In a victory for religious liberty, the United States Supreme Court granted an injunction last Wednesday, protecting two New York religious organizations from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's executive order that imposed "very severe restrictions on attendance at religious services in areas classified as 'red' or 'orange' zones" pending a decision on the merits of the case by the Second Circuit.
The Court's unsigned per curiam opinion was joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. Both Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh wrote concurring opinions. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a dissenting opinion. Justice Breyer also authored a dissenting opinion that Justices Sotomayor and Kagan joined. Justice Sotomayor wrote her own dissenting opinion joined by Justice Kagan.Read more
On Friday, the Supreme Court denied a Nevada church's emergency application for injunctive relief to allow the church to operate beyond the limit placed on them by Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. The church was challenging the Governor's Directive 021 which allows large groups at restaurants, bars, casinos, gyms, bowling alleys, indoor amusement parks, water parks, and pools as long as they remain at a 50% fire-code capacity limit. However, places of worship are limited to a 50-person limit regardless of the available facilities or precautions taken. The church alleges that the Governor's directive violates the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. While the Court's denial of the church's application was a single sentence long, the 4 dissenting Justices wrote 3 separate dissents totaling 24 pages expressing their concerns over the Governor's blatant disregard for religious Nevadans' Constitutional rights.Read more
One of the hallmarks of the Trump Administration has been placing judges on the federal bench. As of June, President Trump had his 200th federal judicial nominee confirmed by the Senate. Notably President Trump has appointed two justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. One of the most lasting effects of these appointments has been the strengthening of religious liberty which has been under attack over the past several decades. In this past year’s term alone, the Court handed down 3 major victories for religious liberty in Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, and Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania.Read more
Today, the Supreme Court held in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that, under the Free Exercise Clause, if a state has a program giving public dollars to citizens to use at private schools, it cannot tell those citizens that the money can only be used at non-religious private schools. Montana had decided that its scholarship program funds could not be used at religious schools under the state's Blaine Amendment, a legacy of a failed anti-Catholic amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Many First Amendment advocates hope this opinion proves to be a fatal blow to the discriminatory anti-religious Blaine Amendments still found in many state constitutions.Read more
Today was likely one of the last “controversial” hearings for a judicial nominee for President Trump’s first term. Judge Justin Walker was before the committee as a nominee to the DC Circuit. However, much of the Democrats' potential fire was taken away before the hearing even started. Yesterday, the American Bar Association (ABA), the self-proclaimed "gold standard" of Senate Democrats, rated Judge Walker "Well Qualified." Judge Walker had previously been rated "not qualified" by the ABA, due to his being just short of the required number of post-law school years of experience.Read more
During the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local governments are taking many steps to protect the health and safety of their residents. There is broad--and increasing--debate over the wisdom of some of these measures. No one can deny the unprecedented nature of the threat from this novel coronavirus, but it is equally true that Americans do not surrender all their First Amendment liberties during times of disaster or distress. Indeed, there are established bodies of law that apply to government restrictions on free speech and religious liberties, even during a public health crisis. This Friday on a Zoom webinar for RNLA members, two experts--Rick Esenberg and Casey Mattox--will address restrictions on free speech and religious liberty during the current pandemic.Read more
During a small Mississippi church's drive-in midweek service during Holy Week, police officers issued $500 citations to all the worshippers for violating the mayor's COVID-19 order. The worshippers were ticketed despite sitting in their socially distanced cars with their windows up when other people were allowed to pick up food from a drive-in restaurant with their windows down and despite the fact that the Mississippi governor's executive order regarding COVID-19 had specifically allowed religious services that followed social distancing guidelines.
The church sued and requested a temporary restraining order for violating its rights under the Free Exercise, Free Speech, and Right to Assemble Clauses of the First Amendment, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the relevant Mississippi executive orders. Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest in the case.Read more
DC Circuit Court nominee and current Western District of Kentucky Judge Justin Walker wrote an epic opinion for a Temporary Restraining Order and defense of the First Amendment over the weekend. This defense will likely be in law school text books in the coming years but shows why President Trump made a great choice in Judge Walker for the DC Circuit. Below are excerpts from Temporary Restraining Order but the whole order is worth a read. All footnotes have been removed and all the emphasis is added.
First some background from the order:
On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter. That sentence is one that this Court never expected to see outside the pages of a dystopian novel, or perhaps the pages of The Onion. But two days ago, citing the need for social distancing during the current pandemic, Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fischer ordered Christians not to attend Sunday services, even if they remained in their cars to worship – and even though it’s Easter. The Mayor’s decision is stunning. And it is, “beyond all reason,” unconstitutional.Read more
RNLA Co-Chair Harmeet Dhillon's non-profit organization, Center for American Liberty, is threatening to sue two California counties for banning all out-of-home participation in religious services as part of their overreaching orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. If the counties do not rescind their orders or provide accommodation for religious liberty by this evening, in the midst of important Jewish and Christian religious holidays, the Center for American Liberty will seek an injunction:Read more