Analysis and Commentary on Speech and Religion
The Year in Review: 2012 Marks the Highest Watermark Yet for Victims of Child Sex Abuse

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton looks back on this year’s important developments regarding justice for victims of child sex abuse. Among the events Hamilton chronicles are the conviction of prominent Satmar Hasidic school counselor Nechemya Weberman, and the Catholic Church and Penn State cases, which led to the convictions, respectively, of Msgr. Willam Lynn and Jerry Sandusky. Other developments, as Hamilton explains, have involved the Boy Scouts’ release of previously secret files, as well as the release of previously secret files pursuant to the settlement by the Catholic Church’s Los Angeles Archdiocese. Key priorities for the future, Hamilton notes, are increased legal reform in this area, and a greater focus on the problem of incest.

Why North Carolina’s New Law Making It a Crime for Students to Bully Teachers Online Is Deeply Troubling From a First Amendment Standpoint

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden covers a new North Carolina law, described by the North Carolina ACLU as possibly the first of its kind in the United States, which seeks to protect teachers from students’ (1) building a fake online profile or website of the teacher; (2) posting the teacher’s private, personal, or sexual information; (3) tampering with the teacher’s online networks, data or accounts; (4) signing the teacher up to a pornographic website; or (5) making any statement, whether true or false, that is likely to provoke someone else to stalk or harass the teacher. Violations of any of these five provisions carry criminal penalties. Hilden argues that the law’s genuine concern for protecting teachers is already sufficiently addressed by existing civil and/or criminal law, and that to the extent that the provisions go further than existing law, they may raise serious First Amendment issues—issues that have already left the North Carolina ACLU primed to challenge the statute. Hilden also underlines the point that teachers typically have far greater resources and maturity to deal with bullying than students do, and thus, she argues, teachers need less protection from bullying than students do.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Considers in Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education Whether Public Schools Can Be Houses of Worship

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on a recent decision from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The decision addressed the question whether the New York City Board of Education can exclude houses of worship from occupying public schools. Hamilton argues that this controversy is part of a much larger issue, regarding religious groups’ seeking government entitlements. She covers the key U.S. Supreme Court cases that are relevant to this issue, and connects the issue to the “church-planting” movement. The ultimate goal of those who seek to allow religious groups to occupy public school, is much more ambitious than just that, Hamilton suggests: It is to convince governments to pay as much money to support religious private schools as it pays to support public schools.

The European Court of Human Rights Upholds German Ban on PETA’s “Holocaust On Your Plate” Campaign: Lessons For Animal Activists and for Animal Product Consumers

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on a controversy in Germany in which Germany’s branch of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA-D, compared animal exploitation and slaughter to the Nazi Holocaust, in a series of seven graphic posters. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) subsequently held that Germany’s censorship of the images was lawful. Colb, who is both an ethical vegan and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, critically analyzes (1) PETA-D’s decision to launch a campaign comparing animal slaughter to the Holocaust; (2) the ECHR’s decision that such a comparison diminishes Holocaust victims and survivors; and (3) the specific nature of the offense that is felt by those who condemn the analogy between animal exploitation and the Holocaust. In her analysis, Colb refers to sources ranging from Adorno, Singer, and Coetzee on animal suffering, to Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi,” a comparison to which most people don’t object, but perhaps logically should.

A Mississippi Public School Student’s Rap Song Gets Him a Suspension, and a First Amendment Case

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a federal district court case that was brought after Mississippi teen Taylor Bell was suspended based on the lyrics of a rap song he wrote and posted on Facebook and YouTube, where it was heard by his high school classmates. Hilden explains why the case implicated the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Tinker v. Des Moines, even if the rap song fell short of constituting a “true threat” under other free speech precedents. Taylor lost before the federal district court, but, as Hilden explains, his attorney has noted a number of key points that will likely help strengthen Taylor’s case in the planned appeal.

A First Amendment Fight At Oregon State University Leads to an Interesting Decision From a Panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit panel decision arising out of a controversy regarding the treatment by Oregon State University (OSU) of a conservative student newspaper, The Liberty. While OSU's traditional newspaper, The Barometer, was allowed to use on-campus newsbins, The Liberty first had its copies dumped out of its newsbins, with no prior notice, and then was allowed to put The Liberty in only two designated areas on campus, whereas The Barometer suffered under no such restrictions. Hilden argues that the Ninth Circuit panel was right to rule that the student newspapers should have been treated equally, with The Liberty accorded the same access as The Barometer.

Condoms and Content-Based Discrimination: The First Amendment Implications of “The Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act”

Justia guest columnist and Cornell Visiting Scholar Antonio Haynes comments on an issue that was raised recently in a Los Angeles Proposition best known as Measure B: Should pornography industry performers be required to use condoms while on set? L.A. voters said yes, but Haynes contends that there is a strong First Amendment argument against the measure, based on the tenet that speech cannot (with very limited exceptions) be regulated based on its content. Although decreasing the incidence of unprotected sex is a compelling government interest, Haynes notes, Measure B does not seem to solve an “actual problem,” to use the Supreme Court’s phrase, as the adult film industry has self-regulated with great effectiveness. Thus, the objection to pornography without condoms seems to arise not from the fear of disease, so much as from the objective of controlling the content of pornography. Ultimately, too, Haynes says, performers’ dignitary interests are at stake—just as all Angelenos’ would be if everyone, not just porn performers, were subject to Measure B.

The Establishment Clause and the Free Speech Clause in the Context of the Texas High School Cheerleader Religious Banner Dispute

Justia columnist Vikram David Amar and Justia guest columnist Alan Brownstein, both U.C., Davis law professors, comment on an interesting lawsuit that involves both the Free Speech Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The suit was brought by a group of public high school cheerleaders against the school district that told them to stop displaying religious-themed banners bearing bible verses and proclaiming things like “If G-d is for us, Who Can Be Against Us?” at football games. Does the Establishment Clause forbid what they are doing? And does the Free Speech Clause come into play? Amar and Brownstein address the complex constitutional issues that the case presents.

False Tweets During a Crisis: Why They May Go Unpunished

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp comments on the now-notorious false tweets regarding Hurricane Sandy sent by Shashank Tripathi (Tripathi is a hedge fund analyst and was previously the campaign manager for Republican Christopher Wight's Congressional campaign; he has since been fired.) While many have excoriated Tripathi's tweets as unethical, Kemp addresses the separate question whether they can be penalized consistent with the First Amendment. Thus, Kemp covers past and current Supreme Court precedents that relate to other instances of false and/or damaging speech.

Why a Missouri School Speech Case Doesn’t Merit Supreme Court Review, and What Kind of School Speech Case Likely Will

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent school speech case from Missouri in which twin brothers, both high-school juniors, created a blog that derogated fellow students in racist and sexist ways. Hilden argues that it’s no surprise that the brothers were suspended from their school and required to continue their studies elsewhere, given that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Comm. Sch. Dist. allows students to be punished when substantial disruption foreseeably results from speech that they directed at their school. She also notes that it is unlikely that the U.S. Supreme Court would grant review in a case like this one, and describes the kind of school-speech case that might, conversely, be a good candidate for the Court’s review.

Bachelors of Color Need Not Apply? Why a Federal Court Was Right to Hold That ABC Has a First Amendment Right to Choose Its Bachelor Contestants, but the Network Should Voluntarily Change Its Practices

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a recent court decision in which two African-American men challenged what they alleged was differential treatment in their auditions for the reality show The Bachelor. With neither The Bachelor nor its sister show, The Bachelorette, ever having had an African-American lead, the plaintiffs saw evidence of racial discrimination when the show, they allege, gave them shorter interviews than other would-be contestants received, and did not ultimately select them to join the show’s cast. Ramasastry explains why the plaintiffs lost in court: the First Amendment protects casting decisions, whether by dramas, comedies, or reality shows. She notes, though, that the lack of court relief here doesn't mean the men were wrong on the merits, but only that they will now need to find another avenue, such as protesting and/or continuing to speak out, in order to make their point.

How Religious Bullies Have Recently Sought to Impose Their Views on Others, in Pakistan and Here in the U.S.

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on an incident in Pakistan in which a 14-year young woman was shot by the Taliban because she voiced her view that girls should be educated; and an incident here in the U.S. where the American Family Association—which is characterized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group—has essentially come out in favor of the bullying of homosexual children on Mix It Up at Lunch Day, which is meant to break up cliques, even if just for one day. Hamilton argues that the first incident shows the need for the international recognition of civil rights, and of the rule of law, and the second incident involves a particularly repellent form of homophobia that has no place in our public schools. Each incident is made all the worse, Hamilton suggests, because children are the victims. Hamilton reminds us, too, that we are fortunate here in the U.S. to have the benefit of the First Amendment's Establishment and Speech Clauses.

The Controversy Over a Teacher’s Criticism of a Student’s Romney/Ryan T-Shirt, and a Possible Solution for the Future

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on the recent controversy over a Philadelphia public school geometry teacher's deriding student Samantha Pawlucy for wearing a Romney/Ryan T-shirt. The incident blew up into a full-blown controversy, with Romney personally calling the girl and speaking with her parents. Hilden parallels the incident to the key 1969 Supreme Court student-speech case, Tinker v. Des Moines Ind. Comm. Sch. Dist., in which students near Pawlucy's age wore black armbands in school in order to protest the Vietnam War. Hilden also argues that Pawlucy’s is an easy case, and that she would have a much harder First Amendment case, had the incident occurred in a History or Social Studies class. Finally, Hilden questions whether this was a case of teacher/student bullying, and suggests that teachers and students alike should be required to learn basic school-speech First Amendment tenets.

A Chicago Judge Rules in Favor of “Occupy Chicago” Protesters: Why He Made The Right First Amendment Call

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on an important recent First Amendment ruling by a Chicago judge, Thomas More Donnelly. Judge Donnelly ruled in favor of Occupy Chicago protesters who broke the 11:00 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew for Grant Park, and were consequently arrested. Significant in Judge Donnelly's decision were the Illinois Constitution’s especially broad right of assembly; the fact that, in 2008, Obama rally participants were allowed to break the curfew in Grant Park without suffering arrest or other consequences; and the poor treatment that the Occupy Chicago protesters had earlier endured from the Chicago police, before the Grant Park arrests. Hilden argues that Judge Donnelly was correct to rule for the protesters.

A Federal Judge Upholds the Women’s Health Regulations of the Affordable Care Act Against a Free Exercise of Religion Challenge

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on a recent decision from a federal district judge regarding employers’ duties under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The case arose when the Chairman of a for-profit company, who is Catholic, objected to the ACA’s requirements that his employee health plan must cover contraception and sterilization. Specifically, the Chairman claims, among other things, that his constitutional right to the free exercise of religion has been violated by the requirement. Hamilton, citing several U.S. Supreme Court cases, argues that the Chairman is wrong, and that if his position were to be accepted by the courts, then we would be on a dangerous slippery slope, for even minimal burdens on religious exercise could then lead to important consequences for those who are of other religions, or no religion at all. In addition to addressing these constitutional issues, Hamilton also discusses the issues raised in this area by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Assessing California’s New Law (And Others Somewhat Like It) That Tries to Regulate Funeral Demonstrations Without Violating the First Amendment

Justia columnist Vikram Amar and Justia guest columnist Alan Brownstein, both U.C., Davis law professors, comment on California’s law attempting to regulate demonstrations at funerals, as well as similar efforts by the federal government and other states. Amar and Brownstein consider whether such laws are consistent with the First Amendment. As they note, the issue has arisen due to the activities of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based family group that has shown up to picket near the sites of funerals—including, often, military funerals. One of the group’s messages is that America is too tolerant of homosexuality. The group’s activities, Amar and Brownstein note, have already been the subject of a Supreme Court ruling, Snyder v. Phelps. In addition to analyzing the Snyder case, Amar and Brownstein discuss another analytical framework that they argue would better suit such cases than the one the Court invoked, and consider related questions such as how broad a no-picketing zone can be imposed to protect mourners’ privacy, and how long that zone can last, before and after a funeral.

Why the United States Must Either Get Behind the Anti-Islam Videographer’s First Amendment Right to Insult Religion (and Politics and Politicians and Every Other Power, Large or Small), Or Lose What Matters Most

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton takes strong issue with the U.S.’s stance on the anti-Islam YouTube video that has sparked protests and violence in the Muslim world. Hamilton argues that President Obama’s statement, rather than speaking of the hurt feelings of religious believers, instead should have taken a strong First Amendment stance. Hamilton argues that the right to criticize government and religion, the two most powerful social structures in society, is key here, and that President Obama should have made that clear. Hamilton contends, as well, that Mitt Romney’s remarks on this topic—though better than Obama's in vindicating the First Amendment—still were tepid and abstract when they ought to have been passionate. Hamilton also notes that Obama is taking a page from the Bill—and now Hillary—Clinton playbook when it comes to religious believers.

A Federal Judge Declines to Grant a Motion to Dismiss a Minnesota Student’s First (and Fourth) Amendment Complaint Based on Her School’s Demand That She Give Up Her Facebook and Email Passwords

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent decision by a Minnesota-based federal court, regarding a student whose school punished her for two postings she had made on Facebook, after forcing her to give over to the school her personal Facebook and email passwords. The court, as Hilden explains, refused to dismiss the student’s complaint, and offered in its opinion an excellent summary of the existing law regarding schools’ ability—or, in some cases, their lack thereof—to punish students’ off-campus, after-hours speech.

Can the Government Require Doctors to Provide Misleading Information to Patients Seeking Abortions? A Federal Appeals Court Says No, but Means Yes

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on a recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. As Dorf explains, the decision upheld a provision of a South Dakota law mandating that women seeking an abortion be informed that, with the abortion procedure, comes “an increased risk of suicidal ideation and suicide.” Although the medical literature shows only a correlation, and not a causal relationship, between abortion and suicide, and although that correlation likely stems entirely from some of the underlying factors that lead women to seek abortions in the first place, the Eighth Circuit still upheld the law at issue. Although the Eighth Circuit’s decision was quite plainly the wrong one, Dorf notes, he also predicts that it’s very unlikely that the U.S. Supreme Court will take the case. He then explains why the Court is likely to decline review and why, if it does grant review, it might uphold the law, even though it ought to be struck down.

Teaching (and Learning) About United States v. Alvarez, the Stolen Valor Act Case

Justia columnist Vikram Amar and Justia guest columnist Alan Brownstein, both U.C., Davis law professors, discuss the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Alvarez. As they explain, the case concerned the Stolen Valor Act, which imposes criminal penalties on those who falsely claimed to have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor or another medal granted by the United States. The Court had to decide whether the Act violated the First Amendment. Amar and Brownstein offer a subtle analysis of the various doctrinal moves that were made, in the case, by the Justices who joined the plurality opinion, the concurrence, and the dissent in the case, respectively. They focus especially on a search for a limiting principle that goes just far enough, but not too far, in the case, and target their analysis especially toward law professors who seek to teach the case, and students who seek to better understand it.

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

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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