Have Americans Given Up on Free Speech?

At Law and Liberty today, I have a review essay on Jacob Mchangama’s new book, Free Speech. Mchangama argues that the United States, and the world generally, needs to recommit to free speech principles before it is too late. I argue that the real problem is not a failure to believe in free speech, but a lack of social trust. Here’s an excerpt:

It is a striking feature of American life in the first quarter of the 21st century that we have somehow created a culture in which everyone feels aggrieved. This is especially true when it comes to free speech. Both conservatives and progressives believe their opponents are out to silence them—not just beat them in debates and prevail against them in elections, but intimidate them, put them on mute permanently, eliminate any possibility of resistance. Many on each side see the other as not simply wrong, but ill-motivated and dangerous, an existential threat to be defeated before it is too late.

This state of affairs is more the norm in American history than we care to admit. Perhaps because we see ourselves in providential terms—“the last best hope of earth,” as Lincoln said—Americans always have been sensitive to threats our democracy faces and often have worried about enemies within spreading “disinformation.” Eras of Good Feeling occur relatively rarely. Even so, the level of recrimination just now seems quite high, and many Americans apparently believe we must silence our opponents before they succeed in silencing us.

In Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media, Jacob Mchangama maintains that a renewed commitment to free expression can help us through these perfervid times. Mchangama, a lawyer and the founder of Justitia, a human-rights organization in Denmark, has written a programmatic history that “connect[s] past speech controversies with the most pressing contemporary ones.” Today’s debates about free expression recapitulate those of long ago, he believes, and just as our ancestors did, we must defend the right to speak against those who would take it away.

To write a comprehensive history like this one is an ambitious undertaking, and Free Speech is a mixed success. Mchangama writes engagingly and has done his research. The chapters on the Internet and social media are especially good. But even at 500 pages, a history that spans thousands of years and many civilizations is bound to be a bit superficial at times. Moreover, as he himself recognizes, tolerance for others’ speech depends as much on culture as it does on law—and in today’s polarized, distrustful America, we are less and less likely to give our opponents the benefit of the doubt and let them have their say even if the law permits it.

You can read the whole essay here.

Around the Web

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

  • The U.S. Supreme Court grants cert in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis. The grant of cert was limited to the question of “[w]hether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”
  • In Mahoney v. United States Capitol Police Board, a clergyman challenged traffic regulations that barred demonstrations by twenty or more people at locations near the U.S. Capitol. While the D.C. federal district court rejected Plaintiff’s Free Exercise and RFRA challenges, it allowed him to move forward with his selective enforcement and free-association claims.
  • In Christian Medical & Dental Associations v. Bonta, suit was filed by an organization of Christian healthcare professionals challenging the current version of California’s End of Life Options Act (EOLA). Plaintiffs allege that changes made to EOLA last year remove previous protections and now require doctors to participate in assisted suicide in violation of their religious beliefs.
  • In Chamberlain v. Montoya, a New Hampshire federal district court dismissed the complaint after the parties agreed to settle. The settlement allows the Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center to keep a Bible as part of their “Missing Man Table;” however, the organization will now also allow for the sponsorship of a generic “Book of Faith.”
  • The Missouri Religious Freedom Protection Act has won first-round approval in the Missouri House of Representatives. If enacted, the bill would prevent public officials from shutting down meetings or services held by religious groups.
  • Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey demands answers from the Alabama High School Athletic Association after the Oakwood Adventist Academy’s boys basketball team was forced to forfeit a semifinal game in the state tournament due to their observance of the sabbath.
  • Colombia’s highest court has voted to legalize abortion until the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy.
  • The Judicial Selection Committee of Israel has appointed the first Muslim to a permanent seat on Israel’s Supreme Court.

Around the Web

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

  • In Johnson v. Baker, the Ninth Circuit held that the Nevada prison system violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) when it banned a Muslim inmate from possessing scented oil in his cell for use during religious prayer.
  • In Demkovich v. St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, the Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of a Roman Catholic Church that was sued by a former employee. The court held that churches and religious groups have the right to hire and supervise staff according to their beliefs and without government intrusion.
  • In Young Israel of Tampa, Inc. v. Hillsborough Regional Transit Authority, a Florida federal district court held that free speech rights of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue were violated when the local transit system refused to accept its display ad promoting its “Chanukah on Ice” event.
  • A Tennessee federal district court has set the trial date for Waldrop v. City of Johnson City, Tennessee, a suit on remand from the Sixth Circuit over two street preachers who were removed from a Pride event. The court found a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the officers removed Plaintiffs for a content-neutral or content-based reason.
  • The EEOC has announced that Tampa Bay Delivery Service, an Amazon delivery provider, has settled a religious discrimination suit brought by the EEOC on behalf of a driver who was fired after refusing Sunday shifts in order to attend church services.
  • A former government minister in Finland faces criminal charges under the country’s “war crimes and crimes against humanity” criminal code after tweeting a Bible verse. The former minister has pleaded not guilty to these charges as the trial is set to begin.

Legal Spirits Episode 039: Praying on the 50-Yard Line (Again)

In this episode, Center Co-Directors Marc DeGirolami and Mark Movsesian explore the Court’s decision last week to cert grant in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, in which a high school football coach challenges his employer’s decision to discipline him for praying on the field after games. The case, which we discussed in an episode three years ago when the Court denied cert at an earlier stage in the litigation, raises interesting free speech and free exercise issues. Why did the Court take the case now, and what are the arguments on either side? Listen in!

Around the Web

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

  • The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week in Shurtleff v. City of Boston. Below, the First Circuit affirmed the order of a Massachusetts federal district court granting summary judgment in favor of the City as to Plaintiffs’ complaint. Plaintiffs allege that the City violated their constitutional rights by refusing to fly a Christian flag from a flagpole at Boston City Hall.
  • The Supreme Court granted cert in the case of a former Bremerton, Washington football coach who was removed from his job because he refused to stop praying on the field.
    • The case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, was the subject of a prior Legal Spirits podcast episode.
  • In Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church v. Pritzker, the Seventh Circuit affirmed an Illinois federal district court’s denial of an injunction against a now-rescinded COVID order which limited the number of people who could attend religious services. The district court held that the case was moot because Plaintiffs have not been subject to attendance limits for more than nineteen months, and there is no indication that they will be subject to them again.
  • In We the Patriots USA, Inc. v. Connecticut Office of Early Childhood Development, a Connecticut federal district court upheld a Connecticut statute that eliminates the religious exemption from the state requirement for vaccinations for school children. The Court held that mandatory vaccination as a condition to school enrollment does not violate the Free Exercise Clause.
  • Suit was filed in a Georgia federal district court by an Air Force officer who was forced into retirement when she refused, for religious reasons, to take the COVID vaccine. The complaint alleges that the Air Force’s actions violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 and the First Amendment.
  • In Romano v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a Michigan federal district court denied a preliminary injunction to an employee who was fired because he refused to comply with his employer’s COVID vaccine mandate. Plaintiff’s refusal was based on religious objections; however, the district court concluded that Plaintiff did not meet the “irreparable injury” requirement necessary to support an injunction.
  • The Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia has announced a new policy that will begin to keep track of employees who have refused on religious grounds to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The new record system will store the names and “personal religious information” of all employees who make “religious accommodation requests for religious exception from the federally mandated vaccination requirement.”
  • “Atheist Ireland,” an association of atheists based in Ireland, has called upon the U.N. and the Irish government to raise the issue of religious discrimination in Irish schools. Specifically, Atheist Ireland has requested that Irish schools “must allow children to leave the classroom during religion class.”

Around the Web

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

  • In Mays v. Joseph, the Eleventh Circuit held that a prisoner may recover punitive damages for violation of his free exercise rights. The claim centered around a Georgia Department of Corrections’ grooming policy that barred inmates from growing their hair or goatees longer than three inches.
  • In U.S. Navy SEALs 1-26 v. Biden, a Texas federal district court issued a preliminary injunction barring the U.S. Navy from imposing its COVID-19 vaccine mandate on thirty-five Navy service members. The court concluded that applying the vaccine mandate to plaintiffs violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.
  • In Abraham House of God and Cemetery, Inc. v. City of Horn Lake, a consent decree was entered in a Mississippi federal district court. The suit alleged that the City of Horn Lake denied approval of the site plan for a proposed mosque because of religious animus.
  • Suit was filed in Ohio state trial court by five school districts and students’ parents challenging the Ohio legislature’s recent expansion of the EdChoice voucher program. The complaint alleges that the program violates Article VI, Sec. 2 of the Ohio Constitution, which calls for separation between church and state.
  • A British tribunal has ruled that a Christian nurse who was forced to resign from a hospital over her refusal to stop wearing a cross was wrongfully discriminated against.
  • The European Court of Human Rights has rejected a complaint against a Christian bakery in Northern Ireland that refused to make a cake supporting gay marriage on religious grounds.
    • The case, Lee v. Ashers Baking Co., was the subject of our first Legal Spirits podcast episode.

Around the Web

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

  • The Second Circuit granted en banc review of Pastor James Domen v. Vimeo, a case holding that Vimeo’s suspension of a pastor for posting videos of individuals who left the LGBT community to pursue their Christian faith was protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
  • The Ninth Circuit declined to grant en banc review of Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, in which a three-judge panel upheld a Washington state school board’s dismissal of a high school football coach who prayed at the 50-yard line immediately after football games.
    • For our Legal Spirits podcast episode on this case, see here.
  • The Tenth Circuit, in Williams v. Hansen, held that a suit by Native American inmates against prison officials for banning religious services should not have been dismissed on qualified immunity grounds.
  • An Arkansas federal district court, in Little Rock Family Planning Services v. Jegley, issued a preliminary injunction against enforcing Arkansas Act 309 against pre-viability abortions.
  • Suit was filed in Virginia state court challenging the Virginia Values Act. Plaintiffs argue that the act requires churches, religious schools, and Christian ministries to hire employees who do not share their stated beliefs on marriage, sexuality, and gender identity or face fines up to $100,000 for each violation.
  • New Hampshire’s 2021 budget includes the “Fetal Life Protection Act,” which limits abortions in the state to the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, unless the life, health, or well-being of the mother is endangered.

Around the Web

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

Around the Web

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

Around the Web

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