Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Cert Petition and Support in DC Bus-Advertisements Case

The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) accepts advertisements on the side of its buses but rejects religious ads along with political and "issue-advocacy" ads. Under that policy, WMATA  rejected an ad from the Catholic Archdiocese for its "Find the Perfect Gift" holiday campaign (directing viewers to information about worship services, charitable giving, and charitable-service opportunities), even though WMATA had accepted ads from retailers encouraging holiday shopping, from the Salvation Army exhorting charitable giving in the holiday red kettles, and from others (a yoga studio, a Christian radio station whose ad was supposedly not as overtly religious as the Archdiocese's, etc.).

The D.C. Circuit upheld the exclusion of the Archdiocese ad on the ground that it did not discriminate (impermissibly) against a religious viewpoint, but rather discriminated (permissibly) against religion as a "subject matter" in a nonpublic forum. The en banc court refused rehearing, over a strong dissent by Judge Griffith teeing up the case for cert (here is the SCOTUS Blog page). The cert petition, filed by Paul Clement et al. at Kirkland & Ellis, argues that the decision below is irreconcilable with Lamb's Chapel, Rosenberger, and Good New Club: the "equal access" decisions that hold, time after time, that exclusion of religious speech is viewpoint discrimination. (It also argues that excluding religious viewpoints as such violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.)

Our religious liberty clinic at St. Thomas filed a brief for multiple organizational amici supporting the petition. First, we zeroed in on a couple of the court of appeals' arguments for treating the religious exclusion as subject-based rather than viewpoint-based, including this argument:

the court of appeals reasoned that the Archdiocese would have been able to place an ad urging charitable donations if its ad, like that of the Salvation Army, “contained only non-religious imagery”—for example, an ad simply saying “Please Give to Catholic Charities.” App-25. This argument is irreconcilable with Lamb’s Chapel, Rosenberger, and Good News Club. In each of those cases the presentation of a religious perspective involved explicit religious language, not mere reference to a religious identity or the religious nature of a belief. A restriction on “religious imagery” cripples the ability of speakers to present religiously grounded, and only religiously grounded, perspectives.

Second, we argued that "the specific subject matter involved in this case—the meaning and essence of Christmas and the winter holidays—itself presents important and recurring questions":

There is an ongoing debate in society about the essence of the holiday, the priorities to observe in celebrating it, and the motivation for gift-giving. On these subjects, various religious and secular perspectives compete, and the government must not discriminate among expressions of these perspectives by private groups and individuals.

By allowing holiday-related ads exhorting commercial gift-giving and charitable giving, but not an ad exhorting the religious basis for the holiday and for gift-giving, the court upheld viewpoint discrimination within subject matters included in the forum. Our brief touched on some of the societal controversies over "keeping Christ in Christmas," etc. Those controversies, we argued,

show that there is a set of competing perspectives on the subjects of the holiday season and which elements of it are most important. Some of those controversies arise in contexts not applicable here, such as speech by employees of private businesses or displays sponsored by government. But this case involves a government restriction on private speakers expressing their religious perspective in a government forum. In that category of cases, the government’s proper course is clear: it must allow varying perspectives on a subject matter to be expressed, on equal terms. To accept ads emphasizing the commercial and charitable aspects of Christmas and gift-giving but refuse ads emphasizing religious perspectives on those subjects skews public debate—the fundamental harm to free expression from viewpoint discrimination.

Like the Montana tax-credit case (Espinoza) where cert was just granted, this case focuses on what Justice Kavanaugh recently called "the bedrock principle of religious equality"--a concept more simple than the sometimes complex questions over government-sponsored religious symbols and government accommodation of religious practice. Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, 139 S. Ct. 909, 909-11 (2019) (statement of Kavanaugh, J., respecting denial of certiorari). I would put the principle as "freely chosen religious activity should not be discouraged through discriminatory government actions"--but so framed, the principle is just as clear and foundational.

Both the Montana and D.C. cases show lower courts struggling mightily to validate discriminatory rules against voluntary religious speech and activity. A grant and reversal in the second case, joining the first, would clearly signal to judges and other officials that those efforts should cease.

July 2, 2019 in Berg, Thomas, Religion | Permalink

Monday, June 24, 2019

"The Perception Gap"

As reported by Yascha Mounck of Johns Hopkins in The Atlantic,  a group called More in Common has released a study called "The Perception Gap," showing the divergence between what people of one political party think the other party's members believe, and what they actually do believe. For example,

      Democrats ... estimated that four in 10 Republicans believe that “many Muslims are good Americans,” and that only half recognize that “racism still exists in America.” In reality, those figures were two-thirds and four in five.

      Unsurprisingly, Republicans are also prone to caricature Democrats. For example, Republicans approximated that only about half of Democrats are “proud to be American” despite the country’s problems. Actually, more than four in five Democrats said they are. Similarly, Republicans guessed that fewer than four in 10 Democrats reject the idea of open borders. Actually, seven in 10 said they do.

And education doesn't help--the study "found that the best educated and most politically interested Americans are more likely to vilify their political adversaries than their less educated, less tuned-in peers":

      Americans who rarely or never follow the news are surprisingly good at estimating the views of people with whom they disagree. On average, they misjudge the preferences of political adversaries by less than 10 percent. Those who follow the news most of the time, by contrast, are terrible at understanding their adversaries. On average, they believe that the share of their political adversaries who endorse extreme views is about 30 percent higher than it is in reality.

Finally, the intensifying effect of higher education is skewed--it makes Democrats caricature their opponents more than it makes Republicans do so:

      Perhaps because institutions of higher learning tend to be dominated by liberals, Republicans who have gone to college are not more likely to caricature their ideological adversaries than those who dropped out of high school. But among Democrats, education seems to make the problem much worse. Democrats who have a high-school degree suffer from a greater perception gap than those who don’t. Democrats who went to college harbor greater misunderstandings than those who didn’t. And those with a postgrad degree have a way more skewed view of Republicans than anybody else.

I can't vouch for the study's methodology. But the results are worth looking at: they are striking, even if not especially surprising.

June 24, 2019 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Saturday, June 22, 2019

"Religious Freedom and the Common Good" Symposium Papers

I've been away from blogging recently, for a variety of reasons: a heavy teaching semester, including an enjoyable two weeks teaching Hungarian and other law students in Budapest; a book manuscript in the editing and proofing stages; and acting in another Gilbert & Sullivan production (a thing I do).

The papers from the St. Thomas Law symposium on "Religious Freedom and the Common Good" are now published and online (here). They include contributions by sociologists of religion, political scientists, legal scholars, folks with government experience on religious-freedom matters, etc. 

We think the collection of papers will be important to future discussions about the common good both as one important justification for religious freedom and as a framework for its proper scope and boundaries. As challenges to religious freedom mount (around the world and here), it will be increasingly important (as I've previously argued here and here) to how religious freedom is not just a selfish assertion but a key contributor to a healthy, thriving community.

June 22, 2019 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Thursday, March 21, 2019

"Religious Freedom and Nondiscrimination" Article

I’ve published a new article, Religious Freedom and Nondiscrimination, based on an address at Loyola University-Chicago’s symposium on “The Question of Religious Freedom: From John Courtney Murray and Vatican II to the Present.” The symposium papers (vol. 50, issue 1) are from an excellent list of people, including MOJ-friend Kathleen Brady, the leading theological ethicist Robin Lovin, Loyola’s Miguel Diaz (who chaired the event), Leslie Griffin, and others.

My piece can be downloaded at SSRN; here is the abstract:

      This essay explores two theses about the relationship between religious freedom and nondiscrimination. First, nondiscrimination is a crucial component of religious freedom: such freedom must be equal for all religious positions. Religious freedom for some faiths more than others is not truly religious freedom: rather, it is a policy for advancing the favored faiths or their sociopolitical goals. We see this tendency operating today, for example, in that some conservatives speak strongly of religious freedom but oppose equal freedom for Muslims. The essay discusses (examining the Trump travel ban and other disputes) why that attitude is wrong in principle and misguided, as a matter of prudence, for social conservatives' own religious-freedom claims. The essay also discusses the prevalence of hostility toward conservative Christians.

       Second, religious freedom is a value independent of nondiscrimination. Equality for various faiths is little comfort without a baseline guarantee of actual freedom, including room to exercise religion aspects of life beyond worship: charitable work and daily life. Moreover, sometimes the values of religious freedom and nondiscrimination come in conflict: when they do, we must give weight to both of these important values, and in particular, not simply subordinate the value of religious freedom to the value of nondiscrimination. The essay gives reasons for protecting religious freedom as well as nondiscrimination, outlining parallels between the constitutional claims of LGBT persons and those of religious objectors to same-sex relationships. Finally, the essay suggests means for giving substantial protection to both rights.

March 21, 2019 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

"Freedom to Serve" Book Chapter

I’ve published a chapter in the excellent new book edited by William Eskridge and Robin Fretwell Wilson, Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and The Prospects for Common Ground (Cambridge University Press 2018). The chapter is titled “Freedom to Serve: Religious Organizational Freedom, LGBT Rights, and the Common Good.” The chapter can now be downloaded at SSRN; here is the abstract:

Recently, religious organizations seeking protection from government restrictions have emphasized that they seek “freedom to serve” others in their anti-poverty, social-service, healthcare, or educational work. The U.S. Catholic bishops have made that phrase central to their campaign for religious liberty in disputes over organizations’ objections to same-sex marriage, the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, and other rules. This argument, defending religious freedom based on its contribution to social good, is worth examining in detail. Although the “common good” argument raises complications, this Chapter asserts that when properly defined, the argument reflects a legitimate, indeed important strain in America's tradition of religious-freedom rights. In a roughly analogous way, the chapter asserts, constitutional rights to same-sex-marriage found support in considerations of the common good as well as individual autonomy. Recognizing this parallel, and others, between marriage rights and religious-freedom rights might encourage us to give weight to both. The chapter then catalogs the contributions of religion and religious organizations, responds to objections that may be raised, and suggests principles for the proper scope of religious freedom in light of other interests.

March 21, 2019 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Cert Petition Filed in Religious Accommodation Case

A cert petition has been filed in Patterson v. Walgreen Co., a potentially important case under the religious-accommodation provision, section 701(j), of Title VII. And St. Thomas Law's Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic, which I supervise, has filed an amicus brief on behalf of Christian and Muslim organizations supporting the petition.

Patterson, a trainer for workers on Walgreen's phone-assistance line, was fired after he was unable to do an emergency training session on Saturday, his Sabbath (he is Seventh-day Adventist). But his unavailability on that occasion caused no harmful consequences: the training session went forward the following Monday and Walgreen's met the schedule it had articulated for the new phone-call policies. Instead, Walgreen's articulated that it must fire Patterson because this one-off situation would start recurring more regularly in the future, since its other trainer (who had swapped shifts with Patterson in the past) was going to move to a different company because Walgreen's was planning to sell that division in a sale to take place several months down the line. As a result, Patterson was fired at that moment based on a projected set of circumstances beginning nine months later.

The cert petition argues for review on the ground, among others, that the circuits are split on whether the employer may use such speculative future harms to meet its burden of justifying a refusal of accommodation: i.e. showing the accommodation would cause "undue hardship [to its] business." More broadly, while the accommodation provision has sometimes provided protection for employees' religiously-based dress and grooming,  it's been ineffective at protecting varying Sabbath observances because the Supreme Court has interpreted the burden of showing "undue hardship" to require only a showing of a "more than de minimis harm." TWA v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977). As the third question presented, the cert petition calls for reconsidering Hardison's interpretation.

Our amicus brief for Christians and Muslims explains how "[a]llowing employers to rely on predicted future events creates at least three problems that undermine the effectiveness of the [accommodation] provision":

First, it allows employers to fire or otherwise adversely affect employees now based on events that might never occur—events that might never necessitate the firing. Second, reliance on future, hypothetical events makes it much more difficult to identify specific accommodations that might be available at the time the conflict arises. Third, reliance on speculative or hypothetical harms relieves the employer of the duty to search for reasonable accommodation—and at the worst, may incentivize employers to dream up scenarios of future hardship.

In addition, we support the petition's argument that the Hardison interpretation of "undue hardship" should be reconsidered, based on several grounds involving the statute's text and purpose:

      The ordinary meaning of “undue hardship” at the time the accommodation provision was enacted (1972) ...  is irreconcilable with a standard of mere “de minimis” cost....

      [T]he premise of the de minimis standard has been undercut by [the] Court’s recent decision in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 2028 (2015) ... [which] makes clear [unlike Hardison] that [the accommodation provision] requires protection against the effects of a religion-neutral employer policy....

      A weak interpretation of [the] accommodation provision is particularly harmful to religious minorities, who are particularly likely to come in conflict with formally neutral employer policies reflecting the majority’s norms.

Aaron Bostrom, class of 2020, did an excellent job drafting significant portions of the amicus brief.

October 21, 2018 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Thursday, September 20, 2018

On Masterpiece--and Romer--for Cato SCT Review

I have an essay (available here) in the new Cato Supreme Court Review (the issue reviewing the 2017-18 term), entitled "Masterpiece Cakeshop: A Romer for Religious Objectors?" It explores the idea that Masterpiece was written--for the moment--as a narrow decision, based on official decision-makers' hostility in the particular case rather than on a broad assertion of religious objectors' free exercise or free speech rights, and in that sense is similar to Romer v. Evans (1996), the first gay-rights ruling. Romer struck down Colorado's Amendment 2 on the ground that it reflected animus toward gays and lesbians; the Court thus avoided (and did for almost 20 years) saying anything about heightened scrutiny for gay-rights claims.

From the abstract:

This essay examines Masterpiece and the unresolved religious-liberty questions through the lens of the similarities with Romer (and potentially with the later, more-expansive gay-rights rulings). Part I describes the resemblances between the two rulings, among other things that in both, animus or hostility serves as a “minimalist” holding that avoided committing to broad implications for future cases. But that modesty comes with a cost: To find animus, the Court must denounce the decision-makers in the immediate case as especially unjustified, even malicious, and that conclusion can cause equal or greater anger compared with broader holdings, such as declaring a suspect classification or fundamental right. In the final parallel with Romer, I sketch how the finding of unequal, hostile treatment in Masterpiece might provide the basis for further protection of religious traditionalists’ right to decline to facilitate same-sex marriages, at least in an appropriately limited set of circumstances. [E.g. solidifying Masterpiece's holding that when the state allows social liberals to refuse to provide goods or services with messages that offend against their conscience, it must also allow religious conservatives to refuse in analogous circumstances. And perhaps future rulings adopting more religion-protective readings of Employment Division v. Smith--TB]

       I then turn to general parallels between gay-rights and religious-freedom claims—parallels that call for sympathizing with and protecting both sides. Those parallels depend less on the improper motives or attitudes (animus/hostility) of the regulators, and more on the seriousness of the interests and predicaments of those harmed by government action (same-sex couples denied marriage rights, religious objectors penalized for following their beliefs). Developing sympathy for their respective predicaments, I argue, is more likely to calm our society’s serious problem of negative polarization—while condemning others for animus is more likely to aggravate such polarization. That in turn, I suggest, makes an argument for relying on heightened-scrutiny rationales in these cases, rather than findings of animus or hostility.

September 20, 2018 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Catholic Sorting

On Facebook the other day, I wrote (I think it was a conversation with Rick!) that the Catholic parishes had preserved a greater element than Protestant congregations of bringing people together across political/cultural divides, because the parishes are more geographical and you don't have the menu of options (like Protestants) do to fit your personal taste. Of course, then I read this.

"As traditional parishes decline, 'personal parishes' find new interest" (National Catholic Reporter)

       Increasingly churchgoers are bypassing neighborhood parishes in favor of faith communities that deliver what they are seeking.

       Catholic bishops are recognizing the phenomenon and are increasingly willing to designate "personal parishes," communities formally recognized by bishops for particular groups of Catholics versus traditional parishes which minister to Catholics in a geographic territory.

July 12, 2018 in Berg, Thomas, Religion | Permalink

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Trump and Religious Freedom: Short-Term and Long-Term

Late last week in a rally, President Trump dissed George HW Bush's "thousand points of light" phrase, which Bush used in the 1988 campaign as an image for volunteerism for the common good in a civil society:

"What the hell was that, by the way, thousand points of light? What did that mean? Does anyone know," said Trump. "I know one thing: Make America Great Again, we understand. Putting America first, we understand. Thousand points of light, I never quite got that one."

Commentators focused on how Trump's riff was mean to HW. But it and other riffs like it are harmful to religious freedom. Granted, Trump's Supreme Court picks are more likely than those of other presidents (e.g. HRC) to take religious freedom seriously across the range of applications; that's a major reason, it seems, why evangelical Christians supported him. (All of the short-listers for the new seat give strong indicia of supporting religious freedom. And I say this even though I strongly believe the Court dropped the ball on the travel ban--because my guess is these nominees will be pretty strong on Muslim freedom outside the immigration context.) 

But however significant the short, even medium, -term benefit to religious freedom from a Court appointment, one must also reckon with the long-term harm to religious freedom that Trump has done by encouraging the undercutting of many of the reasons a society would care about protecting religious freedom. Last week's riff dissed the very concept of serving the common good through a plurality of institutions in a diverse civil society. Trump is beckoning conservative Christians, especially evangelicals--who seem to be quite willing to follow his pied piping--to jettison some of the most compelling accounts they can give for religious freedom to themselves first and then to others. That long-term harm to the cause of religious freedom may be harder to predict and quantify than the short-term benefits of a Supreme Court nominee who cares about the issue. But it may also be more serious and irreversible.

This point is an application not only of multiple Mike Gerson columns, but also of Marc and Kevin's fine Times op-ed of last week. The culture will matter in more pervasive, long-lasting ways than the new justice(s). And evangelicals are risking collaborating with Trump in irreversibly degrading their own culture.

July 8, 2018 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Piece on Travel-Ban Decision

I've posted a piece at America critiquing the travel-ban decision. A bit:

       [T]here was room in [the immigration] precedents for the court to write a narrow opinion focusing on Mr. Trump’s uniquely blatant and irresponsible statements that suggested his intent as the sole decision-maker. True, such a ruling would have to have been narrow, to keep from setting a precedent for serious intrusions on executive authority in future cases.

       But the risks from such an opinion would have been worth taking. The president’s statements were virtually unprecedented in modern times in explicitly labeling all members of a religion a danger to the nation....

       And the consequences of the statements extend [beyond those directly connected to immigrant applicants], poisoning the culture in the country for Muslims already here. Reports of anti-Muslim vandalism and other crimes have spiked in the wake of Mr. Trump’s statements.

       The consequences are also harmful for religious freedom as a general principle. Republican support of Mr. Trump’s hostility to Muslims from the beginning (one March 2016 poll showed that 71 percent of Republican voters backed a temporary “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States) has helped accelerate the perception that religious freedom is nothing more than a tool for each side to use or discard according to what supports its preferred policy positions. Progressives are selective, too, in denigrating the religious freedom of social conservatives. To preserve religious freedom as a principle, not a tool, we must enforce it for all.

Among the sources of comfort:

       [G]iven the court majority’s clear emphasis on the immigration context, we can have reasonable confidence that courts will still act decisively to forbid official animus against Muslims in domestic matters: hostile local resistance to mosquesofficials’ attacks on copies of the Quran and so forth. The travel ban decision specifically endorses, and must not be read to undermine, that bedrock principle.

June 28, 2018 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink