Analysis and Commentary on Speech and Religion
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.

The Constitutional Answer to Balkanization: The Recent Controversies Regarding Hercules and Chick-fil-A, and a Wrongly Decided Federal District Court Case

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on two recent and somewhat similar controversies: the Chick-fil-A controversy, regarding the head of the company’s comments about gay rights; and the Hercules controversy, regarding that company’s refusal to pay for employees’ contraception due to the owners’ religious beliefs. Hamilton warns that such controversies raise the specter of Balkanization—that is, a society torn asunder by differing religious beliefs and the inability to live harmoniously because of these religious differences. Hamilton also covers a Colorado-based federal district court decision regarding the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) relating to employer-funded contraception. In addition, she provides examples of what might happen if this slippery slope is allowed to slip further—with individual and corporate business owners alike forcing their own religious beliefs, no matter how unusual or how restrictive, upon employees who reject those beliefs, and refusing to offer health insurance insofar as it supports practices, such as the use of contraception, in which the employers do not believe.

The Michigan Supreme Court Holds That the First Amendment Protects Drivers From Being Punished for Their Purely Verbal Disagreements With Parking Ticket Officers

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent Michigan Supreme Court First Amendment case, regarding a Michigan State University (MSU) ordinance. The ordinance makes it a misdemeanor to disrupt an MSU officer from performing his or her normal activities. In this case, a man whose car has been ticketed went up to the officer whom he believed gave him the ticket, and began shouting at him; a misdemeanor conviction ensued. The Michigan Supreme Court ultimately heard the case, addressing the key question whether a purely verbal interaction could constitutionally count as falling within the ordinance. Relying on a closely parallel Supreme Court precedent, the Michigan Supreme Court held that it could not.

Why the Chick-fil-A Controversy Raises Tough Questions About Government Power to Regulate Business Based on Owners’ Political Spending

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf confronts an interesting question arising from a controversy relating to the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain. The chain’s president has made anti-same-sex-marriage statements. Under the First Amendment, Dorf notes, no government—federal, state, or local—can punish him for those statements alone. But Dorf also notes that the speech of businesses and their representatives can sometimes be a legitimate concern of government. And he cites two central reasons: First, speech manifesting bias may hint at illegal conduct manifesting the same bias, thus arguably justifying special scrutiny for the speaker. And second, in many circumstances, private speech may also implicate the government itself—for instance, when there is a restaurant on a military base. Citing a mix of hypotheticals and real-life examples, Dorf illustrates the difficult constitutional issues that are at play here.

Digital Parody and the Shell Arctic Hoax: Did the Yes Men Cross A Legal Line With Their Most Recent Brandalism?

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on legal issues regarding the “Yes Men”—a group that creates faux websites and events in order to take aim at corporations, and other entities, the actions of which they oppose. While parody is strongly protected under Supreme Court precedent, Ramasastry notes that the Yes Men’s work is somewhat different from traditional parody, which makes the difference between the parody and its target very clear, very quickly. Ramasastry suggests that in the future, the Yes Men’s strategy may be tested, for the Yes Men’s actions may cause more confusion—and for that reason, may not receive, in court, the full protection that clear, non-confusing parodies enjoy. Ramasastry concludes that even if that is the case, this will have little impact on the Yes Men’s strategies—beyond changing the corporate names on their parody sites.

The Supreme Court Strikes Down the Stolen Valor Act: Was It the Right Call?

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on the Supreme Court’s recent ruling striking down the Stolen Valor Act (SVA), a federal criminal statute that punishes lies about winning medals, including the Congressional Medal of Honor. Hilden covers the majority opinion striking down the SVA, Justice Breyer’s concurrence, and the adamant, fact-filled, and passionate dissent. Hilden contends that this case was not only interesting in its own right—because the SVA permitted criminal consequences simply for a proven lie, and nothing more than that—but also interesting as a political litmus test of sorts: Liberals, she suggests, will tend to worry about imposing harsh criminal penalties on mere bar-room braggadocio, while conservatives will tend to worry about the dilution, by false claims, of the significance of the medals that cost so much, and mean so much, to the recipients and their families.

Why The D.C. Court of Appeals Rejected the Claim that Performing a Rap Constituted Making a Criminal Threat

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals—D.C.’s highest court—regarding the First Amendment and the “true threats” doctrine, which holds that true threats are not First Amendment-protected. Hilden notes that the case was unusual as it involved not just a statement, but a rap. After covering three key U.S. Supreme Court cases regarding the “true threats” doctrine, Hilden goes on to consider why the court ruled in favor of the speaker, and to agree with the court’s result. She also emphasizes the importance of context in the decision whether a given comment counts as a true threat or First-Amendment-protected speech, and notes a number of factors that might cut for or against a “true threat” finding in particular cases.

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