Legal Spirits 053: Tom Berg on Religious Liberty in a Polarized Age

A protester calling for justice for Elijah McClain clashes with a member of the Proud Boys in Denver, Colorado, U.S., November 21, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Mohatt

Welcome back! In our first Legal Spirits episode of the academic year, we interview our friend, law professor Tom Berg (University of St. Thomas) about his new book, Religious Liberty in a Polarized Age. We explore how fights about religious liberty both reflect and contribute to the deep social division in the US today–but also how a commitment to religious liberty might help ease that division. Listen in!

Deseret News piece on the case of the missing law and religion cases

I’m quoted in this piece by Kelsey Dallas of the Deseret News (whom we have interviewed at the Forum before) on the unusual absence of law and religion cases in this year’s slate of Supreme Court cases. Of course, some might still be added, as Professor Mark Rienzi suggests in the article.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • The 4th Circuit heard oral argument in Billard v. Charlotte Catholic High School to determine whether a Catholic high school violated Title VII by firing a drama teacher for entering a same-sex marriage. While the district court sided with the teacher, during the appeal, judges inquired about the ministerial exception doctrine, even though the school had not raised it as a defense.
  • In Gardner-Alfred v. Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a New York federal district court dismissed claims by two FRB employees who were denied religious exemptions from the bank’s COVID vaccine mandate. The court concluded neither employee showed objections based on sincere religious beliefs. The court noted one employee’s ties to the Temple of Healing Spirit seemed only to seek a vaccination exemption and another’s actions and associations were inconsistent with her claimed religious views.
  • In Huck v. United States, a Utah federal court dismissed challenges to Congress’ 2019 designation of public lands in Utah as wilderness areas, resulting in stricter usage rules like motor vehicle bans. Plaintiffs claimed the designation favored Earth-religions and their views on the ‘sacredness’ of lands, violating the Establishment Clause. The court emphasized historical precedent supporting federal authority over land designations and did not find evidence of religious coercion or bias against specific groups.
  • In Kloosterman v. Metropolitan Hospital, a Michigan federal district court declined to dismiss a physician assistant’s religious discrimination claims against a hospital that fired her for not referring gender transitioning patients based on religious beliefs. The plaintiff, citing Christian beliefs, argued that she was against “eras[ing] or alter[ing] one’s sex.” The court found she plausibly argued that her termination was due to religious beliefs but dismissed her free speech claim.
  • Suit was filed in Rooks v. Peoria Unified School District against the Arizona school board to defend a plaintiff’s use of Scripture during Board meeting comments. Legal counsel to the Board deemed the practice a violation of the Establishment Clause.
  • Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the government to clarify its inaction against Jerusalem’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar over derogatory remarks about Reform Judaism, the LGBTQ community, and the Women of the Wall Movement. Amar attributed earthquakes to the LGBTQ community and labeled Reform Jews as “evil people.” The petitioners claim they’ve sought government action 16 times in four years without response.