Using recent statements from Rutgers University as an example, Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar describes certain cautionary factors that high-level university administrators should bear in mind before engaging in institutional speech. Dean Amar explains the complexity of institutional speech in higher education and suggests that even well-intentioned speech can lead to unexpected criticism and responses.
In this second of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law professor emeritus Alan Brownstein continue their discussion of why the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent “Most Favored Nation” (MFN) approach to the Free Exercise Clause of First Amendment is troubling on a number of levels. Dean Amar and Professor Brownstein point out that an MFN-style approach is virtually guaranteed to cause geographical inequality because it relies upon fortuitous secular analogues.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on last week’s announcement by the Facebook Oversight Board with its verdict regarding the company’s treatment of former President Donald Trump’s suspended account. Professor Dorf argues that the Board’s ruling makes sense in many respects, but makes two mutually exclusive demands of Facebook: clear rules for the sake of predictability and at the same time, flexibility for moderators to consider the individual context of a situation.
In this first of a series of columns, Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law professor emeritus Alan E. Brownstein discuss the U.S. Supreme Court’s apparent adoption of a “most favored nation” approach to protecting religious liberty under the Free Exercise Clause. Dean Amar and Professor Brownstein describe some of the problems with this approach and point out that the reason religious exercise receives constitutional recognition and protection is not because the Constitution assigns some heightened value to religious belief and practices over secular interests, but because we do not want the state to interfere with religious choice and the autonomy of religious individuals to associate with a religion of their choice.
UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin and University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton describe how the current Supreme Court is furtively undermining neutral and general laws by embracing a so-called “most favored nation” theory. Professors Griffin and Hamilton explain that under this dangerous approach, otherwise neutral laws that might incidentally burden religious exercise (such as zoning laws or public health regulations) are constitutionally suspect if they create any exceptions for purportedly secular activities, and, they argue, this can result in legal discrimination and harms to groups including LGBTQ+ individuals, children, those with disabilities, and others.
Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein comment on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals by the Sixth Circuit holding that the First Amendment protects a college teacher who refused to respect student gender-pronoun preferences. Dean Amar and Professor Brownstein argue that the court may have reached the wrong outcome on the facts, and in doing so it unnecessarily decided the extent to which a key Supreme Court case should or should not apply to the public higher education setting.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent concurrence by Justice Clarence Thomas in a case in which the Court vacated as moot a federal appeals court ruling that the president cannot block users’ access to his Twitter account. Professor Dorf explains why Justice Thomas’s reasoning is deeply flawed, but he points out that Justice Thomas’s conclusion that the First Amendment might permit Congress to forbid Twitter from moderating content on its site finds unlikely support in arguments historically put forth by progressive politicians and scholars. In their view, very large private actors who exercise power over people’s lives comparable to and sometimes even exceeding that of government should be subject to the same sorts of norms that the Constitution applies to the government.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a brief filed by Donald Trump’s former lawyer Sidney Powell in a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems. Professor Dorf argues that Powell’s motion to dismiss the case should fail, but he notes that the argument presented in her brief is more subtle than is generally acknowledged.
Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, argues that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was the first “big lie” in that purported to “restore” case law but actually gave religious actors the right to be above the law. Professor Hamilton notes two bills that have been introduced in Congress that would take measures to carve back RFRA’s destructive reach and which would not, contrary to some claims, threaten true religious liberty.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to reject an emergency application from the State of Alabama to lift a stay on the execution of Willie B. Smith III. Professor Dorf observes the Court’s unusual alignment of votes in the decision and argues that, particularly as reflected by the recent COVID-19 decisions, the liberal and conservative Justices have essentially swapped places from the seminal 1990 case Employment Division v. Smith, which established that the First Amendment does not guarantee a right to exceptions from neutral laws of general applicability.
UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on a recent decision by the Illinois Supreme Court characterizing a “lay principal” at a Catholic school as a “minister” and therefore dismissing her claim under the Illinois Whistleblower Act under the so-called “ministerial exception.” Professor Griffin argues that the ministerial exception gives churches pure religious freedom to dismiss all legal claims against them, rendering them entirely unaccountable for their unlawful actions.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the willingness of Americans to believe lies and misinformation, pointing to confirmation bias and social media bubbles as playing key roles in this problem. Professor Dorf argues that we must render Trumpism beyond the pale, in part by shunning those who spread lies and minimizing opportunities for them to spread dangerous misinformation and incite riots.
Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, describes the steps the Biden administration needs to take to bring the country back from the precipice of becoming a theocracy. Professor Hamilton highlights action items with respect to the Department of Justice, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment, tax exemptions and accountability, and governmental financial support for organizations engaged in discriminatory practices.
Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars, explains why the rhetoric about a “decline” in religious liberty actually signals a decline in religious triumphalism, and is a good thing. Professor Hamilton describes how religious actors wield the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) not as a shield, but as a sword to destroy the lives of fellow Americans.
David S. Kemp, a professor at Berkeley Law, and Charles E. Binkley, MD, the director of bioethics at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, consider the implications of Pope Francis’s recently revealed statement endorsing same-sex civil unions as they pertain to a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Kemp and Binkley argue that the Pope’s statement undermines the moral legitimacy of the Catholic organization’s position and casts a shadow on the premise of its legal arguments.
UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin explains why stigma is a central concept that came up during oral argument before the Supreme Court in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. Griffin points out that some religions have long supported racial discrimination, citing their religious texts, but courts prohibited such discrimination, even by religious entities. Griffin argues that just as religious organizations should not enjoy religious freedom to stigmatize people of color, so they should not be able to discriminate—and thus stigmatize—people based on sexual orientation.
Marci A. Hamilton—a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars—offers eight questions she would have asked Judge Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearings. Hamilton points out that questioning a person’s religious affiliation is considered taboo because of the false, public mythology in the United States that religion is always good and pure, despite overwhelming evidence that religion, which is run by humans, often perpetuates domestic violence against women and children.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a statement by Justice Clarence Thomas (joined by Justice Samuel Alito) gratuitously expressing his hostility to the Court’s same-sex marriage decision in Obergefell v. Hodges and his sympathy for Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even after the Supreme Court’s decision. Although Justice Thomas characterizes Davis and those like her as people who “refus[e] to alter their religious beliefs in the wake of prevailing orthodoxy,” Dorf points out that no one asked Davis to alter her religious beliefs. Rather, the lawsuit against her contends that she must provide services to the public in accordance with their constitutional rights, whatever her religious beliefs.
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.
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.