- Ed Whelan, Ethics & Public Policy Center
- Aaron Streett, Baker Botts
Familiar accounts of religious freedom in the United States often tell a story of visionary founders who broke from the centuries-old patterns of Christendom to establish a political arrangement committed to secular and religiously neutral government. These novel commitments were supposedly embodied in the religion clauses of the First Amendment. But this story is largely a fairytale, University of San Diego School of Law Prof. Steven D. Smith says in this incisive examination of a much-mythologized subject. He makes the case that the American achievement was not a rejection of Christian commitments but a retrieval of classic Christian ideals of freedom of the church and freedom of conscience.
In The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom, Prof. Smith maintains that the distinctive American contribution to religious freedom was not in the First Amendment, which was intended merely to preserve the political status quo in matters of religion. What was important was the commitment to open contestation between secularist and providentialist understandings of the nation which evolved over the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, far from vindicating constitutional principles, as conventional wisdom suggests, the Supreme Court imposed secular neutrality, which effectively repudiated this commitment to open contestation. Rather than upholding what was distinctively American and constitutional, these decisions subverted it. The negative consequences are visible today in the incoherence of religion clause jurisprudence and the intense culture wars in American politics. Prof. Smith was joined by Prof. John Inazu of Washington University (Saint Louis) Law School to discuss the premises, analysis, and conclusions of Prof. Smith’s book.
On December 8, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in three cases challenging the HHS contraceptive mandate, including Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell. The Little Sisters case has already been to the Supreme Court once when Justice Sotomayor gave the nuns an emergency injunction on December 31, 2013, and the full court gave them an injunction in January 2014. The Little Sisters returned to court on December 8 to challenge whether the government can force them to sign forms that would let the government and third parties use their plan to provide contraceptives.
Mark Rienzi is Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at the Catholic University of America. He argued on behalf of the Little Sisters and several other parties before the 10th Circuit, and he gave a report on the argument and the status of the challenges to the contraceptive mandate.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013-14 Term included two major religion cases, Town of Greece v. Galloway and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In Galloway, the Court held that prayers offered by local clergy at the start of town board meetings did not violate the Establishment Clause. In Hobby Lobby, the Court held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act required that corporations whose owners object to the HHS contraceptive mandate be exempt from it. The panel will explore, from a range of perspectives, the significance of Hobby Lobby and the religious freedom jurisprudence of the Roberts Court. Among the topics to be considered are the analysis under RFRA of the government’s compelling interest and the narrow tailoring requirements, the interplay between religious exemptions and the Establishment Clause, emerging issues at the intersection of religious freedom and anti-discrimination laws, ongoing challenges to the HHS contraceptive mandate, and the legacy of Hobby Lobby for future First Amendment and religious freedom cases.
The Federalist Society's Religious Liberties Practice Groups presented this panel on "Religious Liberty after Hobby Lobby" on Thursday, November 13, during the 2014 National Lawyers Convention.