Religion clauses

  • May 5, 2014
    Guest Post
     
    * Americans United represented the plaintiffs in Town of Greece, with Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan serving as lead counsel.
     
    This morning, by a 5-4 vote in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court upheld a town council’s practice of opening its meetings with predominantly Christian prayers.
     
    It did not matter to the Court’s majority that approximately two-thirds of the opening prayers had expressly Christian references, such as “Jesus,” “Christ” and “Your Son.”
     
    Nor did it matter to the majority that the ministers who gave the prayers typically directed them toward the citizens attending the prayers, often asking them to participate.
     
    Nor did it make a difference that the prayers took place in a small council chamber, often attended by less than a dozen town residents who would have to plead requests for permits and variances to council members who could easily see whether the residents took part in the prayers.
     
    The principal ground for this ruling was the majority’s conclusion that such prayer practices were common in 1789, when Congress approved the First Amendment.
     
    The majority paid no heed to how drastically American society has changed in the two-and-a-quarter centuries that have passed since then. We are no longer a nation where nearly everyone professes to be a Christian. More and more of us identify as atheists and agnostics, Jews and Muslims, Buddhists and Wiccans, or members of a litany of other faiths.
     
  • May 1, 2014
    Guest Post
    by James C. Nelson, Justice, Montana Supreme Court (Retired)
     
    Congress has proclaimed that the first Thursday in May—May 1, this year—is set aside as a National Day of Prayer. There will be a National Prayer Breakfast and similar state celebrations conspicuously attended by elected officials, politicians and sectarian persona.
     
    But should Congress and state officials be promoting prayer at all? According to the Constitution, no!
     
    The First Amendment guarantees two things: (1) that Congress will not prohibit the free exercise of religion; and (2) that Congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion. These two clauses embody the wall separating church and state—a wall that is supposed to keep government out of religion, period.
     
    Why, then, did Congress create in 1952, and then codify in 1988, a “national” day of prayer? If you answered, “True to the intentions of the Constitution’s framers, America is a Christian nation,” you’d be wrong. Indeed, creating any kind of a religious nation, Christian or otherwise, is exactly what the framers were trying to avoid when they drafted the First Amendment. And for good reason.
     
  • April 8, 2014

    Writing for Verdict, Michael C. Dorf compares last week’s decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission with the political philosophy of fictional House of Cards majority whip Francis Underwood to reveal “a Court with an utterly benighted view of politics.” At CAC’s Text & History Blog, Brianne Gorod notes how Chief Justice John Roberts’ ruling in McCutcheon is inconsistent with his stated beliefs as a judge on the U. S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
     
    While the Affordable Care Act remains “too entrenched, among consumers and providers, either to fail on its own or be dispatched by legislative ‘repeal,’” its opponents continue to resist the law, bringing lawsuits that could “wreak havoc beyond the exchanges.” Writing for The New Republic, Simon Lazarus explains what needs to be done to counter these challenges.
     
    The Obama administration continues to face criticism for its deportation of immigrants living in the country illegally. Ginger Thompson and Sarah Cohen of The New York Times reveal how an “examination of the administration’s record shows how the disconnect evolved between the president’s stated goal of blunting what he called the harsh edge of immigration enforcement and the reality that has played out.”
     
    On Monday, the Supreme Court decided not to grant certiorari in a case asking whether a business can “refuse to serve gay and lesbian customers.” Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog breaks down Elane Photography v. Willock and other orders from the high court.
     
    Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic reviews former Supreme Court Justice John Paul StevensSix Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, and highlights the justice’s change of heart on the constitutionality of capital punishment.

     

  • April 3, 2014

    Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down a limit on the aggregate financial contribution an individual can make to candidates and party committees in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Democracy 21 discusses the “consequences of the disastrous decision” while the Brennan Center for Justice’s David Earley explains how the case reflects the “justices’ troubling vision of democracy.” At Demos, Alex Amend notes how the “McCutcheon Money” will discourage whatever “level-playing field” was left after Citizens United v. FEC. For more coverage of McCutcheon v. FEC, please visit ACSblog.
     
    James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, confirmed that “the National Security Agency has used a ‘back door’ in surveillance law to perform warrantless searches on Americans’ communications.” Writing for The Guardian, Spencer Ackerman and James Ball report on the political outcry surrounding this controversial “secret rule change.”
     
    At The Daily Beast, Geoffrey R. Stone—former ACS Board Chair and current Co-Chair of the Board of Advisors for the ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter as well as Co-Faculty Advisor for the University of Chicago Law School ACS Student Chapteroffers insight into why “anti-gay marriage laws are irrational.”
     
    Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral argument for Wood v. Moss, a case asking whether Secret Service agents can be sued for treating protestors differently in a 2004 presidential visit to Oregon. At the Constitutional Law Prof Blog, Ruthann Robson—Faculty Advisor for the CUNY School of Law ACS Student Chapter—discusses how and if this case, along with the recent scandal surrounding President Obama’s personal security detail, should influence the “qualified immunity” the Supreme Court bestows on the Secret Service.

     

  • March 31, 2014
     
    Last week, hundreds rallied outside of the Supreme Court as the justices prepared to hear oral arguments in Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius and Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Half of those present stood on the left side of the Court’s steps, the other half to the right, in a visual representation of their ideological divide.
     
    The issue in the “contraception mandate” cases is whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) allows the owners of for-profit corporations to use religious objections for denying employees health coverage of contraceptives, coverage to which employees would otherwise be entitled to by the Affordable Care Act.
     
    Among the organizations rallying in support of contraception coverage were the Alliance for Justice, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the National Partnership for Women and Families. Representatives from these groups and others held signs that read “Women’s health is a compelling interest,” “Contraception is my business,” “Keep your religion out of my health decisions” and “This is personal.”
     
    Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) showed her support early on in the rally, as did Justin Nelson, the co-founder and president of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. “There is not broad support for this issue in corporate America,” he stated, regarding companies’ objections to insurance coverage of contraception. “It is bad for health care, it’s bad for equality and it’s bad for America.”