Monday, December 5, 2022

Check it Out: Tang's Who's Afraid of Carson v. Makin?

Aaron Tang, Who's Afraid of Carson v. Makin?, 132 Yale L. J. Forum 504 (2022):

How worried should progressives be about the Supreme Court’s latest ruling in favor of publicly funded religious schools?

Maybe less than we have assumed. In this Essay, I argue that Carson v. Makin—which struck down Maine’s policy of excluding religious private schools from its publicly funded tuition-aid program—may have surprisingly limited repercussions for a cautiously hopeful reason. By enacting a statute that explicitly prohibits all private schools from discriminating against LGBTQ students, Maine’s progressive lawmakers simultaneously protected a vulnerable student population, limited church/state entanglement, and preserved the state’s commitment to public education. In other words, Carson teaches much about the Court’s strident efforts to shift the law further to the right. But its most important lesson may have more to do with how progressives can best respond to a Court that has forsaken us: through smart and impactful lawmaking.

December 5, 2022 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, Religion, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Court Rules in Favor of Praying Football Coach

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District that a public-school district violated the Free Exercise and Free Speech rights of a football coach who prayed at the 50-yard line after football games, and that the district could not justify its violations under the Establishment Clause.

The ruling is yet another move by the Court to expand free-exercise rights at the expense of anti-establishment concerns, and thus to allow and require religion to play a larger role in public life.

Still, it's not clear exactly how far this ruling will extend. That's because Court took pains to describe the coach's prayers as private religious exercises, contrary to the facts. By one reading, then, the case only allows a public employee to engage in private religious exercise that doesn't impede their job or coerce others to join. But don't expect the Court to limit this case to its facts. This is part of a larger move to expand free-exercise rights and limit the Establishment Clause, and we can expect the Court to use this case as a building block as it moves forward in this effort.

As part of the ruling, the Court abandoned the three-part Establishment Clause test under Lemon v. Kurtzman and replaced it with a "historical practices and understandings" test that "faithfully reflec[ts] the understanding of the Founding Fathers." (The Court acknowledged that this test includes an anti-coercion component, but it didn't specify exactly what coercion means.) It's not at all clear what that test means, or how lower courts will apply it. But again: this is part of the Court's larger move to expand free-exercise rights and limit the Establishment Clause, so we can expect the Court to apply this "historical practices and understandings" test consistently with that trend.

Justice Gorsuch wrote for the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh (except the part on the coach's free-speech claim), and Barrett. The Court held that the district violated the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses for disciplining the coach for "offer[ing] a quiet personal prayer" at the 50-yard line after football games. It went on to hold that the district couldn't justify its violations under any standard of scrutiny. It said that the district lacked a sufficient anti-establishment concern under its "historical practices and understandings" test, including that the district failed to demonstrate that the coach's prayers were impermissibly coercive.

Justice Sotomayor dissented, joined by Justices Breyer and Kagan. She argued that the Court got the facts wrong--this was no private prayer, but rather a very public exhibition--and that

Today's decision goes beyond merely misreading the record. The Court overruled Lemon v. Kurtzman and calls into question decades of subsequent precedents that it deems "offshoot[s]" of that decision. In the process, the Court rejects longstanding concerns surrounding government endorsement of religion and replaces the standard for reviewing such questions with a new "history and tradition" test. In addition, while the Court reaffirms that the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from coercing participation in religious exercise, it applies a nearly toothless version of the coercion analysis, failing to acknowledge the unique pressures faced by students when participating in school-sponsored activities. This decision does a disservice to schools and the young citizens they serve, as well as to our Nation's longstanding commitment to the separation of church and state.

June 28, 2022 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Court to Hear Arguments in Religious School Funding Case

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday in Carson v. Makin, the case testing whether a state can exclude private schools with an overtly religious educational mission from a state program that provides public funds for private education. Here's my preview, from the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases, with permission:

ISSUE

Does a state violate the Religion Clauses or Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution by prohibiting students participating in an otherwise generally available student-aid program from choosing to use their aid to attend schools that provide religious, or "sectarian," instruction?

FACTS

Maine’s Constitution requires local governments to provide free public education to the K-12 students in the state. Maine divides its schools across 260 local school administrative units (SAUs), serving nearly 180,000 students.

Maine gives SAUs the option to either operate their own schools “or otherwise provide for students to participate in [kindergarten through grade twelve] as authorized elsewhere” by statute. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 20-A, § 1001(8). More than half of the SAUs do not operate their own public schools. For those SAUs, state law provides two options: they can contract with another public or approved private school for some or all of its students, or they can pay tuition for its students at another public school or “the approved private school of the parent’s choice at which the student is accepted.” Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 20-A, § 5204(4). Maine is careful to say that this is not a typical school-choice or voucher program. Instead, Maine only allows parents who live in SAUs with neither their own public schools nor with contracts with other schools to choose from “a small group of private schools who demonstrate to the State that the educational program they provide is a suitable equivalent to public education.” (Less than 5,000 students live in SAUs that contract with other schools or that pay students’ tuition at a private school.)

Maine law sets certain requirements for approved private schools to receive public funds for tuition. Among other things, any private school approved for the receipt of public funds must be “a nonsectarian school in accordance with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.” Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 20-A, § 2951(2). Private schools typically self-identify as sectarian with the Maine Department of Education. But if there’s any question, the Department

considers a sectarian school to be one that is associated with a particular faith or belief system and which, in addition to teaching academic subjects, promotes the faith or belief system with which it is associated and/or presents the material taught through the lens of this faith. While affiliation or association with a church or religious institution is one potential indicator of a sectarian school, it is not dispositive. The Department’s focus is on what the school teaches through its curriculum and related activities, and how the material is presented.

Two sets of parents sued the state, arguing that the exclusion for tuition payments to sectarian schools violated the Free Exercise Clause, the Establishment Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause. One set of parents, David and Amy Carson, send their daughter to Bangor Christian Schools, a sectarian school with an overtly religious educational mission. The other set, Troy and Angela Nelson, currently send their daughter to Erskine Academy, a nonsectarian school, but would like to send her to Temple Academy, a sectarian school also with an overtly religious educational mission. Under state law, the plaintiffs’ SAUs could not pay for tuition at these schools.

The district court ruled in favor of the state, and the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed. This appeal followed.

CASE ANALYSIS

This case implicates a couple strands of free-exercise jurisprudence. Let’s take a look in order to give some context to the parties’ arguments.

First, under the Free Exercise Clause, a generally applicable government action that is neutral with regard to religion is constitutional, so long as the action is rationally related to a legitimate government interest. That’s a very low-level test, and most government action will almost always pass.

But on the other hand, government action that targets religion, or that is based on anti-religion animus, must be narrowly tailored to meet a compelling government interest. That’s a very stringent test, and most government action will fail.

Next, the two religion clauses give states some limited room to make religion-based choices in designing their public policies. For example, the Court ruled in Locke v. Davey that a state could operate a program that provided scholarships for talented postsecondary students, even if it excluded students who pursued a degree in devotional theology. 504 U.S. 712 (2004). The state in that case adoption the exclusion pursuant to its own state constitution and in order to avoid direct state support of religion. The Court held that the exclusion fell in the “play in the joints” between the two religion clauses. On the one hand, the Court said that the state could include devotional theology students in the scholarship program without violating the Establishment Clause. But on the other hand, it said that the state’s exclusion didn’t violate the Free Exercise. The Establishment Clause didn’t compel the state to exclude devotional theology students, but the Free Exercise Clause didn’t require the state to include them, either. Under the play in the joints, the state could choose.

Finally, the Court more recently has interpreted Locke to say that a state may exclude the religious use of a state benefit, but that it may not exclude an otherwise qualified individual or organization based on religious status. The difference is between how a person or organization uses state resources, and what that person or organization is. For example, the Court ruled in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, 137 S. Ct. 2012, (2017), that Missouri violated the Free Exercise Clause when it categorically excluded a Lutheran church’s school from a state grant program to resurface school playgrounds. The state excluded the school based only on the school’s affiliation with the church (its status), not because the school would use the funds for a religious purpose (its use).

Most recently, the Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, 140 S. Ct. 2246 (2020), that a state that provides tax credits for contributions to organizations that provided scholarships to private schools must also provide tax credits for contributions for scholarships to private schools controlled by a “church, sect, or denomination.” Again, the state impermissibly excluded religions from its benefits program based only on a school’s religious status, not its religious use of public benefits.

Against this backdrop, the parents argue first that the tuition exclusion for sectarian schools violates the Free Exercise Clause, because it “is neither neutral toward religion nor generally applicable.” They say that the Court “has long held that a law lacking either characteristic is subject to strict scrutiny,” and that the exclusion must fail.

The parents argue next that the First Circuit was wrong to apply the “use/status distinction” to dodge this result. They contend that there is simply no basis for the distinction. They assert that the Framers elected to protect religious “exercise,” and not belief or conscience, and that this covers both use and status. Moreover, they claim that the Court has never used the distinction “as grounds for eluding strict scrutiny of laws that discriminate based on religion.” To the extent that Locke says otherwise, the parents argue that the Court should overrule it.

But even if the Court applies the use/status distinction, the parents argue that Maine’s exclusion must fail. They say that the exclusion “forces students to choose between their free exercise rights and receipt of a public benefit,” that it “discriminates based on religious use and status in equal measure,” and that “it is not narrowly targeted at an essentially religious endeavor,” or use.

The parents argue that because the exclusion discriminates against religion, Maine must proffer an “historic” and “substantial” interest. But they say that Maine’s asserted interests are insufficient. For one, they contend that Maine’s interest in avoiding an Establishment Clause violation by funding sectarian education is legally flawed under Court precedent. For another, they claim that Maine’s interest in ensuring that public funds “support only the rough equivalent of public education” is neither historic nor substantial, and that the exclusion does not support it, in any event.

The parents argue next that the exclusion violates the Establishment Clause. They say that the exclusion lacks a secular purpose, that it has a principal effect of inhibiting religion, and that it requires excessive government entanglement with religion. As to that last point, they contend that the state, in order to enforce the exclusion, “must make intrusive inquiries and judgments regarding the school’s religious curriculum and activities” and, worse, must make judgments about a school’s religious status versus its religious use of public funds.

Finally, the parents argue that the exclusion impermissibly discriminates against religious schools in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The parents point to the Fourteenth Amendment’s framer’s “concern[] with ensuring that religious educators supported by the Freedman’s Bureau could continue their efforts to educate the freedmen in the wake of the Civil War.” They say that “[i]t would be perverse” to hold that the Clause means less today than it did to the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Maine counters first that the exclusion does not violate the Free Exercise Clause. Maine contends that this case is really about public education, and that its exclusion is merely designed to ensure that private schools that receive public tuition funds provide an education that substantially equivalent to public education. The state says that “religious education is nothing like a public education”: “An education that includes proselytization and inculcation in specific religious beliefs and supports the exclusion of some children and families is antithetical to a public education.” Maine asserts that while parents are free to provide their children with this kind of religious education, the Free Exercise Clause does not require the state to support it. Maine says that the exclusion is designed only to ensure that private schools that receive state fund provide the equivalent to a secular public education; it is not designed to target religion, or out of any anti-religion animus.

Maine argues that the Court has recognized that a state need not extend a public-benefits program for religious use, even if a state cannot deny participation in a public-benefits program based on religious status. The state claims that its system and criteria fall on the “use” side, and that its system and criteria fall in the permissible play-in-the-joints between the two religion clauses.

But even if the Court treats the exclusion as targeting religion, Maine argues that it satisfies strict scrutiny. The state says that it has a compelling government interest in providing a secular public education. And it claims that the exclusion is narrowly tailored to achieve this interest, because it only excludes religious uses of public funds, consistent with its interest in providing a secular public education.

As to the Establishment Clause, Maine argues that the parents’ approach is wrong, and “would turn that clause on its head.” That’s because Maine’s exclusion is designed to prevent the use of public funds for religious practices, not to promote religion. The state says that “[a]ny Establishment Clause concerns weigh heavily” in its favor, as the exclusion, if anything, helps to avoid Establishment Clause violations.

Maine argues that the same arguments that the exclusion does not violate the Free Exercise Clause also mean that the exclusion does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. 

Finally, Maine argues that the parents lack standing. The state says that “it is speculative whether a favorable ruling will result in the relief they seek,” because the evidence suggests that their preferred schools might not accept public funds. Maine claims that if the schools won’t accept public funds, any relief that the Court could grant would not redress their alleged injury, because the children would not be able to attend the schools at public expense, anyway.

(The government, as amicus in support of Maine, makes substantially similar arguments.)

SIGNIFICANCE

The Court in recent years has dramatically expanded religious liberties and the role of religion in public life. In rulings favoring religion over anti-discrimination laws, requiring state and local governments to treat religious organizations on par with secular organizations (even when that means that the government must support religion), and creating extraordinary exceptions for religions to broadly applicable and religiously neutral laws, the Court has moved incrementally, but manifestly, to expand religious liberties.

This case gives the Court a chance to expand religious liberties once more, or to cabin the expansion. In this case, it’ll likely come down to the use/status distinction. On the one hand, the Court could expand religious liberties by abandoning the use/status distinction altogether, or to blur the distinction by ruling that Maine’s exception applies to the religious private schools’ status (not use). This is not far-fetched. After all, the distinction is relatively new, since Trinity Lutheran, and, as Justice Neil Gorsuch argued in Trinity Lutheran and Espinoza, the line between status and use can be murky.

On the other hand, the Court could cabin the expansion by drawing a hard line between use and status, and ruling that that Maine’s exception applies to religious private schools’ use of the funds (not their religion status). This isn’t far-fetched, either; indeed, the facts support it: Maine introduced evidence that it applies the exemption only to schools that promote a faith or belief system, or teach the material through faith. If so, the Court’s ruling here would buck the Court’s larger trend toward greater religious liberties and a larger role for religion in public life.

Finally, Maine gave the Court a potential off ramp with its standing argument. The Court could rule that the parents lack standing for the reasons Maine says. This seems unlikely, though: Maine pitched this argument in its brief in opposition to the parents’ petition for certiorari, and the Court decided to take the case, anyway.

December 8, 2021 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, News, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

SCOTUS Broadens Ministerial Exemption from Anti-Discrimination Laws

In its opinion in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, consolidated with St. James School v. Biel, the Court extended the application of the First Amendment's "ministerial exception" first accepted by the Court in 2012 in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, to the teachers at schools run by religious organizations in the cases, and seemingly to all teachers employed by religiously-affiliated schools. 

Writing for the Court, Alito's opinion — joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Breyer, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh — held that although the teachers in these cases were not actually "ministers" by title and did not have as much as religious training as the teacher in Hosanna-Tabor, they are encompassed in the same exception from enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.  The Court stated that the First Amendment protects a religious institution's independence on matters of "faith and doctrine" without interference from secular authorities, including selection of its "ministers." But who should qualify as a "minister" subject to this exemption? Recall that the factors of Hosanna-Tabor figured in the oral argument (and recall also that they figured in the Ninth Circuit's opinions). But here, the Court stated that while there may be factors,  "What matters, at bottom, is what an employee does," rather than what the employee is titled. Moreover, the "religious institution's explanation of the role of such employees in the life of the religion" is important. Indeed, the religious institution's "explanation" seems determinative. The Court rejected a "rigid formula" for determining whether an employee is within the ministerial exception, concluding instead that:

When a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the First Amendment does not allow.

The brief concurring opinion by Thomas, joined by Gorsuch, argues that the Court should go further and essentially make the implicit more explicit: the Court should decline to ever weigh in "on the theological question of which positions qualify as 'ministerial.' "

Sotomayor dissenting opinion, joined by Ginsburg, begins:

Two employers fired their employees allegedly because one had breast cancer and the other was elderly. Purporting to rely on this Court’s decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC (2012), the majority shields those employers from disability and age-discrimination claims. In the Court’s view, because the employees taught short religion modules at Catholic elementary schools, they were “ministers” of the Catholic faith and thus could be fired for any reason, whether religious or nonreligious, benign or bigoted, without legal recourse. The Court reaches this result even though the teachers taught primarily secular subjects, lacked substantial religious titles and training, and were not even required to be Catholic. In foreclosing the teachers’ claims, the Court skews the facts, ignores the applicable standard of review, and collapses Hosanna-Tabor’s careful analysis into a single consideration: whether a church thinks its employees play an important religious role. Because that simplistic approach has no basis in law and strips thousands of school- teachers of their legal protections, I respectfully dissent.

For the dissent, the Court's conclusion has "grave consequences," noting that it is estimated that over 100,000 secular teachers employed by religiously-affiliated schools are now without employment protections. Further, it contrasts Esponiza v. Montana Dept of Revenue, decided this Term, in which the Court "lamented a perceived 'discrimination against religion,'" but here "it swings the pendulum in the extreme opposite direction, permitting religious entities to discriminate widely and with impunity for reasons wholly divorced from religious beliefs." The dissent concludes with a hope that the Court will be "deft" enough to "cabin the consequences" of this ministerial exception, but given the current composition of the Court, that hope seems a narrow one.

July 8, 2020 in Disability, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

SCOTUS Holds Free Exercise Clause Bars Application of State's No-Aid to Religious Institutions Clause in State Constitution

In its opinion in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue regarding a state tax credit scheme for student scholarships, the majority held that the scheme must be afforded to religious schools so that the Free Exercise Clause was not violated.

Recall that the Montana Supreme Court held that the tax credit program's application to religious schools was unconstitutional under its state constitution, Art. X §6 , which prohibits aid to sectarian schools. This type of no-aid provision is often referred to as (or similar to) a Blaine Amendment and frequently appears in state constitutions. 

In a closely-divided decision, the Court decided that the Montana Supreme Court's decision that the tax credit program could not be extended to religious schools should be subject to struct scrutiny under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause and did not survive. (The Court therefore stated it need not reach the equal protection clause claims). The Court essentially found that this case was more like Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer (2017) (involving playground resurfacing) and less like Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004), in which the Court upheld State of Washington statutes and constitutional provisions that barred public scholarship aid to post-secondary students pursuing a degree in theology. The Court distinguishes Locke v. Davey as pertaining to what Davey proposed "to do" (become a minister) and invoking a "historic and substantial” state interest in not funding the training of clergy. Instead, the Court opined that like Trinity Lutheran, Esponiza "turns expressly on religious status and not religious use."

The Court's opinion, by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, is relatively compact at 22 pages.  In addition to taking time to distinguish Locke v. Davey, the opinion devotes some discussion to federalism, invoking the Supremacy Clause and Marbury v. Madison in its final section. But the opinion also engages with the dissenting Justices' positions in its text and its footnotes. Along with the concurring opinions, the overall impression of Espinoza is a fragmented Court, despite the carefully crafted majority opinion.

The concurring opinion of Thomas — joined by Gorsuch — reiterates Thomas's view that the Establishment Clause should not apply to the states; the original meaning of the clause was to prevent the federal establishment of religion while allowing states to establish their own religions. While this concurring opinion criticizes the Court's Establishment Clause opinions, it does not confront why a state constitution would not be free to take an anti-establishment position.

Gorsuch also wrote separately, seemingly to emphasize that the record contained references to religious use (exercise) and not simply religious status. Gorsuch did not discuss the federalism issues he stressed in his opinion released yesterday in June Medical Services.

Alito's thirteen page concurring opinion is an exegesis on the origins of the Montana constitutional provision as biased. Alito interestingly invokes his dissenting opinion in Ramos v. Louisiana decided earlier this Term in which he argued that the original motivation of a state law should have no bearing on its present constitutionality: "But I lost, and Ramos is now precedent. If the original motivation for the laws mattered there, it certainly matters here." 
(Noteworthy perhaps is that Roberts joined Alito's dissenting opinion in Ramos and Roberts's opinion in Esponiza does spend about 3 pages discussing the Blaine amendments' problematical history, but apparently this was insufficient for Alito).

Ginsburg's dissenting opinion, joined by Kagan, pointed to an issue regarding the applicability of the Court's opinion:

By urging that it is impossible to apply the no-aid provision in harmony with the Free Exercise Clause, the Court seems to treat the no-aid provision itself as unconstitutional.  Petitioners, however, disavowed a facial First Amendment challenge, and the state courts were never asked to address the constitutionality of the no- aid provision divorced from its application to a specific government benefit.

Breyer, joined in part by Kagan, essentially argued that the majority gave short-shrift to Locke v. Davey and its "play-in-the-joints" concept authored by Rehnquist as expressing the relationship between the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Breyer's opinion is almost as long as the majority opinion, and the majority takes several opportunities to express its disagreement with Breyer, including in a two paragraph discussion, his implicit departure from precedent (e.g., "building on his solo opinion in Trinity Lutheran").

Sotomayor's dissent, also criticized by the majority in text, argues that the Court is "wrong to decide the case at all" and furthermore decides it wrongly.  The Court's reframing incorrectly addressed (or seemingly addressed?) whether the longstanding state constitutional provision was constitutional. Thus, she argues, the Court has essentially issued an advisory opinion.  On the merits, she contends, "the Court’s answer to its hypothetical question is incorrect." She concludes that the majority's ruling is "perverse" because while the Court once held that "the Free Exercise Clause clearly prohibits the use of state action to deny the rights of free exercise to anyone, it has never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to practice its beliefs,” it now departs from that balanced view.

The Court's opinion is much more divided than it seems at first blush. And the future of state constitutional provisions that prohibit taxpayer money from being used to support religious institutions remains in doubt.

 

June 30, 2020 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 11, 2020

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments in Ministerial Exemption Cases

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments (telephonically) in the consolidated cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrisey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel

Recall that these cases involve an application of the First Amendment's "ministerial exception" first accepted by the Court in 2012 in Hosana-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC.  In the unanimous decision in Hosanna-Tabor, the Court found that the school teacher Cheryl Perich was tantamount to a minister. Thus, under both Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, as a "minister" her employment relations with her church school employer were eligible for a "ministerial exception" to the otherwise applicable employment laws, in that case the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

But how far such this extend and who should qualify as a "ministerial" employee subject to the exemption from employment laws?  The factors that courts have derived from Hosana-Tabor include:

  • (1) whether the employer held the employee out as a minister by bestowing a formal religious title;
  • (2) whether the employee’s title reflected ministerial substance and training;
  • (3) whether the employee held herself out as a minister; and
  • (4) whether the employee’s job duties included “important religious functions.”

Throughout the oral argument, the question was which of these factors should be the test.  Morgan Ratner, on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae argued that the sole factor of  the employee performing an "important religious function" should be the test.  And yet, the very determination of whether an employee was performing "important religious functions" implicates an Establishment Clause issue should the court make such determinations. Indeed, Justice Gorsuch pressed on whether the court should simply accept the religious organization's statement that it had a sincere religious belief.

Nevertheless, the United States argued that this "important religious functions" factor should govern,  even if the employee was not terminated for a religious reason, but — as is the allegation in these cases — for a health issue or for age discrimination. Both Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor repeated the broadness of the exemption sought. And further, the fact that the teacher need not share religious identity with the organization should not be relevant to a determination of "important religious functions":

KAGAN: [A]nd if a position can be filled by any old person, not by a member of a faith, isn't that a pretty good sign that the employee doesn't have that special role within the religious community?
MS. RATNER: No, Justice Kagan, I don't think so. And -- and there are really several reasons. The -- the most important one is that's essentially a religious judgment about who is qualified to perform certain important religious functions and how much of the creed of that religion you need to share to perform that function.

Arguing for the teachers who had been terminated, Jeffrey Fisher pointed out the number of teachers employed in religious schools, and the number of other employees in religious hospitals. Fisher argued the expansiveness of the religious organization's argument:

So it really is a sea change – even as to teachers, leaving everything else aside, it is truly a sea change that is being requested by the other side here today in terms of how teachers and schools are classified and whether they have any employment rights at all or -- or, in fact, whether at least if you follow the way the lower courts have -- have implemented the ministerial exception, you basically have employment law-free zones in all religious schools.

Fisher also contended that many other laws were at stake, not only discrimination laws, but wage and hour and equal pay acts, as well as teacher credentialing laws including specific provisions such as criminal background checks.

Thus, while the ministerial exemption as rooted in the free exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment originally excepted only "ministers," there is a chance that it will be broadened to include all - - - or almost all - - - employees at religious organizations.

 

May 11, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Disability, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Oral Argument Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 24, 2020

SCOTUS Grants Certiorari on First Amendment Challenge to Anti-Discrimination Foster Care Policy

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia.

Recall that a unanimous panel of the Third Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a preliminary injunction against Philadelphia for stopping its referral of foster children to organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in their certification of foster parents. Much of the litigation centers on Catholic Social Services (CSS) which will not certify same-sex couples, even those who are legally married to each other, as foster parents. Writing for the panel, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote that the Free Exercise Clause does not relieve one from compliance with a neutral law of general applicability, which the court found the nondiscrimination law to be.  Unlike Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission  and Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah (1993), there was no hostility towards religion evinced in the case.  As the court stated:

CSS’s theme devolves to this: the City is targeting CSS because it discriminates against same-sex couples; CSS is discriminating against same-sex couples because of its religious beliefs; therefore the City is targeting CSS for its religious beliefs. But this syllogism is as flawed as it is dangerous. It runs directly counter to the premise of  [Employment Division v. ] Smith [1990] that, while religious belief is always protected, religiously motivated conduct enjoys no special protections or exemption from general, neutrally applied legal requirements. That CSS’s conduct springs from sincerely held and strongly felt religious beliefs does not imply that the City’s desire to regulate that conduct springs from antipathy to those beliefs. If all comment on religiously motivated conduct by those enforcing neutral, generally applicable laws against discrimination is construed as ill will against the religious belief itself, then Smith is a dead letter, and the nation’s civil rights laws might be as well. As the Intervenors rightly state, the “fact that CSS’s non- compliance with the City’s non-discrimination requirements is based on its religious beliefs does not mean that the City’s enforcement of its requirements constitutes anti-religious hostility.”

The litigation attracted much attention and the grant of certiorari may indicate that some of the Justices are willing to overturn Smith or to extend the holding of Masterpiece Cakeshop.

February 24, 2020 in Establishment Clause, Family, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments on Montana Blaine Amendment for School Scholarship

The Court heard oral arguments in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue regarding a state tax credit scheme for student scholarships as violating the First Amendment's religion clauses and the equal protection clause.

Under the original Tax Credit Program, the law provided a taxpayer a dollar-for-dollar tax credit based on the taxpayer’s donation to a Student Scholarship Organization. However, Montana has a constitutional provision, Art. X §6, which prohibits aid to sectarian schools, so the department of revenue added "Rule 1" to the state tax credit scheme excluding from the definition of "qualified education provider" eligible under the scheme "a church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, literary or scientific institution, or any other sectarian institution owned or controlled in whole or in part by any church, religious sect, or denomination."  Parents challenged the constitutionality of Rule 1, but when the litigation reached the Montana Supreme Court, it held that the Tax Credit Program was unconstitutional under Art. X §6 and therefore it did not need to reach the issue regarding Rule 1:

Having concluded the Tax Credit Program violates Article X, Section 6, it is not necessary to consider federal precedent interpreting the First Amendment’s less-restrictive Establishment Clause. Conversely, however, an overly-broad analysis of Article X, Section 6, could implicate free exercise concerns. Although there may be a case where an indirect payment constitutes “aid” under Article X, Section 6, but where prohibiting the aid would violate the Free Exercise Clause, this is not one of those cases. We recognize we can only close the “room for play” between the joints of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses to a certain extent before our interpretation of one violates the other.

In the oral argument, Justice Ginsberg characterized the option exercised by the Montana Supreme Court as leveling down: "When a differential is challenged, the court inspecting the state law can level up or level down. And here it leveled down." (This "leveling down" approach occurred in Justice Ginsburg's opinion for the Court in Sessions v. Santana-Morales (2017)). And here that leveling down effected questions of standing which troubled Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan in their early questions to the attorney for the petitioners — the parents and original plaintiffs — who are "three levels removed" from any injury as Sotmayor stated.

The Montana Supreme Court assumed center stage at times, with Justice Alito for example questioning not simply whether the court was wrong but whether it was discriminatory:

isn't the crucial question why the state court did what it did?

If it did what it did for an unconstitutionally discriminatory reason, then there's a problem under Village of Arlington Heights.

So I'll give you an example. The state legislature sets up a scholarship fund, and after a while, people look at the – the recipients of the scholarships, and some people say: Wow, these are mostly going to blacks and we don't like that and that's contrary to state law. So the state supreme court says: Okay,that discrimination is -- we're going to strike down the whole thing.

Is that constitutional?

The attorney for Montana, Adam Unikowsky rejected "the race analogy" stating that "we just don't think that race and religion are identical for all constitutional reasons."

Justice Breyer explained, "what he's saying is that, look, the court took the case in the Prince Edward County thing -- " or "the equivalent and said they couldn't do that. They can't shut down all the schools, even though the Constitution they didn't say had a right and so that's the similarity."

This question of the race-religion analogy persisted, with the motivation behind the Montana state constitutional provision, often known as a Blaine Amendment, being "rooted in -- in grotesque religious bigotry against Catholics," as Justice Kavanaugh phrased it. Justice Kagan seemingly rejected the notion that the court's striking down the entire program must be motivated by animus towards religion:

And I can think of many reasons why you would strike down the whole program that have nothing to do with animus toward religion. You might actually think that funding religion imposes costs and burdens on religious institutions themselves. You might think that taxpayers have conscientious objections to funding religion. You might think that funding religion creates divisiveness and conflict within a society, and that for all those reasons, funding religious activity is not a good idea and that you would rather level down and fund no comparable activity, whether religious or otherwise, than fund both. Now, none of those things have anything to do with animus towards religion . . . .

Yet soon after, Chief Justice Roberts returned to the race analogy. Later, Justice Breyer would ask:

can we--can you or could I say this: Yes, race is different from religion. Why? There is no Establishment Clause in regard to race.

The specific doctrinal arguments revolve around the extension of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Comer, decided in 2017, involving Missouri's state constitutional Blaine Amendment and the denial of funds to a church school playground.  And more deeply, the "play in the joints" notion from Locke v. Davey — which was itself divisive in Trinity Lutheran — is implicated. At stake is the possibility that Free Exercise Clause will now overwhelm any anti-Establishment concerns.

 

January 23, 2020 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Oral Argument Analysis, Race, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

District Court Strikes Trump Administration "Conscience Protections" for Healthcare Workers

Judge Paul A. Engelmayer (S.D.N.Y.) struck the Trump Administration rule designed to allow healthcare workers to decline services if they have a religious objection to a procedure. 

We posted on the final rule here.

The ruling deals a significant blow to the Administration's efforts to expand "conscience protections" for healthcare workers beyond what federal statutes currently provide.

The court held that the Health and Human Services rule exceed statutory authority, violate the law, and violated the separation of powers and the Spending Clause. The court held that it did not violate the Establishment Clause.

The rule provides, among other things, that a healthcare worker can decline to participate in a procedure when the worker has a religious or moral objection, that the worker's employer can't discriminate against the worker based on the worker's beliefs, and that HHS can revoke all HHS funding to any employer who violates these provisions. HHS purportedly adopted the rule under authority of 30 statutory provisions that recognize the right of an individual or entity to abstain from participation in medical procedures. 

The court ruled that the sweeping rule went well beyond HHS's statutory authority, and that the agency therefore exceeded its statutory authority in enacting the rule. It also held that the rule violates Title VII and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. And it held that HHS's reasons for enacting the rule were not sufficient (among other things, "HHS's central factual claim of a 'significant increase' of complaints of Conscience Provision violations is flatly untrue."); that HHS's explanation for changing course was insufficient; and that HHS failed to consider the rule's application to medical emergencies and its interplay (and conflict with) Title VII. Finally, the court held that the rule's sweeping definition of "discrimination" "was not a logical outgrowth of the Rule as proposed." 

The court also ruled that HHS violated the separation of powers by adopting a rule that allowed the agency to withhold all federal funding, exceeding the agency's authority under federal law. It held that the rule violated the Spending Clause as against state plaintiffs, because the conditions on receipt of federal funds are ambiguous and impermissibly coercive. 

However, the court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the rule violated the Establishment Clause, "because the Rule, on its face, equally recognizes secular ("moral") and religious objections to the covered medical procedures."

The court vacated the entire rule (and declined to sever offending portions, given that the APA violates "are numerous, fundamental, and far-reaching") and held it invalid as to any plaintiff. 

November 6, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Spending Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 20, 2019

SCOTUS Decides Large Cross on Public Land in Maryland Does Not Violate Establishment Clause

In its fractured opinions in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association (consolidated with Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association), a majority of the Court concluded that a 32 foot high "Latin Cross" situated on a traffic island taking up one-third of an acre at the busy intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1 in Bladensburg, Md., originally erected in 1919 to honor the dead of World War I, does not violate the Establishment Clause.

Recall that during oral argument, one question was whether the cross should be evaluated by applying Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) or whether it should be deemed more of a "passive monument" under Van Orden v. Perry (2005). Recall also that in the Fourth Circuit decision finding the cross violated the Establishment Clause, the majority found that the passive monument rule of the plurality in Van Orden v. Perry was not conclusive and stressed that the well-established Lemon test remained a "useful guidepost." 

Writing for the majority, Justice Alito's opinion was joined by the Chief Justice, and Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Kavanaugh. However, two portions of Justice Alito's opinion garnered only a plurality: Kagan did not join sections §IIA and §IID, the first essentially involving a critique of Lemon's usefulness and the second relying upon the divided town counsel prayer case of Town of Greece  to conclude that "categories of monuments, symbols, and practices with a longstanding history" are constitutional.  Breyer — who wrote an important concurring opinion in the passive monument case of Van Orden — wrote a separate concurring opinion in which Kagan joined. Justice Thomas concurred in the judgment, again arguing that the Establishment Clause is not incorporated as against the states. Justice Gorsuch also wrote a separate concurring opinion, arguing that the plaintiffs had no standing based on their status as "offended observers" and contending Lemon should be "shelved" and was a "misadventure." While joining Justice Alito's opinion in full, Kavanaugh also concurred separately to reprise a critique of Lemon as inconsistent with by the Court's decisions in five categories of Establishment Clause cases.  Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Sotomayor.

So what does the majority "hold"? Alito's opinion for the majority concludes that this specific cross "carries special significance in commemorating World War I," which it had at the time of its erection and "acquired additional layers of historical meaning in subsequent years" and has become "part of the community." Certainly, "the cross originated as a Christian symbol and retains that meaning in many contexts," but this "does not change the fact that the symbol took on added secular meaning when used in World War I memorials." Alito's opinion specifically rejected arguments that the cross "disrespected" Jewish or Black veterans, and specifically mentions that "one of the local leaders responsible" for the cross was a "Jewish veteran" and that the memorial includes the names of black and white soldiers. Recall that this had been broached in the oral argument, with Justice Alito asking counsel: "And do you think that the -- that the situation of -- of African Americans in Prince George's County at that time was worse -- was better than the situation for Jews?" 

Image GinsburgJustice Ginsburg, dissenting in a 21 page opinion including an appendix of images (including the headstones in a military cemetery, right) joined by Sotomayor, disputed the cross as a secular symbol. "Just as the Star of David is not suitable to honor Christians who died serving their country, so a cross is not suitable to honor those of other faiths who died defending their nation."  Disputing the contention that the Latin cross is a well-established secular symbol commemorating World War I military casualties, Ginsburg relates disputes in the War Department in 1919, arguing that everyone involved "saw the Latin cross as a Christian symbol, not a universal or secular one." A true secular symbol was the "mass-produced Spirit of the American Doughboy statute," of which there was one in Prince George's county, the cross being an "aberration" even at the time.  Ginsburg confronts the slippery slope argument that a contrary decision would eliminate all commemorative crosses by arguing that the in the context of a cemetery, individual markers are acceptable because they convey individuality rather than government endorsement, and that in this case, the solution could be a transfer of the cross to private rather than government property.

The decision leaves lower courts and advocates in the same doctrinal landscape that they inhabited before, although with an even clearer message that longstanding religious monuments with religious symbols, no matter how imposing, will be upheld under the Establishment Clause.

June 20, 2019 in Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

New York and More Sue to Halt Trump's "Conscience Protections" in Health Care

The State of New York and a host of other states and cities yesterday filed suit in the Southern District of New York to halt the implementation of President Trump's "conscience protection" regulations for health-care providers.

We posted on the regs here. In short, they require health-care providers and state and local recipients of certain federal funds to permit employees to opt out of providing health services if they have a religious objection to those services.

New York's lawsuit follows San Francisco's, filed earlier this month.

The plaintiffs in the New York case allege that the regs exceed statutory authority, violate federal law, are arbitrary and capricious, and violate the Spending Clause, the separation of powers, and the Establishment Clause.

Plaintiffs focus on the expansive definitions in the new regs that sweep beyond the administration's statutory authority, and HHS's ability under the regs to cut off vast amounts of federal funding to states and local governments who do not comply with the "conscience protections." They allege that they'll be harmed in their ability to enforce their own laws (which, among other things, require health-care providers to provide certain services, irrespective of religious beliefs) and in their receipt of federal funds.

In a bit of what-goes-around-comes-around, the plaintiffs draw on the Court's ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius--the Medicaid expansion portion of the ruling--to argue that the sheer amount of threatened federal funds under the new regs turns the condition on federal funding for state and local governments (compliance with the "conscience protections") from pressure into compulsion, in violation of federalism principles. They also contend that the conditions are vague, and that the administration impermissibly imposed them without prior congressional action in violation of the separation of powers. (This latter point is based on HHS's apparent ability to withhold funds not authorized for withholding under existing federal law.)

May 22, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, Federalism, News, Separation of Powers, Spending Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Third Circuit Upholds Philadelphia's Refusal to Refer Foster Children to Organizations that Discriminates on Basis of Sexual Orientation

In its opinion in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a unanimous panel of the Third Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a preliminary injunction against Philadelphia for stopping its referral of foster children to organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in their certification of foster parents.

Much of the litigation centers on Catholic Social Services (CSS) which will not certify same-sex couples, even those who are legally married to each other, as foster parents.  Once Philadelphia became aware of the CSS policy, through investigative reporting, the city eventually suspended foster care referrals to CSS in accordance with the city's nondiscrimination policy which includes sexual orientation.  The plaintiffs, including individuals about whom the Third Circuit had standing doubts, sued for a preliminary injunction, which the district judge denied after a three day hearing.  On appeal, the Third Circuit agreed that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on their First Amendment claims under the Free Exercise Clause, as well as the Establishment Clause and the Speech Clause.

Writing for the panel, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote that the Free Exercise Clause does not relieve one from compliance with a neutral law of general applicability, which the court found the nondiscrimination law to be.  Unlike Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission  and Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah (1993), there was no hostility towards religion evinced in the case.  As the court stated:

CSS’s theme devolves to this: the City is targeting CSS because it discriminates against same-sex couples; CSS is discriminating against same-sex couples because of its religious beliefs; therefore the City is targeting CSS for its religious beliefs. But this syllogism is as flawed as it is dangerous. It runs directly counter to the premise of  [Employment Division v. ] Smith that, while religious belief is always protected, religiously motivated conduct enjoys no special protections or exemption from general, neutrally applied legal requirements. That CSS’s conduct springs from sincerely held and strongly felt religious beliefs does not imply that the City’s desire to regulate that conduct springs from antipathy to those beliefs. If all comment on religiously motivated conduct by those enforcing neutral, generally applicable laws against discrimination is construed as ill will against the religious belief itself, then Smith is a dead letter, and the nation’s civil rights laws might be as well. As the Intervenors rightly state, the “fact that CSS’s non- compliance with the City’s non-discrimination requirements is based on its religious beliefs does not mean that the City’s enforcement of its requirements constitutes anti-religious hostility.”

On the Establishment Clause, Judge Ambro briefly concluded that there was no evidence that Philadelphia was attempting to impose its preferred version of Catholic teaching on CSS.

And in a similarly brief discussion of the free speech claim, Judge Ambro's opinion found there was no viable compelled speech claim or retaliation claim.

Finally, the Third Circuit opinion considered whether there was a possibly successful claim under Pennsylvania's RFRA statute and found that there was little chance of success on the merits, even given the higher standard of review.

This litigation has attracted much interest, with intervenors and amici, and the plaintiffs filed an emergency application to the Supreme Court for an injunction pending appeal or an immediate grant of certiorari in 2018, which was denied.  Another certiorari petition is almost sure to follow the Third Circuit's decision.

 

 

April 23, 2019 in Establishment Clause, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

SCOTUS Hears Oral Argument in 40 Foot Cross Case and Establishment Clause

In oral argument in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, consolidated with Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association, the Court considered whether a 40 foot "Latin Cross" situated on a traffic island taking up one-third of an acre at the busy intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1 in Bladensburg, Md., erected to honor the dead of World War I, violates the Establishment Clause.

Recall that a divided panel of the Fourth Circuit held that the cross violated the Establishment Clause, applying Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) as a "useful guidepost" augmented by the plurality in Van Orden v. Perry (2005) regarding passive monuments.

Michael Carvin, arguing for the American Legion, proposed replacing the Lemon test with a very broad standard that made all sectarian symbols erected or maintained by governments presumptively constitutional, except in "the rare case in which they've been misused to proselytize."  Carvin's argument would essentially vitiate the Establishment Clause and the Justices did not seem inclined to go that far.  However, there was much discussion regarding whether the endorsement inquiry under Lemon — or any portion of Lemon — was appropriate or workable. 

Miller_monicaIn considering whether the Latin cross was exclusionary of non-Christians, Neal Katyal, arguing for the Maryland state government party, stated that "factually, one of the main proponents for fundraisers of this particular cross was J. Moses Eldovich, who himself was a Jewish veteran."  Later in the argument, Chief Justice Roberts returned to this point in a colloquy with Monica Miller (pictured right) arguing on behalf of the American Humanist Association:

CJ ROBERTS: Well, but that’s one of the main criticisms of the - - - of the Lemon test - - - that different people are going to process that [the relationship between Christianity and citizenship virtues]  in different ways. 
I mean, you heard from one of your friends on the other side that one of the major fund-raisers of this was a Jewish individual. So he was obviously observing it or anticipating it in a different way.

MILLER: Well, Your Honor, I think that we cannot take one person's example, again, someone who is probably one of maybe the only Jewish people in that county at a time when there was an active clan [Klan] burning crosses, burning Jewish buildings or Jewish, you know, businesses at a time when atheists couldn't run for office, Jews had to swear that they believed in an after-life in order to qualify, I mean —

Justice Kagan, attempted to ask a question, “why does it even matter?” But Justice Alito, overriding Kagan, pointed out that there were 12 African-American soldiers’ names on the cross, and then asked Ms. Miller:  

JUSTICE ALITO: And do you think that the -- that the situation of -- of African Americans in Prince George's County at that time was worse -- was better than the situation for Jews?

Ms. Miller responded by stating that it was unclear how the names actually were chosen to be on the cross and that not all of them were from Prince George’s county.

While predictions from oral argument are always fraught, the majority of the Court seems poised to depart from Lemon and rather than articulate a new standard, stress the longstanding nature of the "monument" as in Van Orden.

 

February 27, 2019 in Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Fourth Circuit Rejects Student's Establishment, Free Speech Claims Against Lesson on Islam

The Fourth Circuit rejected an eleventh-grade student's Establishment Clause and Free Speech Clause claims against school administrators and the district for including lessons on Islam in a world history course. The ruling ends the challenge and leaves the lessons in place.

The case, Wood v. Arnold, involves a particular reading and a separate particular exercise in a "Muslim World" unit within a larger world history class. The reading, which appeared on a PowerPoint slide, said, "Most Muslim's [sic] faith is stronger than the average Christian." (Underlining in original.) The exercise required students to fill in the blanks for this statement: "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah." (Underlined words were blank in the original.) 

A student challenged the two lessons under the Establishment Clause and Free Speech Clause. The Fourth Circuit rejected those claims.

The court ruled that, given the larger context, the lessons did not violate the Lemon test: they had a sufficiently secular purpose (to study comparative religions); they did not inhibit or advance religion (applying the endorsement test as the second prong under Lemon, they merely "identif[ied] the views of a particular religion," and didn't endorse those views); and they did not entangle government and religion (because they were not religious in the first place). 

As to free speech, the court said that the fill-in-the-blank exercise didn't violate the student's right against compelled speech, because it was a school exercise that didn't require her to adopt any particular view.

February 12, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 2, 2018

SCOTUS Grants Certiorari in Establishment Clause Challenge to Maryland's 40 foot "Latin Cross"

The Court has granted certiorari in Maryland-Capital Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association centered on the constitutionality of a 40 foot "Latin Cross," owned and maintained by the state of Maryland and situated on a traffic island taking up one-third of an acre at the busy intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1 in Bladensburg, Md. 

Recall our earlier discussion regarding the divided decision in which the Fourth Circuit concluded that the government cross violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, reversing the district judge. In essence, the majority found that while there may be a legitimate secular purpose to the cross, considering that it was erected to local soldiers who died in World War I, the cross is specifically Christian and "the sectarian elements easily overwhelm the secular ones" in the display. A "reasonable observer" most likely viewing the 40 foot cross from the highway would fairly understand the Cross to have the primary effect of endorsing religion and entangles the State with religion.

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November 2, 2018 in Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Religion, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Check it Out: Blackman on Trump v. Hawaii

Friday, June 1, 2018

Seventh Circuit Upholds "In God We Trust" on Currency

The Seventh Circuit this week rebuffed a First Amendment challenge to the phrase "In God we Trust" on our currency by a non-theistic Satanist. The unsurprising ruling allows the government to continue to print that phrase on money.

The plaintiff challenged the phrase under the Establishment Clause, the Free Exercise Clause, and the Speech Clause, among others. The court rejected each.

As to the Establishment Clause, the court said that the phrase wasn't an endorsement of religion, that it didn't coerce religious beliefs, and that it wasn't based on a forbidden religious purpose. In short, the court said that the phrase is simply a part of our nation's heritage:

The inclusion of the motto on currency is similar to other ways in which secular symbols give a nod to the nation's religious heritage. Examples include the phrase "one nation under God," which has been in the Pledge of Allegiance since 1954, as well as the National Day of Prayer, which has existed in various forms since the dawn of the country and is now codified [in the U.S.C.]. Moreover, when the religious aspects of an activity account for "only a fraction," the possibility that anyone could see it as an endorsement of religion is diluted. In the case of currency, the motto is one of many historical reminders; others include portraits of presidents, state symbols, monuments, notable events such as the Louisiana Purchase, and the national bird. In this context, a reasonable observer would not perceive the motto on currency as a religious endorsement.

As to free exercise, the court said that the plaintiff's "claim fails because the motto's placement on currency has the secular purpose of recognizing the religious component of our nation's history."

As to free speech, the court rejected the plaintiff's claim that the phrase amounted to forced speech, because nobody would regard the phrase as the plaintiff's own speech.

The court also rejected the plaintiff's RFRA claim (no substantial burden on the plaintiff's practice of Satanism) and his equal protection claim (because the government had at least one legitimate objective, "acknowledging an aspect of our nation's heritage").

June 1, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments in Travel Ban Case

The Court heard oral arguments in Trump v. Hawai'i, releasing same-day audio in the case in recognition of its importance. Recall that the Court granted certiorari to the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Hawai'i v. Trump regarding Presidential Proclamation 9645, entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats”of  September 24, 2017, also known as E.O 3, or Travel Ban 3.0, or Muslim Ban 3.0. The Ninth Circuit, affirming a district judge, found Travel Ban 3.0 unlawful under the Immigration and Nationality Act.  The Court also took certiorari on the Establishment Clause issue. There were also constitutional issues involves standing.

Arguing for the United States and President Trump, Solicitor General Noel Francisco opened and repeatedly stressed that E.O. 3 was the result of a "worldwide multi-agency review." Yet the person of President Trump was a definite, if at times implicit, presence in the argument. For example, during the Solicitor General's argument Justice Kagan posed a hypothetical:

So this is a hypothetical that you've heard a variant of  before that the government has, at any rate,  but I want to just give you. 

So let's say in some future time a -­a President gets elected who is a vehement anti-Semite and says all kinds of denigrating comments about Jews and provokes a lot of resentment and hatred over the course of a campaign and in his presidency and, in course of that, asks his staff or his cabinet members to issue a proc -- to issue recommendations so that he can issue a proclamation of this kind, and they dot all the  i's and they cross all the t's.

And what emerges -- and, again, in the context of this virulent anti-Semitism – what emerges is a proclamation that says no one shall enter from Israel. 

**** “this is a out-of-the-box kind of President in my hypothetical.  And –

(Laughter)

**** And -- and who knows what his heart of hearts is.  I mean, I take that point.  But the question is not really what his heart of hearts is.  The question is what are reasonable observers to think -­

This discussion takes place in the context of whether the deferential standard of Kleindienst v. Mandel (1972) should apply, but also applies to the Establishment Clause problem of whether the EO has a secular purpose under McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky (2005).

Belber_SuitcaseArguing for Hawai'i, Neal Katyal stated that Hawai'i did not rely on any campaign statements for intent, but only presidential statements, citing the President's "tweeting of these three virulent anti-Muslim videos" after the present EO was issued, and the presidential spokesperson being asked to explain these retweets saying, according to Katyal's argument, "The President has spoken about exactly this in the proclamation."

Chief Justice Roberts asked whether the taint of any presidential statements "applies forever."  Katyal stressed that the President had not disavowed the statements or moved away from them. 

Justice Breyer, among others, seemed concerned that the exceptions in the policy remained opaque, but Alito flatly stated that "it does not look at all like a Muslim ban."

Predicting outcomes from oral arguments is always a dubious enterprise, but this is undoubtedly a close case. Additionally, the Chief Justice's appearance at the President's State Dinner the evening before oral arguments has caused some to question his impartiality, or, at least the appearance of impartiality.

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April 25, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Massachusetts High Court on Public Funding of Churches and the State Anti-Aid Amendment

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled last week on the constitutionality of local grants going to church improvements under the state Anti-Aid Amendment. The ruling balances the interests behind the Anti-Aid Amendment, on the one hand, and the Free Exercise Clause under Trinity Lutheran, on the other, and comes out with a cautious thumb on the scale in favor of anti-aid.

The case, Caplan v. Town of Acton, arose when a local church applied for and received two grants of public funds for church improvements--one for a "Master Plan for Historic Preservation," covering several renovation and preservation projects on the facilities, and one for restoration and preservation of the church's religious-themed stained-glass windows. Taxpayers sued under the state private-attorney-general provision, arguing that the grants violated the state constitutional Anti-Aid Amendment. That Amendment prohibits the "grant, appropriation or use of public money . . . for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any church, religious denomination or society."

Two questions came to the court. First, does the Anti-Aid Amendment categorically bar the grants, or are the grants subject to a three-factor test that the state uses for a companion provision in the Amendment? (A categorical bar would prohibit the grants without further inquiry, whereas the three-factor test could permit the grants if they met certain factors.) Next, if the three-factor test applies, do the grants satisfy it?

The court ruled that the Anti-Aid Amendment isn't categorical, and is instead subject to its three-factor test. (That test looks to whether a motivating purpose of each grant was to aid the church; whether the grant would have the effect of substantially aiding the church; and whether the grant avoid the risks of the political and economic abuses that prompted the passage of the Amendment.) The court gave three reasons: (1) because the three-factor test applies to a companion provision in the Amendment, it made sense to apply it to this provision, too; (2) the Amendment by its own terms requires a case-by-case analysis, which is consistent with a three-factor test (but not a categorical approach); and (3) a categorical approach "invites the risk of infringing on the free exercise of religion" under Trinity Lutheran. As to that last reason, the court said that the three-factor test allowed it to account for the Amendment without violating free exercise, Trinity Lutheran style.

As to the application of the test, the court ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their challenge to the stained-glass window grant, but remanded the case on the "Master Plan" grant.

Two justices concurred, and one dissented, arguing in different ways how the Amendment and the grants stacked up against Trinity Lutheran.

March 14, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Fourth Circuit En Banc Affirms Injunction Against Trump's Travel Ban 3.0

In its 285 page opinions in IRAP v. Trump, the Fourth Circuit en banc majority has found that the so-called Travel Ban 3.0,  Presidential Proclamation 9645, entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats”of  September 24, 2017, is essentially intended as a Muslim Ban and thus there is a likelihood of success on the merits of the First Amendment Establishment Clause challenge meriting a preliminary injunction. 

The majority is composed of nine judges, with four judges (including a Senior Judge) dissenting. Some judges in the majority also wrote concurring opinions that would also grant relief on the statutory claims.

Recall that in October, Maryland District Judge Theodore Chuang has issued a nationwide injunction against the so-called "Muslim Ban 3.0" in an almost 100 page opinion, shortly after Hawai'i District Judge Derrick Watson had issued a nationwide injunction based largely on statutory grounds, which the Ninth Circuit affirmed. 

Recall also that SCOTUS granted certiorari to the Ninth Circuit's opinion, adding the Establishment Clause issue to the questions to be considered.  Most likely this case will be added to the SCOTUS docket.

The majority opinion by Chief Judge Gregory, after setting out the litigation history and preliminary injunction standard, delves into the Establishment Clause issue. Chief Judge Gregory begins by finding both that there is standing and that the case is ripe.

On the merits, Chief Judge Gregory's opinion first considers whether the proffered reason for the government act is "facially legitimate and bona fide" under Kleindienst v. Mandel (1972). The court assumes without deciding that the reason is facially legitimate, but holds that it is not bona fide:

here the Government’s proffered rationale for the Proclamation lies at odds with the statements of the President himself. Plaintiffs here do not just plausibly allege with particularity that the Proclamation’s purpose is driven by anti-Muslim bias, they offer undisputed evidence of such bias: the words of the President. This evidence includes President Trump’s disparaging comments and tweets regarding Muslims; his repeated proposals to ban Muslims from entering the United States; his subsequent explanation that he would effectuate this “Muslim” ban by targeting “territories” instead of Muslims directly; the issuance of EO-1 and EO-2, addressed only to majority-Muslim nations; and finally the issuance of the Proclamation, which not only closely tracks EO-1 and EO-2, but which President Trump and his advisors described as having the same goal as EO-1 and EO-2.

The President’s own words—publicly stating a constitutionally impermissible reason for the Proclamation—distinguish this case from those in which courts have found that the Government had satisfied Mandel’s “bona fide” prong.

Chief Judge Gregory then found that the Travel Ban 3.0 failed the Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) test which requires the government to show that its challenged action has a primary secular legislative purpose, and then, even if it does that its principal or primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion and which does not foster ‘an excessive government entanglement with religion. Chief Judge Gregory's majority opinion concludes that Travel Ban 3.0 did not have a primary secular purpose but, like its previous incarnations, was motivated by anti-Muslim bias. Chief Judge Gregory noted the government's argument to disregard the President's pre-election statements was a difficult one to make, but stated it did not need to rely on any campaign statements "because the President’s inauguration did not herald a new day."

Among the incidents Chief Judge Gregory recounts is this one from November 28, 2017 (after the Travel Ban 3.0 September 24, 2017 Proclamation):

President Trump retweeted three disturbing anti-Muslim videos entitled: “Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!” “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” and “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” The three videos were originally tweeted by an extremist political party whose mission is to oppose “all alien and destructive politic or religious doctrines, including . . . Islam.” When asked about the three videos, President Trump’s deputy press secretary Raj Shah responded by saying that the “President has been talking about these security issues for years now, from the campaign trail to the White House” and “the President has addressed these issues with the travel order that he issued earlier this year and the companion proclamation.” The Government does not—and, indeed, cannot—dispute that the President made these statements.

 Thus, the question of how long a "taint" of impermissible motive should persist was acknowledged and then quickly dispatched: "President Trump could have removed the taint of his prior troubling statements; for a start he could have ceased publicly disparaging Muslims." Moreover, the government initially relied on the months-long agency review to remove the taint, but

chose not to make the review publicly available and so provided a reasonable observer no basis to rely on the review. Perhaps in recognition of this, at oral argument before us the Government expressly disavowed any claim that the review could save the Proclamation. Instead, the Government conceded that the Proclamation rises and falls on its own four corners.

For the majority, then,

The contradiction between what the Proclamation says—that it merely reflects the results of a religion-neutral review—and what it does “raises serious doubts” about the Proclamation’s proffered purpose, and undermines the Government’s argument that its multi-agency review cured any earlier impermissible religious purpose.

Chief Judge Gregory's majority opinion summed up its reasoning:

Our constitutional system creates a strong presumption of legitimacy for presidential action and we often defer to the political branches on issues related to immigration and national security. But the disposition in this case is compelled by the highly unusual facts here. Plaintiffs offer undisputed evidence that the President of the United States has openly and often expressed his desire to ban those of Islamic faith from entering the United States. The Proclamation is thus not only a likely Establishment Clause violation, but also strikes at the basic notion that the government may not act based on “religious animosity.”

Finally, on the scope of the injunction, the majority opinion arguably broadened it:

To the extent that the district court held that IRAP, HIAS, and similar organizations categorically lack a qualifying bona fide relationship with their clients, we conclude that this would be an abuse of discretion. We see no need to read more into the Supreme Court’s grant of a stay than what it held: that refugees with formal assurances do not categorically enjoy a bona fide relationship with a U.S. entity. Instead, IRAP, HIAS, and other organizations that work with refugees or take on clients are subject to the same requirements as all other entities under the Supreme Court’s bona fide relationship standard: a relationship that is “formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose” of evading the travel restrictions imposed by the Proclamation.

Nevertheless, the Fourth Circuit stayed its decision, in light of the Supreme Court’s order staying the district judge's injunction pending “disposition of the Government’s petition for a writ of certiorari, if such writ is sought."

 

February 15, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)