111 South 10th Street
St. Louis, MO 63102
- James Layton, Counsel for the State of Missouri before the U.S. Supreme Court
- Carl Esbeck, Professor, University of Missouri School of Law & constitutional law and religious liberty expert
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) denied a Learning Center run by Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. (Trinity) federal funding to refurbish children’s playgrounds on the grounds of religious affiliation. The DNR offers Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material Grants to organizations that qualify for resurfacing of playgrounds. Though the licensed pre- school Learning Center incorporates religious instruction into is curriculum, the school is open to all children. Trinity’s Learning Center was denied funding based on Article I, Section 7 of the Missouri Constitution; the section reads: “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, section or denomination of religion.”
Trinity claimed that the DNR infringed upon their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the First Amendment’s protections of freedom of religion and speech. The district court dismissed Trinity’s allegations, claiming that Trinity failed to file a specific claim. Trinity responded by amending its complaint to an allegation that other religious institutions had previously received the DNR funding; nevertheless, the district court denied the motions. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court decision, agreeing with both the dismissal and denial of motions.
In a 7-2 opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Trinity Lutheran. David Cortman of the Alliance Defending Freedom discussed the decision and its significance.
Advocate Health Care v. Stapleton is a combination of three cases, Advocate Health Care v. Stapleton, St. Peter’s Healthcare v. Kaplan, and Dignity Health v. Rollins, that confront the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) as it applies to churches and non-church religious non-profits. ERISA sets minimum standards for pension plans in private industry, such as an appeals process for participants and the right to sue for benefits. Churches are exempted from ERISA, however, the circuit courts have split over whether non-profit hospitals and schools are also exempted. Eric Baxter of the Becket Fund joined us again to discuss the 8-0 decision issued by the Supreme Court on June 5.
On April 4, 2017, the Seventh Circuit handed down a divided en banc opinion in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, opening a circuit split on how to interpret Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on "race, color, religion, sex, or national origin[.]" In Hively, the Seventh Circuit became the first Court of Appeals to hold that sex discrimination encompasses discrimination based on sexual orientation. It held that plaintiff Kimberly Hively could pursue a claim against her former employer, Ivy Tech Community College, for her firing, which she claimed was motivated by her sexual orientation. In doing so, the court opened a split with the Eleventh Circuit, which had held just a few months earlier that employer decisions based on sexual orientation were not discrimination prohibited by Title VII. In addition to paving the way for a potential Supreme Court case to resolve the issue, the Seventh Circuit's decision includes an array of opinions demonstrating different methods of statutory interpretation.
On May 4, President Trump signed a Religious Liberty Executive Order relaxing IRS enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which bans tax-exempt organizations like churches from political speech and activities. The “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” Executive Order also directs “the Secretary of Health and Human Services” to “consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.”
An earlier version of the Executive Order was leaked in February, and contained many provisions, specifically about LGBTQ discrimination and federal contractors, which did not make it into the final. Prof. Carl Esbeck of the University of Missouri School of Law and Mr. Gregory Baylor of the Alliance Defending Freedom joined us to discuss the order and its precursor. This Teleforum is the third in our Executive Order Teleforum Series.