Thursday, September 25, 2008
Lloyd Mayer recently posted his article, The Pulpit, Politics, RFRA, and Institutional Free Exercise. Here is the interesting abstract:
More than fifty years ago, Congress enacted with little deliberation a prohibition against political campaign intervention for all charities, including churches and other houses of worship. For many years the prohibition lay mostly dormant, invoked only rarely by the government and never against a house of worship for statements made from the pulpit. That period of relative peace is now over, however, as the government has begun a systematic enforcement effort and both religious liberty groups and houses of worship have reacted with increasing defiance. Yet predicating the ultimate result of this conflict is complicated by the shifting sands of free exercise of religion law, including still unsettled issues arising out of the Supreme Court's landmark Employment Division v. Smith decision applying the First Amendment and Congress' enactment of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in response.
This article navigates that legal landscape, identifying and attempting to answer the open questions that courts may need to resolve to address this almost inevitable conflict. Those questions include the scope of the various exceptions to the rule announced in Smith and what exactly it is that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act restored. This exploration reveals that the First Amendment as currently interpreted by the federal courts is unlikely to prevent the government from applying the prohibition to sermons, but that churches and other houses of worship have a strong argument that RFRA does block the prohibition in the unique context of in-person, in-service sermons. This exploration also uncovers another possible line of argument for houses of worship - that, the First Amendment and the RFRA protect "institutional free exercise" as well as individual free exercise. Building on the existing but still somewhat incoherent church autonomy doctrine, an institutional free exercise approach would protect all religious communications between the leaders of a house of worship and its members from the reach of the prohibition under both the First Amendment and RFRA.