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Religious Liberty

Immigration Moratorium Back in the Court - Podcast

International & National Security Law Practice Group Podcast
Josh Blackman, Ilya Somin July 25, 2017

Eighteen days after the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project and stay applications were granted in part, on July 14, 2017, Judge Watson of the District Court of Hawaii ruled that grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, and other relatives of people could not be prevented from entering the country as they qualified as persons with a “bona fide relationship” under the Supreme Court ruling.

On July 19, 2017, the Supreme Court upheld parts of the District Court order. Ilya Somin and Josh Blackman joined us again to discuss developments in the litigation of Executive Order 13780.

Featuring: 

  • Prof. Josh Blackman, Associate Professor of Law, South Texas College of Law, Houston
  • Prof. Ilya Somin, Professor of Law, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University

 

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 7-18-17 featuring David A. Cortman
David A. Cortman July 18, 2017

On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court decided Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer. The Learning Center is a licensed preschool and daycare that is operated by Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc (Trinity Lutheran). Though it incorporates religious instruction into its curriculum, the school is open to all children. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material Grants to organizations that qualify for resurfacing of playgrounds. Trinity Lutheran’s application for such a grant was denied under Article I, Section 7 of the Missouri Constitution, which 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 Lutheran sued, arguing that DNR’s denial violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the First Amendment’s protections of freedom of religion and speech. The district court dismissed the suit and a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause did not compel the State to disregard the broader anti-establishment principle reflected in its own constitution.

By a vote of 7-2, the United States Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Eighth Circuit and remanded the case. In an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court held that the DNR’s policy violated the rights of Trinity Lutheran under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by denying the Church an otherwise available public benefit on account of its religious status. 

Justices Kennedy, Alito, and Kagan joined the Chief Justice’s majority opinion in full, and Justices Thomas and Gorsuch joined except as to footnote 3. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part, in which Justice Gorsuch joined. Justice Gorsuch filed an opinion concurring in part, in which Justice Thomas joined. Justice Breyer filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Ginsburg joined. 

And now, to discuss the case, we have David A. Cortman, who was lead counsel in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley and is Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation, Alliance Defending Freedom.

Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 7-11-17 featuring Eric Baxter
Eric Baxter July 11, 2017

On June 5, 2017, the Supreme Court decided Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton, which is consolidated with Saint Peter’s Healthcare System v. Kaplan, and Dignity Health v. Rollins. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) requires that employee retirement plans contain certain safeguards, but exempts “church plan[s]” from these requirements. Under 29 U.S.C. 1002(33)(A), the term “church plan” means “a plan established and maintained… by a church or by a convention or association of churches which is exempt from tax….” After a controversy involving an Internal Revenue Service determination that the church plan exemption did not encompass pension plans established and maintained by two orders of Catholic sisters for the employees of their hospitals, Congress amended the statute to add subsection (C), which provides: “A plan established and maintained for its employees (or their beneficiaries) by a church or by a convention or association of churches includes a plan maintained by an organization, whether a civil law corporation or otherwise, the principal purpose or function of which is the administration or funding of a plan or program for the provision of retirement benefits or welfare benefits, or both, for the employees of a church or a convention or association of churches, if such organization is controlled by or associated with a church or a convention or association of churches.”

Plaintiffs in this case are a group of employees who work for church-affiliated non-profits. Plaintiffs sued the non-profits, alleging that their retirement plans are subject to ERISA and that by failing to adhere to ERISA’s requirements the non-profits have breached their respective fiduciary duties. Defendants moved for summary judgment, but the district court denied the motions because it determined that a plan established and maintained by a church-affiliated organization was not a church plan within the meaning of the statutory language. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed.

By a vote of 8-0, the Court reversed the judgment of the Seventh Circuit. In an opinion by Justice Kagan, the Court held that under ERISA, a defined-benefit pension plan maintained by a principal-purpose organization -- one controlled by or associated with a church for the administration or funding of a plan for the church's employees -- qualifies as a "church plan," regardless of who established it. All members joined her opinion except for Justice Gorsuch, who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case. Justice Sotomayor filed a concurring opinion.

To discuss the case, we have Eric Baxter who is Senior Counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Courthouse Steps: Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer - Decided - Podcast

Religious Liberties Practice Group Podcast
David A. Cortman June 28, 2017

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.

Featuring: 

  • David A. Cortman, Lead counsel in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley, Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation, Alliance Defending Freedom 

Courthouse Steps: Advocate Health Care v. Stapleton Decided - Podcast

Religious Liberties Practice Group Teleforum
Eric Baxter June 07, 2017

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.

Featuring:

  • Eric Baxter, Senior Counsel, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty