Legal Spirits Episode 023: Journalist Kelsey Dallas on Religion in America Today

Kelsey Dallas, the national religion reporter for the Deseret News, is one of the best religion journalists writing today: thorough, fair, and insightful. In this episode, she joins us to explains why, after getting a graduate degree in religion from Yale, she left academics to become a reporter, and why she finds American religion so fascinating. Along the way, we discuss how the COVID-19 epidemic is affecting churches, what stories she’s watching for future articles, and the never-ending Contraceptive Mandate litigation. Listen in!

Legal Spirits Episode 022: Church Closings in the Time of Coronavirus

In response to the COVID-19 epidemic, many state and local governments have banned “non-essential” gatherings of more than 10 people, including religious services. In this episode of Legal Spirits, Center Co-Directors Marc DeGirolami and Mark Movsesian discuss several recent cases, like one involving the On Fire Christian Church in Louisville Kentucky, in which (mostly Evangelical) churches have challenged these bans as violations of religious freedom. How likely are such challenges to succeed? And why are Evangelicals, as opposed to Catholics and Orthodox, the Christians challenging these bans? Listen in!

Legal Spirits Episode 021: The New Little Sisters of the Poor Case (featuring Prof. Kevin Walsh)

The Little Sisters of the Poor are litigants before the Supreme Court once more, this time as intervening defendants in an action by Pennsylvania and New Jersey against the federal government. The factual issue is a set of regulations adopted by the federal government that fully exempt organizations like the Little Sisters from the “contraception mandate”–an extremely controversial feature of the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act that has been litigated for what will shortly be a decade. The case is Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, and it implicates complicated questions about religious freedom.

In this podcast, we are absolutely delighted to be joined by our first guest on Legal Spirits, Professor Kevin Walsh of the University of Richmond Law School, who has represented the Little Sisters before and has a keen understanding of the many intricacies of this important case. We recapitulate the history of this case, discuss the decisions below, and talk about the claims before the Supreme Court. We focus on the question of standing and the broader issue of the scope of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and how this case might affect it. Listen in!

Legal Spirits Episode 020: A New Case That May Alter Free Exercise Doctrine

The Supreme Court has granted cert. on a potentially major case for the scope of the Free Exercise Clause and the relationship between rights of religious liberty and rights of LGBT persons. The case is Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, and it concerns Catholic Social Services, a foster agency and part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which was prevented by the City from making new foster care placements because CSS objected on religious grounds to placing children in homes with unmarried heterosexual couples as well as same-sex couples.

In this episode, Mark and Marc present the facts of the case, discuss the legal claims in the petition for cert., and explore some of the larger and possibly very significant implications of this case for the future of constitutional free exercise. Listen in!

Legal Spirits Episode 019: Oral Argument in the Blaine Amendments Case

Late last month, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Espinoza v. Montana Dep’t of Revenue, a case on the constitutionality of a Montana school-choice program that allows parents to direct state-funded scholarships to religiously affiliated schools. The Montana Supreme Court ruled that the program violated the state constitution’s “Blaine Amendment,” which prohibits the appropriation of public money for “sectarian” institutions, including private, religiously affiliated schools. Petitioners argue that barring them from scholarships, simply because they plan to use the money at religiously affiliated schools, violates the Free Exercise Clause of the federal constitution.

In this episode, we review the facts of Espinoza and analyze last month’s oral argument. What concerns did the Justices raise and how did counsel respond? We also speculate what the Justices’ questions suggest about the ultimate outcome of the case. Listen in!

Legal Spirits Episode 018: SCOTUS Takes a Pair of Cases on the Ministerial Exception

In this episode, we discuss the Court’s cert grant in two consolidated cases on the ministerial exception: St. James Church v. Biel and Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru. The cases will require the Court to clarify the definition of “minister,” a question the Court left open six years ago in Hosanna-Tabor. Center Co-Directors Marc DeGirolami and Mark Movsesian ask whether the Court will adopt a narrow or broad definition of “minister”; what practical consequences would follow from either approach; and how the Court’s decision will reflect deeper disagreements about the value of religious institutions in American life.

Legal Spirits Episode 017: Tanzin v. Tanvir and Individual Liability Under RFRA

In this podcast, we discuss the Second Circuit opinion in Tanzin v. Tanvir, the Supreme Court’s second law-and-religion case this term, about whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act contemplates liability for individual federal officers. Along the way, we consider some of the divided cultural backdrop against which this somewhat technical question will be decided. Listen in on our final podcast of 2019!

Legal Spirits Episode 016: The New Wedding Vendor Cases

In this episode, we discuss recent court rulings in favor of wedding vendors who decline, from religious conviction, to provide services for same-sex weddings. After years of losing such cases, vendors like Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski of Phoenix’s Brush & Nib Studio (above) have won notable victories in the lower courts. We ask whether these victories reflect the changing membership of the judiciary–especially given the new Trump appointees to the federal appeals courts–and how the Supreme Court is likely to respond to them. Listen in!

Legal Spirits Episode 015: SCOTUS Grants Cert in the Louisiana Abortion Case

Photo: CNN

In this podcast, we discuss the Supreme Court’s decision to grant cert in June Medical Services v. Gee, a constitutional challenge to a Louisiana law regulating abortion. We explore what the decision to hear the case suggests about the Court’s changing dynamics and ask whether the standing issue the case presents offers the Court’s conservatives, especially Chief Justice Roberts, a way to cut back on the right to abortion without actually overruling Roe and Casey. Listen in!

Legal Spirits Episode 014: Requiring Clergy to Report Child Sex Abuse to State Authorities

Pope Francis Hears Confessions in Rome

In this episode, Center Co-Directors Mark Movsesian & Marc DeGirolami address state efforts to require clergy to report suspected child sex they learn about through confidential spiritual counseling–in traditional Christian terms, through Confession. Focusing on a recent California bill, SB 360, we explore what these efforts reveal about changes in American religion and predict whether such bills would violate the Free Exercise Clause. Listen in!