Wednesday, April 26, 2023
Article Posted on the Respect for Marriage Act
Doug Laycock, Carl Esbeck, Robin Wilson, and I have posted "The Respect for Marriage Act: Living Together Despite Our Deepest Differences," on SSRN (forthcoming in the University of Illinois Law Review). First paragraph of the abstract:
The recently enacted Respect for Marriage Act is important bipartisan legislation that will protect same-sex marriage should the Supreme Court overrule Obergefell v. Hodges. And it will protect religious liberty for traditional beliefs about marriage. The Act has been attacked by hardliners on both sides. We analyze the Act section by section, showing how it works, why it is constitutional, and why it does not do the many things its critics have accused it of.
During the RMA's consideration, the four of us provided an analysis to senators arguing that the religious-liberty protections in the Act were substantial and that the Act offered a chance, even a model, for a pluralistic approach that, by protecting both sides, can help put at least some limit on fear and the attendant political-cultural polarization. This Article expands greatly on that analysis.
April 26, 2023 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink
Monday, April 3, 2023
Scholars' Comment Opposing Rescission of Education Dept.'s Student-Religious-Group Protection
(I'm returning to post on the blog after a significant hiatus caused by a bunch of other commitments!)
The U.S. Department of Education has proposed to rescind a provision it adopted in the Trump Administration protecting student religious groups at public universities from being denied access to facilities and other benefits available to other student groups. For the notice-and-comment process, I took the lead in drafting a comment letter from a blue-ribbon group of scholars*/ opposing the rescission. The rescission would leave student religious groups protected under another (but more uncertain) regulation that applies to nonreligious groups as well. But we argue that the distinctive protection for religious groups is fully justified by the First Amendment. Summary quote:
The religious-group protection categorically prohibits a public IHE [institution of higher education] from denying a group access because of its sincerely held beliefs or practices, including leadership and membership criteria. But that categorical protection has strong support in First Amendment principles and current Supreme Court case law, for two major reasons. First, unconstitutional discrimination against religion comes in many different forms, and litigation has shown that almost any public IHE policy that denies a student religious group access discriminates in one of these ways. Second, the First Amendment also categorically guarantees religious organizations autonomy to set criteria for leadership and membership, and public IHE policies denying religious groups access regularly violate that guarantee.
*/ Doug Laycock, Michael McConnell, Rick Garnett, John Inazu, Michael Paulsen, Asma Uddin, and yours truly.
April 3, 2023 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink
Monday, July 25, 2022
The Contrasting Visions of the Judiciary in Brown and Dobbs
I have a short piece contrasting the Dobbs' Court's approach to judicial reasoning with that employed in Brown v. Board of Education. Here is a snippet:
Brown v. Board of Education rightly mortally wounded Plessy v. Ferguson, and Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overruled Roe v. Wade. But Brown and Dobbs represent contrasting visions of the role of the judiciary in shaping American society. The Brown Court placed itself in the central role of creating a just society. The Dobbs Court cast itself in the supporting role of referee applying the standards set down by the Constitution, while locating the task of forming a just society in state legislatures on issues the Constitution is silent about.
July 25, 2022 in Current Affairs, Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink
Friday, December 17, 2021
Democrats for Life Brief in PA Hyde-Amendment Case
The PA Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to the state's version of the Hyde Amendment (Allegheny Reproductive Services v. PA. Dept. of Human Services, appeal from 249 A.3d 598 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2021)). Abortion providers are petitioning the court to reverse its 1985 Fischer decision (509 Pa. 293, 502 A.2d 114) that upheld the ban on state funding of abortions (except for rape, incest, or threats to the mother's life), on grounds similar to SCOTUS's upholding of the federal Hyde Amendment in Maher v. Roe and Harris v. McRae.
Democrats for Life of America has filled an amicus brief in support of the PA funding restriction. From the summary of argument:
DFLA files this brief to emphasize three interests that the ban on funding of elective abortion serves. These interests are important, and at the very least, are clearly valid and legitimate under rational-basis scrutiny.
A. First, the funding ban serves the interest in protecting fetal life, which has been held to be “important” by this Court in Fischer IV and, as this Court noted, by the U.S. Supreme Court as well. Since Fischer IV, scientific advances, including ultrasound technology, have made it even clearer that the unborn child is a distinct human life during its development in the mother. These developments reinforce Fischer IV, both as a matter of stare decisis and because it is correct.
B. Second, the funding ban serves the important, and unquestionably valid, interest in respecting the conscience of many taxpayers who believe that abortion takes an innocent human life, and that the government revenue to which they contribute should not support that practice. Although the government is not required to accommodate taxpayers’ objections by declining funding, it has discretion to do so. From the nation’s founding, our governments have accommodated taxpayers’ conscience by denying funding to various practices that violate their deeply held beliefs. Abortion-funding restrictions stand within this tradition of respecting taxpayer conscience on deeply divisive issues; indeed, the tradition is especially strong in protecting people against being forced to facilitate abortions.
C. Finally, because abortion-funding restrictions avoid forcing taxpayers to facilitate abortion when they deeply oppose it, such restrictions make it possible to secure broad support for health and welfare-related funding in general. The government has a strong interest in maintaining the flexibility that helps build such consensus for social-welfare assistance programs. Since 1980, Pennsylvania’s ban on funding elective abortions has bolstered support for the Medical Assistance Program. Similarly, since 1976 the federal Hyde Amendment has bolstered support for federal health and welfare spending. And adoption of abortion-funding restrictions in the Affordable Care Act—restrictions with bipartisan support—were crucial to the passage of that major healthcare-reform legislation.
In section C, the brief details the crucial role that abortion-funding restrictions, and the pro-life Democrats who pushed and hard for them, played in the passage of the Affordable Care Act. (Citing former Rep. Bart Stupak's account of the events, For All Americans.) Since the ACA's passage, of course, pro-life Democrats have been decimated in Congress and state offices across the country by the combined efforts of Republicans, major pro-life groups, and anti-abortion rights groups. It's a feature of, and a contributor to, our accelerated polarization. But the arguments in section C--that a consensus in support of strong social-welfare benefits can much more easily form if taxpayers do not thereby have to fund elective abortions--are still important in a number of purplish states, like Pennsylvania.
December 17, 2021 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink
Tuesday, July 27, 2021
"Protecting Free Exercise Under Smith and After Smith" (forthcoming, Cato Sup Ct Rev)
Doug Laycock and I have posted this draft law review article on SSRN (link here), with the title and journal information above. We discuss the specific implications of Fulton v. Philadelphia for current Free Exercise Clause standards under Employment Division v. Smith. But, as the abstract states,
we focus on describing what approach should replace Smith, and responding to the questions that Justice Barrett raised [in her Fulton concurrence]. We argue for a flexible version of strict scrutiny, and for at least serious intermediate scrutiny. Free exercise review should typically be stronger than the weak intermediate scrutiny governing some free speech contexts: time, place, and manner restrictions and symbolic conduct. Those cases permit regulation when alternative means of communication are available, but when government substantially restricts a religious practice, frequently there are no “alternatives” to the practice. The logic and purposes of free exercise can generate a demanding but workable standard for challenges to generally applicable laws.
July 27, 2021 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink
Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Amicus Brief on Title IX Exemption
In Maxon v. Fuller Theological Seminary (9th Circuit), two plaintiffs who had been studying for the ministry at Fuller have sued the Seminary under Title IX for dismissing them for entering into same-sex marriages in violation of the institution's student covenant. Fuller has multiple defenses, including the ministerial exception, but one is the Title IX exemption for schools "controlled by a religious organization." The plaintiffs claim that phrase means the school must be controlled by a separate organization in order to qualify for the exemption. The district court said no, holding that the controlling religious organization can be the school's own governing board. That statutory interpretation can stand on its own. But it's also supported by the doctrine of constitutional avoidance, because reading the exception to exclude a seminary or other deeply religious institution merely because it's organizationally independent or nondenominational would create an impermissible denominational preference under decisions like Larson v. Valente--and at the very least would raise "serious, grave" constitutional questions.
That's the argument of the amicus brief that the St. Thomas religious liberty appellate clinic filed on behalf of a host of colleges, K-12 schools, associations of such institutions, and the Christian Legal Society. Becket's pages on the case are here.
June 22, 2021 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink
Sunday, June 20, 2021
Berg and Laycock on Fulton on SCOTUS Blog
Doug Laycock and I have commentary up about Fulton. The lion's share is some initial thoughts on some of the questions raised in Justice Barrett's concurrence, which obviously lots of people will be aiming to answer.
(FWIW, I've been inactive on the blog because I've been preoccupied with finishing my manuscript, Religious Liberty in a Polarized Age, forthcoming from Eerdmans.)
June 20, 2021 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink
Sunday, January 24, 2021
"Giving Our Better Angels a Chance"
Alan Brownstein (UC-Davis) and I have published the above-titled article, subtitled "A Dialogue on Religious Liberty and Equality." You can download it here. I've respected Alan's work--its carefulness, clarity, and honesty--for a long time and am very happy we've been able to do this together. From the abstract:
This essay is a collaborative effort to engage in a dialogue on church-state issues that are often hotly debated in our society. Each of us has strongly held positions on the disputes we plan to discuss. Our purpose here, however, is not to present our own views as forcefully as we can. Instead, our goal is to move away from the bitter polarization and demonization that characterizes so much of the arguments about law and religion today. We are searching for ways to discuss and resolve difficult church-state issues that may reduce acrimony and divisions within our society, foster bridge building among divergent communities, identify common ground and provide opportunities for compromise.
It's forthcoming in The Journal of Appellate Practice and Process, a publication provided to every federal and state appellate judge in the nation. The dialogue format--each of us writing specific sections with responses from the other, rather than trying to homogenize our views in a singe text--allows us, we hope, to present disagreements clearly while also suggesting places of common ground and potential solutions.
January 24, 2021 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink
Sunday, December 6, 2020
Student Religious Groups, "Religious Discrimination," and Greek Organizations: St. Thomas RL Clinic Brief
Wayne State University deregistered the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) as a student group in 2018 (and asserts it could still do so now) on the ground that IVCF commits "religious discrimination" by requiring that its prospective leaders sign a statement of faith agreeing with IVCF's beliefs. Deregistration means the usual things: paying steep room-rental fees, losing place in the line for room choices, losing access to school communications channels, etc. IVCF, represented by Becket, is suing the university in federal court.
The Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic at St. Thomas has filed an amicus brief on behalf of multiple national Christian campus groups, including the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. Our brief, on which my students Allie Cole and Garrett Stadler did initial drafting, argues first that by its nature and operation, applying the ban on "religious discrimination" to religious groups singles them out as the only groups that cannot demand that their leaders commit to the group's animating beliefs and ideology. That's a familiar argument, and (I think) utterly compelling.
I especially want to tell others about our second argument: that because the university (among other exceptions) allows social fraternities and sororities to engage in sex discrimination, creating a gaping hole in its nondiscrimination policy, its refusal to recognize an exception for religious groups to choose their leaders devalues religious interests and is not "generally applicable." The preference for social Greek organizations is a particularly scandalous aspect of various universities' mistreatment of religious groups. Our brief lays out the case as fully as I've seen anyone do it. Here's a part (I removed URLs from cites):
This exception creates a significant hole in the Nondiscrimination Policy. WSU recognizes 27 social fraternities and sororities. See Dean of Students Office: Fraternity and Sorority Life, Organizations. Together these organizations (and any others WSU recognizes in the future) are permitted to deny students of one sex or the other dozens of leadership offices, and hundreds of membership places. See Dean of Students Office: Fraternity and Sorority Life, Quick facts (WSU social Greek organizations had 550 members in Winter Semester 2019). WSU not only allows these organizations; it actively assists them in “promotion and marketing.” Dean of Students Office: Fraternity and Sorority Life, Promotion and marketing. Looking beyond these significant numbers, this Court can take judicial notice that at many colleges, Greek organizations pervasively affect campus social life and culture. Peter Jacobs, Why Fraternities Will Never Disappear from American College Life, Business Insider (Dec. 3, 2014, 11:30 AM). By allowing—even encouraging—this gaping exception to its Nondiscrimination Policy but refusing a religious exception, WSU violates neutrality and general applicability and devalues religious groups’ interests.
WSU’s defenses for its selective policy merely highlight that it devalues religion. It asserts that Greek organizations’ discrimination based on sex is not “the kind of invidious discrimination that [its] policies seek to prevent.” But when religious groups set criteria for leadership based on their religious beliefs, WSU calls that invidious. Its exceptions thus reflect WSU’s impermissible “value judgment” favoring other interests, while disfavoring religious interests, in setting leadership criteria. Fraternal Order of Police, 170 F.3d at 366....
In short, single-sex social Greek organizations undercut WSU’s asserted non-discrimination interests as much as or more than student religious groups do. WSU exempts Greek organizations because it values them more than it values religious organizations. The discrimination may have an economic motivation. This Court can take judicial notice that “[f]raternity and sorority alumni are more likely to give to their colleges and are larger lifetime donors than other graduates. Especially at cash-strapped public universities, colleges rely on their housing as quasi-official dorms and would have to come up with an expensive alternative.” John Hechinger, True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities 112 (2017). But economic self-interest is no excuse for devaluing and disfavoring the constitutionally protected activity of religious exercise. If WSU wishes to accept the significant hole in its Nondiscrimination Policy created by its exception for Greek organizations, it must take the simple and reasonable step of allowing religious groups an exception so they can ensure their leaders adhere to the group’s beliefs. Cf. Calvary Chapel of Dayton Valley v. Sisolak, 140 S. Ct. 2603, 2614 (2020) (Kavanaugh, J., dissenting from denial of application for injunctive relief) (“[N]o precedent suggests that a State may discriminate against religion simply because a religious organization does not generate the economic benefits that a restaurant, bar, casino, or gym might provide.”); Cottonwood Christian Center v. Cypress Redevelopment Agency, 218 F. Supp. 2d 1203, 1229 (C.D. Cal. 2002) (rejecting argument that revenue generation is a compelling interest justifying discrimination against religious organizations).
December 6, 2020 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink
Friday, October 30, 2020
1st Circuit Upholds Exclusion of "Sectarian" Schools
... In a panel opinion joined by David Souter (ret.), sitting by designation. Maine provides that rural students who can't access a public school can have tuition paid at a private school, but not if it's "sectarian." The CA1 permitted this, despite Trinity Lutheran Church and Espinoza, on the ground that the definition of "sectarian" means that a school (and the parents' choice of it) is disqualified from eligibility not simply because the school is religiously affiliated (religious "status"), but because the funds will be used for activity that includes religious teaching (religious "use").
October 30, 2020 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink