Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—comments on a religious liberty issue presented by the upcoming execution of Wesley Ira Purkey. Sarat explains that Purkey’s spiritual advisor is unable to attend Purkey’s execution due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he points out that for the federal government to carry out the execution anyway would belie its purported commitment to religious liberty.
UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the Court held that under Title VII, an employer cannot fire an employee simply for being gay or transgender. Griffin considers what might happen next term when the Court takes up the question of whether religious organizations are exempt from these generally applicable laws and thus may discriminate against LGBTQ employees (and others).
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.
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.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the recent oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in Our Lady of Guadalupe 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.