apparent conflict and suggest that the Court begin to resolve the conflict when it decides two cases later this term presenting the question of the scope of the “ministerial exception.”

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.

The Constitutional Permissibility (Under the First Amendment) of Public School District Zero-Tolerance Policies on Racial Epithets

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar discusses a recent controversy involving the termination of a Wisconsin public school security guard under a zero-tolerance policy on racial epithets. Amar explains why, if the guard had chosen to sue, he likely would have lost in court based on current precedent, and Amar uses the apparent injustice of that outcome to illustrate that public employees often don’t realize how much their speech can be proscribed and prescribed by their government employers.

Toxic Religious Liberty: President Trump Takes the Conservative Religious Agenda to the International Stage

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, comments on President Trump's recent visit speech at the United Nations Event on Religious Freedom that promotes his administration's brand of religious liberty. Hamilton argues that Trump is leading the nation toward toxic religious liberty that our nations framers—and particularly James Madison—warned against and attempted to prevent.

When Friends Preside Over Weddings: Tennessee Fights the Online Ministers

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on a law recently passed (and challenged) in Tennessee that purports to prohibit ministers ordained online from presiding over marriages in that state. Grossman explains why the Tennessee legislature passed the law and why it is being challenged, and she points out that based on the judge’s questions during the proceedings, the state may ultimately have to show at trial how the law is rationally related to its legitimate regulation of entry into marriage—regardless of whether it burdens the free exercise of religion.

Is Physical Liberty an Important Right?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a decision the U.S. Supreme Court issued toward the end of the last term, in which a majority of the Court ruled that as long as police have probable cause for an arrest, it does not matter if their actual motivation for arresting someone violates the person’s First Amendment rights. Colb considers whether such pretextual, speech-based arrests are a problem, how they differ from other pretextual arrests, and how the ruling in this case resembles the law of a seemingly different area—post-conviction incarceration for convicted criminals.

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.

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