Barclay & Rienzi, “Constitutional Anomalies”

Allow people to pose religious objections to generally-applicable laws, the argument goes, and you will end up with chaos, a world in which every person is a law unto himself. That argument carried the day twenty-seven years ago in Employment Division v. Smith, and resurfaced as recently as last week, during oral argument in Masterpiece Cakeshop. A new article by Stephanie Barclay (Becket) and Mark Rienzi (Catholic University-Columbus School of Law), “Constitutional Anomalies or As-Applied Challenges? A Defense of Religious Objections,” maintains that the argument is overstated. The authors argue that religious accommodations are analogous to customary “as-applied” challenges in constitutional law, which have not destroyed the rule of law. Here’s the abstract:

In the wake of Hobby Lobby and now in anticipation of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the notion that religious exemptions are dangerously out of step with norms of constitutional jurisprudence has taken on renewed popularity within the academy. Critics increasingly claim that religious exemptions, such as those available prior to Employment Division v. Smith and now available under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), are a threat to basic fairness, equality, and the rule of law. Under this view, exemptions create an anomalous private right to ignore laws that everyone else must obey. And such a scheme will result in a tidal wave of religious claimants striking down government action at every turn.

Our article presents a novel observation that undermines these central criticisms. Far from being “anomalous” or “out of step” with our constitutional traditions, religious exemptions are just a form of “as-applied” challenge offered as a default remedy elsewhere in constitutional adjudication. Furthermore, under this form of as-applied adjudication, courts regularly provide exemptions from generally applicable laws for other First Amendment protected activity like expressive conduct that mirror exemptions critics fear in the context of religious exercise. This is true even in the hotly debated context of anti-discrimination laws.

The article also presents original empirical analysis, including a national survey of all federal RFRA cases since Hobby Lobby, indicating that concerns of critics about religious exemptions have not been borne out as an empirical matter. Our findings suggest that even after Hobby Lobby, cases dealing with religious exemption requests remain much less common than cases dealing with other expressive claims, and are less likely to result in invalidation of government actions. In fact, religious cases as a percentage of the total reported case load appear to have decreased after Hobby Lobby. Thus, far from creating anomalous preferential treatment that threatens the rule of law, a religious exemption framework simply offers a similar level of protection courts have long provided for dissenting minority rights housed elsewhere in the First Amendment.

Tradition and Going Topless

Earlier this week, I had a post at the Liberty Law site on a recent Seventh Circuit decision in the GoTopless case, a challenge to Chicago’s public nudity ordinance, which forbids women, but not men, to remove their tops in public. The majority maintained that the city’s interest in promoting traditional norms justified the ban, but the dissent disagreed, arguing, among other things, that the city was simply promoting outdated cultural stereotypes.

Here’s an excerpt from my post on the case:

Judge Sykes’s opinion suggests that, even after cases like Obergefell, Lawrence, and Casey, tradition continues to have an important place in constitutional law. It’s true those decisions held that traditional moral norms cannot serve as a legitimate basis for law, at least not where they infringe on personal identity or the individual’s search for meaning. But it’s also true, as the late Justice Scalia and others repeatedly pointed out in response, that the Court cannot possibly have meant what it said. Too much law relies on traditional morality as a justification; to deny that tradition can legitimate law would throw our legal system into chaos. Judges will need to find some way to distinguish between those cases where traditional norms can serve to justify state action and those where they cannot. Judge Sykes’s opinion, which suggests that traditional norms can still govern questions of “public order,” is perhaps a start.

Second, Judge Rovner’s dissent suggesting that the law should follow biology rather than culture is misleading. Of course rules regarding public nudity are a cultural phenomenon. Culture is, among other things, a reflection on human biology; different cultures have different perceptions. In some cultures women appear topless in public; in others they do not. Allowing women to appear topless in public is not to substitute biology for culture, but rather to replace one culture with another—a culture that sees public nudity as appropriate for one that does not. Perhaps that is a good idea, but it has little to do with the objective facts of biology.

You can read the whole post here.

Masterpiece Cakeshop and the Passion for Equality

At the First Things site today, I have an essay on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, in which the Supreme Court granted cert at the end of its term a couple of weeks ago. In the case, a cake shop owner argues that the First Amendment grants him the right to decline to design and bake a cake for a same-sex marriage. I use Masterpiece Cakeshop, and a hypothetical question I posed to my class in law and religion, to explore Tocqueville’s observation that the concept of equality inevitably expands in democratic societies, and to explain how a case in which same-sex marriage is so central may, in fact, have little to do with sexuality:

Conservatives often assume that controversies like Masterpiece Cakeshop reflect changing sexual norms and an intolerance of resistance. That’s correct, in part; one definitely senses a “you-lost-get-over-it” sentiment on the other side. And yet, the students’ reaction to my hypothetical case suggests that something else is going on as well, that the dispute is not about sexuality as such. Rather, it’s about not allowing people to draw moral distinctions that exclude others and hurt their feelings, no matter what the justification. That’s what the florist was doing in my hypothetical case—and that, I think, was what bothered the students.

Tocqueville saw this coming long ago. Democracies, he wrote, prize equality above all other values. Their “passion for equality,” he observed, is “ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible.” It is not simply a matter of assuring every person equal rights under law. Tocqueville believed, in Patrick Deneen’s words, that democracies inevitably seek to do away with “any apparent differences” among people—“material, social, or personal.” No distinctions are to be tolerated. In fact, Tocqueville wrote that democratic societies have an inevitable tendency toward pantheism, since, in the end, even a distinction between Creator and created becomes intolerable.

If I’m right that, in the long run, social intuitions drive the law, and if I’m also right that my students’ reaction reflects something about social intuitions in America today, then litigants like the shop owner in Masterpiece Cakeshop will have an increasingly hard time prevailing in American courts. As the concept of equality inevitably extends further and further, distinctions like the one he is trying to maintain will appear more and more rebarbative. People will fail to empathize at a basic level.

You can read the whole essay here.

Happy Independence Day

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In honor of the Fourth of July, the Forum is taking off today. Happy Independence Day and see you tomorrow!

Epstein, “The Classical Liberal Constitution”

Speaking of classical liberalism, here is a new book from the most prominent libertarian voice in the American legal academy, Richard Epstein, The Classical Liberal Constitution: the Uncertain Quest for Limited Government (Harvard). It certainly seems the case that many disputes over religious liberty today result from expanding governmental control over aspects of life the framers of the Free Exercise Clause could not have imagined — the Contraception Mandate, for example. Readers can decide whether that expansion, and the attendant conflicts over religious liberty, are the inevitable consequences of modernity or, as Epstein suggests, the result of an an unnecessary ideological project unwisely endorsed by the Supreme Court. The publisher’s description is below.

9780674975460American liberals and conservatives alike take for granted a progressive view of the Constitution that took root in the early twentieth century. Richard A. Epstein laments this complacency which, he believes, explains America’s current economic malaise and political gridlock. Steering clear of well-worn debates between defenders of originalism and proponents of a living Constitution, Epstein employs close textual reading, historical analysis, and political and economic theory to urge a return to the classical liberal theory of governance that animated the framers’ original text, and to the limited government this theory supports.

Grounded in the thought of Locke, Hume, Madison, and other Enlightenment figures, the classical liberal tradition emphasized federalism, restricted government, separation of powers, property rights, and economic liberties. The most serious challenge to this tradition, Epstein contends, has come from New Deal progressives and their intellectual defenders. Unlike Thomas Paine, who saw government as a necessary evil at best, the progressives embraced government as a force for administering social good. The Supreme Court has unwisely ratified the progressive program by sustaining an ever-lengthening list of legislative programs at odds with the classical liberal Constitution.

Epstein’s carefully considered analysis addresses both halves of the constitutional enterprise: its structural safeguards against excessive government power and its protection of individual rights. He illuminates contemporary disputes ranging from presidential prerogatives to health care legislation, while reexamining such enduring topics as the institution of judicial review, the federal government’s role in regulating economic activity, freedom of speech and religion, and equal protection.

 

Rubin, “Judicial Review and American Conservatism”

In March, the Cambridge University Press will release “Judicial Review and American Conservatism: Christianity, Public Education, and the Federal Courts in the Reagan Era,” by Robert Daniel Rubin.  The publisher’s description follows: 

The Christian Right of the 1980s forged its political identity largely in response to what it perceived as liberal ‘judicial activism’. Robert Daniel Rubin tells this story 9781107060555as it played out in Mobile, Alabama. There, a community conflict pitted a group of conservative evangelicals, a sympathetic federal judge, and a handful of conservative intellectuals against a religious agnostic opposed to prayer in schools, and a school system accused of promoting a religion called ‘secular humanism’. The twists in the Mobile conflict speak to the changes and continuities that marked the relationship of 1980s’ religious conservatism to democracy, the courts, and the Constitution. By alternately focusing its gaze on the local conflict and related events in Washington, DC, this book weaves a captivating narrative. Historians, political scientists, and constitutional lawyers will find, in Rubin’s study, a challenging new perspective on the history of the Christian Right in the United States.

“Constitution Writing, Religion and Democracy” (Bâli & Lerner, eds.)

In January, Cambridge University Press will release “Constitution Writing, Religion and Democracy,” edited by Aslı Ü. Bâli (University of California, Los Angeles) and Hanna Lerner (Tel-Aviv University).  The publisher’s description follows:

What role do and should constitutions play in mitigating intense disagreements over 9781107070516the religious character of a state? And what kind of constitutional solutions might reconcile democracy with the type of religious demands raised in contemporary democratising or democratic states? Tensions over religion-state relations are gaining increasing salience in constitution writing and rewriting around the world. This book explores the challenge of crafting a democratic constitution under conditions of deep disagreement over a state’s religious or secular identity. It draws on a broad range of relevant case studies of past and current constitutional debates in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and offers valuable lessons for societies soon to embark on constitution drafting or amendment processes where religion is an issue of contention.

Berg: Free Exercise Exemptions and the Original Understanding

This autumn, we have been hosting an online symposium on Vincent Phillip Muñoz‘s new article, “Two Concepts of Religious Liberty.” In today’s post, Thomas Berg (University of St. Thomas (Minnesota)) responds to Muñoz. For other posts in this series, please click here.

In his excellent journal article “Two Concepts of Religious Liberty,”[1] and in a recent LRF blog post,[2] Vincent Philip Muñoz argues that the founders’ natural-rights theory of religious freedom is very different from the modern practice of protecting religious exercise through exemption from otherwise valid, generally applicable laws. The original understanding, he says, supports the rule of Employment Division v. Smith’s rejection of mandatory exemptions under the Free Exercise, rather than Sherbert v. Verner’s rule mandating exemptions unless the government can show a “compelling interest” in burdening religious exercise. And Muñoz criticizes the arguments of Michael McConnell, who concluded that while the question was close, “[t]he historical record casts doubt on [Smith’s] interpretation of the free exercise clause.”[3]

Under current law, this historical debate is of limited importance. Although the exemptions approach has been rejected for the Free Exercise Clause, it has been adopted in some form in federal legislation[4] and in the legislation or constitutional rulings of more than 30 states. As a result, the exemptions approach applies to all federal laws, to every state’s land use and prison regulations, and, in much of the nation, to the full body of state and local laws. Muñoz says that legislatures should decide whether to exempt religion from general law; many of them have decided to do so through religious freedom restoration acts (RFRAs), federal and state.

In fact, however, the exemptions approach finds considerable support in the religious-freedom tradition of the founding; it may even be the best historical reading, although that is a difficult question. Smith was not dictated by originalism; the Court should be willing to entertain modifying or overruling it; and at the very least legislatures and state courts should feel no embarrassment at adopting the exemptions approach. I will first discuss the historical issues and then turn to some of Muñoz’s other qualms about the exemptions approach.

The Original Understanding, Exemptions, and “Harms to Others”

Muñoz’s journal article focuses heavily on the natural-rights outlook of the framers, arguing that it supports a “jurisdictional” approach that simply prevents government from regulating religion as religion: that is, from targeting it with a non-neutral law. But that argument ignored the aspect of founding-era history that, for McConnell, was the Continue reading

Loewe, “Of Sacred Lands and Strip Malls”

In September, Rowman & Littlefield released “Of Sacred Lands and Strip Malls: The Battle for Puvungna,” by Ronald Loewe (California State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

A twenty-two acre strip of land—known as Puvungna—lies at the edge of 9780759121607California State University’s Long Beach campus. The land, indisputably owned by California, is also sacred to several Native American tribes. And these twenty-two acres have been the nexus for an acrimonious and costly conflict over control of the land. Of Sacred Lands and Strip Malls tells the story of Puvungna, from the region’s deep history, through years of struggle between activists and campus administration, and ongoing reverberations from the conflict.

As Loewe makes clear, this is a case study with implications beyond a single controversy; at stake in the legal battle is the constitutionality of state codes meant to protect sacred sites from commercial development, and the right of individuals to participate in public hearings. The case also raises questions about the nature of contract archaeology, applied anthropology, and the relative status of ethnography and ethnohistorical research. It is a compelling snapshot of issues surrounding contemporary Native American landscapes.

“Religious Liberty” (Robinson & Williams, eds.)

This month, Cambridge University Press releases “Religious Liberty: Essays on First Amendment Law,” edited by Daniel Robinson (University of Oxford) and Richard Williams (Brigham Young University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The principal aim of the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment was to preclude congressional imposition of a national church. A balance was sought between states’ rights and the rights of individuals to exercise their 9781107147607.jpgreligious conscience. While the founding fathers were debating such issues, the potential for serious conflict was confined chiefly to variations among the dominant Christian sects. Today, issues of marriage, child bearing, cultural diversity, and corporate personhood, among others, suffuse constitutional jurisprudence, raising difficult questions regarding the nature of beliefs that qualify as ‘religious’, and the reach of law into the realm in which those beliefs are held. The essays collected in this volume explore in a selective and instructive way the intellectual and philosophical roots of religious liberty and contemporary confrontations between this liberty and the authority of secular law.

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