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.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Fulton v. City of Philadelphia: the rule of law persists in an age of political tribalism

As the world waited for the Supreme Court’s ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the stage was set for another headline-grabbing battle in our never-ending culture wars: the religious liberty of a Catholic foster care agency versus a municipal government committed to ending discrimination against same-sex couples. This morning, as advocates on both sides were ready to crank up the outrage-fueled fundraising machines, the Court issued its ruling in favor of the Catholic agency. And remarkably, it was unanimous, demonstrating once again that the rule of law does not stick to our increasingly polarized political scripts. Throughout this era of tumult and tribalism, our judiciary reminds us that the law is not just a set of political preferences dressed up with fancy words. Principles and precedent continue to matter.
 
So how did this case end up as a unanimous ruling? The dispute arose from Philadelphia’s decision not to renew its contract with Catholic Social Services (CSS) to place children with foster parents unless CSS agreed to include same-sex couples. The City argued that the refusal to include same-sex couples violated a non-discrimination provision in the agency’s contract with the City, as well as the non-discrimination requirements of a city ordinance.
In an opinion joined by all eight of his colleagues, Chief Justice Roberts observed that CSS “does not object to certifying gay or lesbian individuals as single foster parents or to placing gay and lesbian children,” and “[n]o same-sex couple has ever sought certification from CSS.” If a same-sex couple did seek to be certified, “CSS would direct the couple to one of more than 20 other agencies in the City, all of which currently certify same-sex couples.” (In other words, there is no shortage of opportunities in Philadelphia for same-sex couples to serve as foster parents.)
 
The Court held that the City’s refusal to renew CSS’s foster care contract violated the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, recognizing at the outset that “the City’s actions have burdened CSS’s religious exercise by putting it to the choice of curtailing its mission or approving relationships inconsistent with its beliefs.”
 
That wasn’t the end of the analysis, though, because of a 1990 Supreme Court ruling that loomed over this case: Employment Division v. Smith. In Smith, the Court held that neutral and generally applicable laws do not violate the Free Exercise Clause even if they negatively impact religious practices. In Fulton, the City argued that its prohibition on sexual orientation discrimination was both neutral and generally applicable, and as such, CSS’s Free Exercise claim must fail.
 
The Court disagreed because the City’s non-discrimination requirement permitted a party to seek an exemption, and “A law is not generally applicable if it invites the government to consider the particular reasons for a person’s conduct by providing a mechanism for individualized exemptions.”
 
Once a law that burdens religious exercise is deemed not generally applicable, it falls outside the scope of Smith and is thus subject to strict scrutiny. This means that the law can only survive if it advances government interests of the highest order and is narrowly tailored to achieve those interests. Put more simply, “so long as the government can achieve its interests in a manner that does not burden religion, it must do so.”
 
The Court acknowledged that important interests are at stake in the non-discrimination requirement, but found that the City failed to show how granting CSS an exemption would jeopardize those interests: “If anything, including CSS in the program seems likely to increase, not reduce, the number of available foster parents.”
 
So every Justice agreed that CSS should prevail. But three Justices – Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch – were ready to go further and overturn Smith, pointing out in a concurring opinion that the rule permitting “neutral and generally applicable” laws to withstand constitutional scrutiny, no matter their impact on religious exercise, is deeply problematic. For example, under Smith, the Volstead Act implementing Prohibition would have been constitutional even if it contained no exception for the sacramental wine necessary for Catholic masses. Or a ban on infant circumcision would be permissible, even if it applied to prohibit important Jewish and Muslim practices.
 
Because the Court avoided Smith by focusing on the possibility of an exemption in Philadelphia’s non-discrimination requirement, the concurrence warned that today’s decision “might as well be written on the dissolving papers sold in magic shops” because, “if the City wants to get around today’s decision, it can simply eliminate the never-used exemption power.”
 
So even in a unanimous ruling, important disagreements lurk. But even those disagreements don’t align easily with our political tribalism. The author of Smith against whom conservative stalwarts Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch were railing? Conservative judicial hero Antonin Scalia. The rule of law does not lend itself to simplistic predictions based on which President appointed which judge. (In today’s other noteworthy ruling, Trump appointees Barrett and Kavanaugh joined five of their colleagues in upholding Obamacare against a challenge brought by Republican-led states.)
 
The sorting that has occurred between American conservatives and liberals maintains an ideological core, but it has morphed into something broader and deeper than ideology. In his book "Why We’re Polarized," Ezra Klein points out that the two major political parties today “are sharply split across racial, religious, geographic, cultural, and psychological lines,” and that these identities “are fusing together, stacking atop one another.” Further, since “these mega-identities stretch across so many aspects of our society, they are constantly being activated, and that means they are constantly being reinforced.” In other words, a conflict between religious liberty and LGBT rights aligns with the more fundamental conflict between our stacked social identities. We don’t need to choose a side; we already know which side we’re on based on where we live, what cable news we watch, what car or truck we drive, where (and if) we go to church, even where we shop.
 
The rule of law reminds us that it should not and need not be that simple. I’m confident that Justice Sotomayor and Justice Thomas, for example, do not run in the same political circles or derive their identities or sense of belonging from the same sources. And yet they can step back from the noise, examine the facts of a situation, apply sound principles not of their own creation, and agree on an outcome. Not every case will be unanimous, and a 5-4 ruling may emerge later this month. But members of the Supreme Court have not given up hope that they can still reason together to resolve deeply contested issues. And if they can do that under the white-hot national spotlight, so can the rest of us.

June 17, 2021 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink

Supreme Court sides with Catholic foster care agency

A unanimous Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Catholic foster care agency in Philadelphia may turn away gay and lesbian couples as clients, a victory for conservatives with the potential to shift the balance between LGBTQ rights and the First Amendment's protection of religious exercise.  

In one of the most significant cases before a Supreme Court that has become more conservative in recent years, the justices handed down the most high profile defeat to LGBTQ rights advocates since a 2018 decision absolved a Colorado baker of discrimination for refusing to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Catholic Social Services said its religious views keep it from screening same-sex couples as foster parents. The agency, with a long history of placing foster children, said it shouldn’t be blocked from its work because of those views. Philadelphia countered that all of itsfoster care agencies are required to not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

"It is striking, and telling, that the court's more liberal justices joined the court's decision," said Richard Garnett, director of the University of Notre Dame law school program on church, state and society. "Today's ruling illustrates that respect for religious freedom should not be a partisan, or left-right issue."

Full article at USA TODAY: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/06/17/supreme-court-catholic-foster-care-agency-may-turn-away-gay-couples/4155263001/

 

June 17, 2021 | Permalink

Thursday, June 10, 2021

2021 Religious Freedom Annual Review (RFAR), to take place online June 15–16, 2021

The theme of this year’s Review is “Religion’s Role in Overcoming Divides and Strengthening American Democracy.”

BYU’s RFAR will address questions such as "Is it possible for religion to help overcome divides and strengthen democracy in the U.S? Partisan and social divides have rocked the country over the last year; to what extent can or does religion play a role in healing conflict and creating a stable, just democratic society?"

Register today for updates and information. Registration is free.

https://religiousfreedom.byu.edu/home

June 10, 2021 | Permalink

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Gillman and Chemerinsky’s Masonic Religion Clauses

In 1948, Justice Stanley Reed pithily proposed that a “[r]ule of law should not be drawn from a figure of speech.” Justice Reed was referring to President Thomas Jefferson’s reference, in an 1802 piece of constituent-service correspondence, to the “wall of separation between church and State” supposedly built by “the whole American people” when the First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified.

Chancellor Howard Gillman and Dean Erwin Chemerinsky insist, in The Religion Clauses, that “Thomas Jefferson got it right” and that “the First Amendment was meant to create a wall that separates church and state.” The better view, though, was expressed in 1985, by then-Justice William Rehnquist, who warned that “[i]t is impossible to build sound constitutional doctrine upon a mistaken understanding of constitutional history, but unfortunately the Establishment Clause has been expressly freighted with Jefferson’s misleading metaphor for nearly 40 years.”

Full book review by Rick Garnett at Law & Liberty: https://lawliberty.org/book-review/gillman-and-chemerinskys-masonic-religion-clauses/

June 8, 2021 | Permalink

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit

Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative will bring together some of the world’s foremost thought leaders on religious freedom at the end of June for the inaugural Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit.

The summit, to be held on Notre Dame’s campus, will stimulate conversations between scholars, advocates, and religious leaders about the future of religious liberty in the United States and around the world.

His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, will deliver a keynote address, followed by a panel on interfaith cooperation with Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Rabbi Dr. Meir Y. Soloveichik of the Congregation Shearith Israel, and Dr. Jacqueline Rivers of the Seymour Institute.

Full article: https://law.nd.edu/news-events/news/2021-religious-liberty-summit/

June 2, 2021 | Permalink

Saturday, May 29, 2021

President Biden's budget proposal drops the Hyde Amendment

I suppose we knew this was coming, but it's still striking to see:

U.S. President Joe Biden’s proposed 2022 budget omits a ban on federal funding for most abortions that has been part of government spending bills for decades.

The budget, released Friday, makes no mention of the "Hyde Amendment," first passed in 1976, which has been included in federal spending bills since.

When X is publicly funded, a common result is more X.

May 29, 2021 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Friday, May 28, 2021

Program on Church, State & Society announces 2021 summer fellows

The Notre Dame Law School Program on Church, State & Society has awarded three fellowships to Notre Dame law students for the summer of 2021. The fellowships are designed to give law students legal experience with religiously affiliated organizations. This year’s fellows are Lizzie Walter, Alec Afarian, and Mary Coleman.

Full article here: https://churchstate.nd.edu/news-events/news/program-on-church-state-society-announces-2021-summer-fellows/

May 28, 2021 | Permalink

FDR's 1933 address to the National Conference of Catholic Charities

A friend sent me a link to this speech, by President Roosevelt, to the National Conference of Catholic Charities in 1933.  Here's a bit:

[T]he people of the United States still recognize, and, I believe, recognize with a firmer faith than ever before, that spiritual values count in the long run more than material values. Those people in other lands, and I say this advisedly, those in other lands who have sought by edict or by law to eliminate the right of mankind to believe in God and to practice that belief, have, in every known case, discovered sooner or later that they are tilting in vain against an inherent, essential, undying quality, indeed necessity, of the human race —a quality and a necessity which in every century have proved an essential to permanent progress—and I speak of religion.

May 28, 2021 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Sargeant, "Let the Body Testify"

I've been enjoying a newish journal called Plough Quarterly.  The latest edition has (among other things) a really nice essay by Leah Libresco Sargeant called "Let the Body Testify:  Whose Body Counts?"  Sargeant makes good use of the new book by my colleague, Carter Snead, What It Means to Be Human.  Here is Sargeant:

The vulnerability of our bodies is part of what binds us together into a community. In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the story begins with the traveler’s suffering when he is beaten and robbed. His need is what calls neighborliness out of the Good Samaritan, who binds the traveler’s wounds, takes him to a refuge, and ensures his continued care.

This story is Christ’s answer to an expert in the law, who asks Jesus to clarify the limits of the Great Commandment. God calls me to love my neighbor as myself, but who, exactly, counts as my neighbor? And, left as the subtext, who doesn’t count? Whom am I allowed to not love?

May 26, 2021 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Cavadini on "The Secular University"

Here, in the (indispensable) Church Life Journal, is an essay by (the indispensable) John Cavadini, called "Is the Secular University a Contradiction in Terms?".  A bit:

Ex Corde does conceive of the university as having utility, but its main usefulness is precisely in its institutional witness to the pursuit of truth as good in itself, and to the vision of the human being whose dignity is reflected in his or her capacity for joy in the truth. It is only useful secondarily, in the practical utility of knowledge acquired or imparted along the way. 

That this could be a viable, intellectually coherent enterprise, as noted, implies an institutional commitment to a view of reality where reality is characterized by an intelligibility that is not simply imposed and thus a mere construction and therefore not truth. This means a commitment not simply to truths in the plural, but to truth as transcending all individual truths, namely, to quote Ex Corde again, “the supreme Truth, who is God.” Although Ex Corde is here speaking specifically of Catholic universities, the claim is that this is how the Catholic university fulfills its identity not so much as Catholic, but as a university.

It is a claim about what is essential for a university to provide the cultural service which most makes it useful. It is the precisely institutional dedication to truth as transcendent of particular truths and of their utility, and its concomitant explicit commitment to the idea of God as the Supreme Truth, that permits a Catholic university—or any university—to fulfill and preserve the broadly based humanistic vision that is properly at the heart of a school dedicated to educating in the tradition of the liberal arts. It is this commitment that permits a Catholic university to resist a purely utilitarian view of education and its tag-along reductionist view of human being. In other words, the pursuit of truth for its own sake is in itself a witness to human dignity. One cannot “improve the world” and at the same time violate human dignity, or, as Notre Dame’s mission statement puts it, “a sense of human solidarity and . . . the common good,” explicitly employing language drawn from Catholic Social Teaching and Ex Corde both.

May 26, 2021 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink