Wednesday, May 20, 2020
That's the title of a short piece I did some weeks back for the Berkley Center at Georgetown (and somehow forgot to hawk here on MOJ at the time). It talks about polarization during the Reformation and then today:
[V]igorous protection of religious liberty is intended to calm fears and reduce polarization, by giving people of fundamentally different deep beliefs ample space not just to hold their beliefs but also to live consistently with them....
Fear of the other side likewise drives today’s polarization. How, it’s asked, could 81% of white evangelicals vote in 2016 for a man with glaring character defects? A Wheaton College survey of those Trump voters found that religious liberty worries ranked third or fourth most frequent as the chief reason for their vote—higher than abortion and LGBTQ issues. The solicitor general’s statement [in Obergefell, refusing to rule out conservative institutions being stripped of tax exemptions] and the  California college bill [which would have stripped modest-income students at conservative religious colleges of their state grants] received extensive evangelical attention.
Religious liberty can calm such existential fears and reduce polarization. But it will instead aggravate polarization if it simply replicates struggles over underlying issues. Religious liberty must be strong enough to protect unpopular views, and it must recover some bipartisan status.
1. The Murphy Institute at St. Thomas has posted video from Asma Uddin's excellent presentation, "When Islam is Not a Religion: Inside America's Fight for Religious Freedom." I was glad to moderate the session, which concerns respecting religious liberty for Muslim Americans and for everyone and is based on Asma's book of the same title. A variety of good questions from a large online audience (going online creates real possibilities for increasing outreach for organizations that are outside the Beltway hothouse). My own recent thoughts on religious freedom for Muslims, evangelical Christians, and everyone are here.
2. The Berkley Center at Georgetown sponsored a video discussion of the issues concerning COVID-19 and religious worship and other gatherings, with Marty Lederman, Asma Uddin, Robin Fretwell Wilson, and me. Thank you to Michael Kessler for arranging and leading the discussion, to the Berkley Center for sponsoring it, and to my friends and co-panelists for a lively, productive discussion.
- the closings were "a certain infringement in spirit and effect of the free exercise of religious liberty";
- "[b]ecause the purposes of church assemblages are such as to entitle them to be the very last to be absolutely forbidden by the civil authorities"; and
- "In the influence of the churches upon the minds and souls of men, in quieting through strengthened faith in God the panic and fear in which epidemic thrives, the churches are potential anti-influenza workers, fit to co-operate helpfully with our doctors and our nurses."
The arguments have a more Protestant-Establishment vibe to them, as you might expect, but they overlap in concrete ways with arguments being made today.
Saturday, May 9, 2020
In anticipation of the "ministerial exception" cases being argued on Monday, a reminder about our brief from the St. Thomas Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic, which shows that colonies' narrow definitions of minister, including required education credentials, helped spur founding-era religious-liberty protests by Baptists and others, ultimately contributing to adoption of the First Amendment. There is a little more scholarly detail in this article by my students, Nathaniel Fouch and Erik Money, and me.
Religious-school teachers who have significant functions in teaching religion classes or religious approaches to other subjects, or in planning, leading, or overseeing religious exercises, fit within the proper definition of "minister"--regardless of whether they have a ministerial training or formal title as the 9th Circuit required in these cases. Founding-era religious-liberty objections ran specifically against credentialing requirements that prevented organizations from extending leadership to laypersons with the gifts and commitment to teach or lead in religious matters.
In his "Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty" (1773),Isaac Backus, leader of the Massachusetts Baptists, attacked New England colonial laws that required “each parish to settle a minister” but then disqualified teachers who lacked the government’s preferred training: a college degree. The laws, Backus said, violated the principle that God “gives gifts unto men in a sovereign way as seems good unto him." Religious groups, not the civil judiciary, should determine the relevant gifts, talents, and credentials for their teachers and leaders.
Sunday, April 26, 2020
I have a post, up at the Religious Freedom Institute's Cornerstone Forum, entitled "Institutional Religious Freedom Includes Freedom in Serving Others." It's about issues that are still relevant notwithstanding the recent focus on the legitimate public-health limits to religious freedom. A bit from the beginning:
Today’s most vexing problems about freedom of religious institutions in the United States concern religious nonprofits that provide social or educational services to others. Such problems, like many others, are currently superseded by the overwhelming health and economic effects of COVID-19. But the issues will return. And the services religious nonprofits provide will be important in responding to and recovering from the pandemic.
Nonprofits pose complex religious freedom questions because they often straddle the perceived boundary between public and private. Decisions by houses of worship and decisions about clergy get very strong protection because they are regarded as private, involving ministry to the faithful, not the general public. Conversely, some religious organizations serve the public with no conflicts between their own norms and those required by law.
Some organizations, however, employ or serve people outside their faith but also encounter religious freedom issues because their tenets clash with general laws on immigration, nondiscrimination, or other matters. Consider progressive groups that provide sanctuary or aid to undocumented immigrants, or Catholic adoption or foster agencies that decline to certify same-sex households for child placement, or religious colleges that assign student rooms by biological sex at birth. I call such organizations “partly acculturated”—they provide services of secular value to the broader culture, but some of their religious norms clash with dominant cultural values reflected in law.
I’ve argued previously that partly acculturated activities deserve significant protection. Religious freedom includes freedom in serving others. The law should not force organizations to be either wholly unacculturated—serving only their own members—or wholly acculturated—subject to all regulations no matter how serious the clash with their beliefs.
The piece includes brief, entirely non-comprehensive evaluations of three proposed pieces of legislation addressing the conflict between nondiscrimination rights of LGBT persons religious freedom rights of institutions serving others: the Equality Act, the First Amendment Defense Act, the Fairness for All Act.
On the quick mention above of how religious institutions are vital in helping people weather the pandemic--physically, emotionally, and spiritually--Byron Johnson and Thomas Kidd have a good article in the Dallas Morning News, also summarized by RFI here. They make an important reminder in the face of all the attention to a very small number of congregations that have behaved irresponsibly.
A federal district judge in Mississippi who's handled a couple of cases about restrictions on religious gatherings writes an opinion setting forth a generally sensible distinction between in-person services (still too risky at this point) and drive-in services with the window cracked in the car enough to hear the sermon/homily or other proceedings (some risk but outweighed by the importance of free exercise of religion). As "re-opening" proceeds and more and more establishments open, it will probably become more complicated to justify prohibitions on small in-person religious gatherings practicing social distancing, but the nature of religious gatherings, and the difficulty of fully enforcing social distancing in them, may provide a justification for a while.
In noting that drive-in services, while protected, are still not "risk-free," the district judge writes:
While it may be imagined that many attendees of such services would be family members who have already been exposed to each other, that will not always be the case. Indeed, it seems quite likely that, as with regular church services, many such attendees will be elderly parishioners who require the assistance of friends or non-resident family members to take them to the service. It is well known that the Covid-19 virus disproportionately kills elderly individuals, and it may therefore be assumed that, if the holding of such “drive-in” services becomes a nationwide trend, that a significant (and possibly large) number of deaths will result. This court believes that preachers and parishioners would be well advised to take this into consideration when deciding whether or not to hold or attend such services.
The judge does not make clear whether, in saying that these risks exist but aren't sufficient to justify legal bans on drive-in services, he is saying (a) there won't be enough such cases of transmission to elderly persons (and eventually deaths) to warrant entirely shutting down drive-in services for everyone, or (b) those cases would result from the person's own voluntary choice to attend the service (and paternalistically overriding her religious choice as to her own health is not a sufficient interest), or (c) some combination of the two. (Obviously, if an elderly resident traveled from and back to a nursing, long-term care, or assisted-living community, there could be more than just her health at stake: some nursing homes have prohibited elderly residents from returning once they leave the facility for any reason unless they're quarantined first.)
Thursday, January 2, 2020
Originalist article and brief on ministerial exception. My students Nathaniel Fouch and Erik Money and I have just published a piece in the Federalist Society Review. It's Fouch, Money, and Berg, "Credentials Not Required: Why an Employee’s Significant Religious Functions Should Suffice to Trigger the Ministerial Exception." (PDF version here.) It arises from the two cases the Supreme Court just agreed to hear, St. James School v. Biel and Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrisey-Berru., and an amicus brief that the St. Thomas Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic filed--with Nathaniel and Erik as student drafters--supporting certiorari (successfully) in the Morrisey-Berru case. The article expands on the brief but also reflects our personal views rather than the views of the amici we represented (although the views of course are very similar).
In short, narrow definitions of minister—notably, laws setting educational and other credentials for ministers—were prominent among the evils to which the Religion Clauses were a response. Today, some courts are repeating this evil by effectively requiring that a minister possess “credential[s], training, or ministerial background” in order for an organization to invoke the ministerial exception. Such requirements impose civil authorities’ assumptions—almost inevitably majoritarian assumptions—that certain training or formalities are inherent in the concept of a minister.
Other 2019 work by the St. Thomas RL Clinic. Our clinic (info here) had a productive 2019. We filed or started work on amicus briefs in 4 cases in the Supreme Court (including the minister cases above), representing Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups. Throughout the students did great work, and through the goal was to promote (in the way kids would put it on social media) #ReligiousFreedomForAll.
1) The Seventh Circuit upheld the validity of the federal tax provision allowing clergy to exclude housing allowances from taxable income (which equalizes religious groups that don’t own parsonages with those that do). The court cited our clinic's brief, filed on behalf of Christian and Jewish groups, which had presented various statistics and tax calculations to show how invalidating the provision would seriously harm tens of thousands of congregations, and especially harm small urban ones.
2) In April we filed a brief (successfully) supporting certiorari in Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue, the case on whether a state court can invalidate a school-choice law (tax credits for people indirectly supporting private schools) solely on the (discriminatory) basis that the program includes religious schools. Oral argument on the merits is Jan 22.
3) We’re happy that the Solicitor General urged the Court to grant review in Patterson v. Walgreen Co. and finally give teeth to Title VII's requirement that employers accommodate employee religious practice except in case of "undue hardship." Our brief, filed for Christian and Muslim organizations, documented that accommodation disproportionately protects minorities--Muslims, Jews, other Saturday sabbath observers, and others--and that the current weakness of the test disproportionately harms them.
4) We contributed to research to help the coalition proposing the new "Fairness for All" legislation, which offers a thoughtful solution to the knotty problem of giving meaningful antidiscrimination protection for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights and meaningful protection to the religious liberty of those conscientiously opposed to facilitating same-sex or transgender conduct.
5) We’re currently working on FNU Tanzin v. Tanvir, the new Supreme Court merits case where the FBI put Muslim Americans on the no-fly list for refusing to inform on fellow worshipers in what they regard as an overbroad security investigation. We'll be co-counsel on a brief of religious-liberty scholars supporting the plaintiffs' claim that they can sue individual agents for damages under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Friday, December 6, 2019
Today the federal "Fairness for All" bill was introduced; it aims to give significant protection to both LGBT nondiscrimination rights and traditional believers' religious-freedom rights. Full information about the bill here. It is already being attacked from both sides of the ongoing, polarizing culture war for which this issue provides such fuel. For reasons I and others have long articulated, neither side is going to prevail in without protracted conflict that will continue to harm (1) the cause of traditional religious faith, (2) LGBT people's basic equal treatment in significant parts of the country, and (3) the bonds that keep America together.
The bill is not perfect, but it would be a major step forward. Carl Esbeck, Doug Laycock, Robin Wilson, and I have joined a letter supporting the bill. Here is the text of our letter. (Update: It's also available on the FFA coalition's website and here.)
December 6, 2019
We are constitutional law scholars who have studied, taught, and written about the law of religious liberty for decades. All of us have persistently argued for religious liberty in legislatures and in the courts. Most of us have also argued for LGBTQ rights in legislatures, the courts, or both.
We have long been concerned about legal clashes between those who cherish the fundamental right to religious liberty and those who advocate new legal protections for the civil rights of LGBTQ people. These conflicts have led to increasingly polarized positions in which progress is blocked for both sides. Many Americans think that traditional believers seek a general “license to discriminate” and that hostility to the LGBTQ community is the public face of Christianity. Many traditional believers think that the LGBTQ community and its supporters are determined to destroy their institutions, deprive them of their rights, and confine them to hidden and wholly private corners of the society.
Neither side’s perception of the other is accurate, but the perceptions are real, and they have done much damage to traditional believers, to the LGBTQ community, and to the larger society. Same-sex marriage is protected from interference by government, but in about half the states, same-sex couples can still get married on Saturday and discover that one or both of them has been fired on Monday. Believers with conscientious objections to assisting with same-sex weddings still fear being forced to surrender their consciences or close their businesses in the other half of the states, and churches and other religious organizations fear intrusive regulation or loss of tax exemptions everywhere, whether from blue states or federal agencies.
There is a better way. The proposed Fairness for All Act is balanced civil rights legislation that equitably protects the rights of both communities. It broadly protects LGBTQ persons in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, federally assisted programs, public facilities, jury service, refugee resettlement, and marriage recognition, and it offers protection against bullying and retaliation. It broadly protects religious institutions and individual believers in practice, doctrine, conscience, and institutional integrity. It protects tax exemptions; it protects small businesses and medical professionals; it greatly strengthens accommodations for religious employees. It protects free speech in the workplace for both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage.
Both traditional believers and the LGBTQ population would have far more protection under this bill than they have under existing law, and far more protection than they have any reasonable prospect of enacting without this bill or some similar negotiated solution. The experience in Indiana with attempts to enact a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and less publicized failures in Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, and West Virginia, show that except possibly in the reddest states, the religious community cannot pass additional religious liberty legislation without making adequate provision for LGBTQ rights. It is equally clear that LGBTQ advocates cannot pass gay-rights legislation in Congress or in red states without making adequate provision for religious liberty. No state has enacted a new statewide law against sexual-orientation discrimination since Colorado in 2007—with one telling exception. The deep red state of Utah was able to enact statewide protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and employment, but only because it protected religious liberty in those domains in the same bill.
LGBTQ people still face discrimination and need protection now, not after some imagined political realignment far in the future. Many of these cases arise in secular and nonsexual contexts where there is no plausible claim that religious faith is the reason for discriminating. Few Americans, if any, sincerely believe that God wants LGBTQ persons to be unemployed, homeless, or without access to basic goods and services. But all kinds of discrimination against LGBTQ people are entirely legal under federal law and in about half the states.
More than half of Americans live in jurisdictions where state or local laws already protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. But these laws do not strike an adequate balance with religious liberty. Most state-law protections were enacted before the Supreme Court’s marriage decisions and therefore do not address the most religiously sensitive conflicts. This bill addresses some of those conflicts; it leaves others to state law.
Some traditional religious believers would rely on protections in regulations recently issued by the Trump Administration. But these regulations offer no protection for LGBTQ rights, some of them are subject to challenge as lacking statutory authority, and all of them will likely be withdrawn by the next Democratic President as quickly and easily as they were issued. Legislation can also be amended, but doing so is far more difficult, requires a far more elaborate process, and usually requires at least some votes from both political parties. Reliance on the courts is deeply uncertain for everyone involved, but for the foreseeable future the courts are especially unpromising for advocates of LGBTQ rights.
The Fairness for All Act has been carefully negotiated by representatives of the traditional religious community and of the LGBTQ community. It comprehensively addresses the issues, and it addresses them in the context of current law. No negotiated solution is perfect from the perspective of either side. But the negotiated solutions in this bill are well thought out and carefully drafted, and as we said, they would make both the LGBTQ community and traditional faith communities far better off than they are today. In putting together complex legislation, there will always be provisions we might do a little differently, but the interested groups should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
The nation’s deep division on these issues is aggravating polarization and contributing to gridlock more generally, and it is making lasting progress impossible for either side. We urge Americans of good will and of all views on these issues to support a negotiated solution. It would be a huge advance for both sides.
Of course we write in our individual capacities as scholars; none of our institutions takes any position on the bill or the issues discussed in this letter.
Thomas C. Berg
James L. Oberstar Professor of Law and Public Policy
University of St. Thomas (Minnesota)
Carl H. Esbeck
R.B. Price Professor Emeritus of Law and
Isabelle Wade and Paul C. Lyda Professor Emeritus of Law
University of Missouri
Robert E. Scott Distinguished Professor of Law
University of Virginia
Alice McKean Young Regents Chair in Law Emeritus
University of Texas
Robin Fretwell Wilson
Roger and Stephany Joslin Professor of Law
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Wednesday, November 13, 2019
The president of the major association of of evangelical Protestant higher-education institutions, the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), has issued a statement in conjunction with the Supreme Court arguments on the DACA-recission case. The CCCU has supported protection for "Dreamers" for a long time, and in the current case it joined an amicus brief supporting DACA's legality. I blog this not for the purpose of discussing the legal issues in the case or endorsing the challenge to the recission.
I only want to call attention to the participation of "Dreamers" in CCCU institutions as one of the countless instances in which faith-based institutions with "traditional" views are contributing to the common good--and in particular, are living and working with, and helping to empower, communities that are vulnerable in some way. Indeed, in significant parts of the country evangelical (and Catholic) higher-education institutions have high percentages of student of color. In our politically polarized times, such work is too often ignored. This is an opportunity to pay attention to it.
From the statement by president Shirley Hoogstra:
This is very close to home for one of our campuses as Norma Ramírez is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary [a CCCU member] and one of the plaintiffs in the case. You can read more of her story here. You can also watch this video to hear from her directly.
The CCCU has supported a permanent solution for Dreamers since the DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001. As part of our ongoing court strategy, we recently signed on to two amicus briefs addressing the Supreme Court cases on DACA. These briefs target crucial ideas to our immigration policy perspective; they argue for the protection of DACA recipients as they contribute to society and to our institutions and in the promotion of defense of human dignity.
The CCCU continues to support a bipartisan, legal, permanent legislative solution for DACA recipients, and feels the urgency of this issue for our students, their families, their employers, their churches, and their communities. What’s at stake? These young people have become integral parts of their communities, and removing them from the U.S. would impose a huge financial, as well as emotional, burden on the country. Beyond the economic arguments, though, we also feel a moral imperative. The CCCU believes that all persons are made by our Creator God, are made in His image, and therefore are endowed with dignity (Genesis 1:27). These young people—and those around them—need stability in order to thrive. Mass deportation would unconscionably break up families.
Friday, October 18, 2019
Yesterday I blogged about our shortly-forthcoming edited book of essays, Patents on Life: Religious, Moral, and Social Justice Aspects of Biotechnology and Intellectual Property. I've now posted on SSRN my chapter, which concludes the book with a summary of the essays and the themes. Here's a bit from the abstract:
This book gathers religious, secular moral, legal, and sociopolitical perspectives in one place. It aims to be a resource so lawyers, policy activists, and policymakers in patent debates might better understand what religious perspectives have to offer, and so religious thinkers and leaders might better understand biotech patents and thus have more to offer. The chapters include Christian, Jewish, and Muslim perspectives on bioethics and law--and both American and European perspectives on the limits of patentable material. The chapters explore various considerations: the importance of patents to innovation, the limitations on patenting of naturally occurring products and processes, the potential limits on patents stemming from distributive concerns, and the place of patents in international trade and development debates.
Three themes, summarized here, emerge from the balance of the chapters. First, patents on life call for evaluation under criteria of morality and social justice. Second, religious thought can contribute to (without dominating) such evaluations. Finally, however, for religious thought to contribute effectively, it must be more informed and sophisticated than it has been, about both patent law and biotechnology. The chapters aim to provide such knowledge.
This final chapter gives a good sense, I think, of what the rest of the book covers.
I hope readers interested in the "Catholic legal theory" project will give the volume a look--and suggest it to your academic libraries! First, take a look at it yourself. Second, pass the word to others who work, or have interests, in any of the areas of public moral theology, human life and dignity, technology, social justice, and development and human rights ("preferential option for the poor" etc). A few reasons why this topic may be of wide interest:
1) The vast majority of the chapters in the book are very accessible to non-scientists. It's meant to explain basic patent concepts, and genetic technologies, to religious thinkers (and explain religious ethics to patent lawyers and scientists). Patent law can get complicated, but at its base it has a quite comprehensible logic.
2) As I've argued in a previous paper on "intellectual property (IP) and the preferential option for the poor," IP laws, including patent, are by nature a kind of qualified (tho still valuable) property right that has parallels to Catholic approaches to property. IP is designed with social and common-good purposes in mind: encouraging innovation through exclusivity, while maintaining others' access through limits on exclusivity. Catholic thought on property tends to have a similar structure.
3) Partly because IP rights fit with the Catholic model of qualified and instrumental property rights, and partly because patents have affected poor people in developing nations, the Catholic Church has actually had quite a lot to say about them--albeit not in a systematic way. The Vatican has defended the right of indigenous people to control over and fair reward for the genetic resources, the claim of people in poverty to have access to essential medicines (including, for purposes of this book, "biologic" drugs produced from living organisms), and the claim of farmers to retain autonomy over genetically modified seeds in the face of licensing practices by companies holding patents on the seeds. This collection aims, among other things, (a) to make the Church's positions better known to policymakers in the field and (b) help Catholic thinkers integrate the important topic of IP into their understanding of Catholic social thought principles.
4) Because of the richness of Catholic social doctrines in this area, and because of the role of Catholic institutes in the project, we have several different Catholic contributors. Some focus very much on the development-and-poverty implications of patents on and access to biotechnologies. Others focus on the bioethical issues involved in giving humans ownership over materials or processes that are relatively close to "natural [God-created] phenomena." In any event, while the chapters contain considerable religious diversity in the chapters, they also contain a set of Catholic : essays that are rich, deep, and diverse. IP is now central to the economy and society, and not just in the biotech area. These essays will help people think through how Catholic thought applies to the "new form of ownership" that Saint John Paul II identified in Centesimus Annus (para. 32) as increasingly fundamental: "know-how, technology, and skill."