Analysis and Commentary on Speech and Religion
The Breadth of the Ministerial Exception and Ecclesiastical Deference: A State Supreme Court Case Highlights Questions Left Open by Last Year’s U.S. Supreme Court Hosanna-Tabor Ruling

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on a decision from the Kentucky Supreme Court concerning the ministerial exception to employment discrimination law, which leaves some inquiries to ecclesiastical, rather than secular resolutions. In this area of law, Amar notes that last year’s U.S. Supreme Court case on the ministerial exception, Hosanna-Tabor, left a number of questions still to be answered by the courts, both state and federal—including the U.S. Supreme Court, meaning, Amar says, that future High Court clarification is likely.

A New Mexico School District Censors Students’ Attempts to Use Plastic Fetus Dolls to Talk About Abortion

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a New Mexico free speech case, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled against students’ First Amendment claims, among other claims that their attorneys had brought. Hilden argues that the students’ First Amendment claims were valid, and should have been upheld by the court. She also raises an interesting wrinkle regarding the Tinker test for speech in public schools: What if the speaker is not the disruptor of the school environment, and other students are, but the seed of the other students’ disruption did come from the speaker?

The First Amendment and Ag-Gag Laws

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden writes in opposition to Ag-Gag laws, which penalize those who (1) covertly take videos of abuse at facilities where animals are held; and/or (2) apply for a job at such a facility without revealing that they are affiliated with an animal rights group. She also comments on Duke law professor Jed Purdy’s argument in a recent New York Times Op Ed that webcams should be placed in slaughterhouses and other animal facilities, because Purdy doesn’t go further to advocate the use of such cameras to make slaughterhouses a thing of the past.

The Plague of Proposed Legislation by Religious Entities in the States: An Explosion in Foolhardy State Religious Liberty Proposals and a Sneaky Addition to the Pennsylvania Task Force’s Legislative Proposals

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on two recent developments: (1) a new kind of state-level religious freedom restoration act (RFRA) that omits the requirement of a substantial burden upon the plaintiff's religious conduct; a mere burden is enough under this new kind of RFRA; (2) the deeply disappointing nature of the Pennsylvania Task Force Legislative Package to protect children, which omitted child-sex-abuse statute of limitations reform, and failed to protect children from medical neglect by faith-healing parents.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Rules in Favor of a Public Elementary School Student Who Sought to Pass Out Invitations to Her Church’s Party to Her Classmates

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent school speech decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The case involved a fifth grader who had sought to invite her classmates to her church's Christmas party. The court invoked the Tinker test, which asks whether student speech causes substantial disruption in the school's setting. The case also raised the intriguing question of how old students need to be to have their speech in the school setting protected by the Tinker precedent.

Is Hawaii’s Steven Tyler Act Consistent With the First Amendment?

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on Hawaii’s Steven Tyler Act, which seeks to attract more celebrities to Hawaii by addressing the paparazzi problem for those celebrities who may want to vacation there—or have a house there, as well-known musician Steven Tyler does. Hilden contends that the Act raises two key First Amendment issues—one regarding failed attempts to photograph celebrities, and another regarding how much consideration should have to be exchanged to trigger a violation of the statute.

A New Pope, A New Beginning for Clergy Child Sex Abuse Survivors? Why It’s Unlikely

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton predicts that the new Pope, formerly the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, will be no more successful than his predecessor in effectively addressing the Catholic Church’s problem with clergy child sex abuse. In making her case, Hamilton cites the name the new Pope chose, Francis for St. Francis Xavier, not St. Francis of Assisi; and the fact that he is a Jesuit—and thus a member of an order that despite the respect it claims still has clergy child abuse problems and problems with related cover-ups. Hamilton also points out that Pope Francis—unlike Cardinal Oullet of Canada, another top contender—has not been an outspoken critic of clergy child abuse. For these and other reasons, Hamilton predicts that true reform in this area will only come from the legal system, not the Church.

Can California’s Anti-Paparazzi Statute Survive a First Amendment Challenge?

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on the first case invoking the 2010 California anti-paparazzi statute. The paparazzo at issue had mounted a high-speed chase following Justin Bieber, which fell within the statute’s prohibitions; he was then charged not only with reckless driving, but also with an offense under the anti-paparazzi statute. But does that statute violate the First Amendment? Hilden explains why it might be thought to. Notably, if the statute is upheld, Hilden suggests that it may substantially change the cat-and-mouse games that paparazzi play with the celebrities whom they seek to photograph.

Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief for Houses of Worship: Why the Establishment Clause Forbids this Most Recent Attempt by Religious Lobbyists to Obtain Government Support and Funding

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton argues that Hurricane Sandy disaster relief cannot constitutionally be extended to religious institutions, and notes that such relief was not extended to houses of worship in prior, similar situations. She also contends that religious institutions should go back to their days of eschewing government funding entirely. Accordingly, Hamilton opposes the Federal Disaster Assistance Non-Profit Fairness Act, and notes that the church/state entanglement issues that will arise if the government is involved in funding the rebuilding of a damaged house of worship.

The Minnesota Supreme Court Rules for the Defendant in a Suit Alleging Online Defamation

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a case of online defamation, in which a doctor sued a patient’s son for the son’s harsh online reviews regarding the doctor’s care of the patient's father. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that none of the statements in the son’s reviews could be sued upon, either because they were substantially true, because they were not capable of defamatory meaning, or because, in one case, the statement at issue was a statement of pure opinion. Hilden explains why the online-review-writer prevailed here, and notes some other reasons why online reviews may or may not successfully be sued upon.

The American Bishops, Contraception, and Gender Discrimination

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on last week's issuance by, the Obama Administration, of revised HHS regulations that accommodate religious organizations that object to providing contraception and abortion services as part of their requirement to provide health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Hamilton explains the exemption, its four criteria, and how the rules work. She also notes that the religious exemption does not apply to for-profit entities, and likely will be held not to apply to nonprofit entities, either. The reason the exemption likely does not apply, Hamilton explains, is that employers are completely out of the loop, with the health insurance issue (including issues regarding contraception and abortion) now solely an issue, under the regulations, between a woman and her doctor.

Do Special Legislative Protections for Labor Picketing Violate the First Amendment? The California Supreme Court in the Ralphs Grocery Case Says “No,” Disagreeing with the D.C. Circuit and Setting Up a Split Only the Supreme Court Can Resolve

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on the possible First Amendment issues that could arise from the application of laws that especially favor labor picketing, above other kinds of picketing. Amar covers a recent California Supreme Court ruling on the issue, and the relevant U.S. Supreme Court precedents as well. Amar critiques the California Supreme Court's analysis, but also concludes that, in the end, the California Supreme Court's result was the right one. Amar also notes the reasons why this important First Amendment/labor rights issue may ultimately land at the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming years.

The First Amendment and a New York State Newspaper’s Reportage of the Names of All Area Individuals Holding Pistol Permits

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on the controversial decision by the suburban New York newspaper The Journal News to report the names of area residents who possess pistol permits. Hilden discusses both a possible defense for the newspaper’s controversial action, and also some reasons why that action, while legal under area law and First-Amendment-protected, may not have been prudent—particularly since revealing who is armed in a given community also implicitly reveals who is unarmed and thus potentially vulnerable and therefore, the newspaper’s reportage might cause many area residents to arm themselves.

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.

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