The popular arts and crafts store Hobby Lobby is seeking a religious exemption from covering certain forms of contraception it would be required to provide under the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act. The case is headed to the Supreme Court, with oral arguments set to begin this spring. “Granting the exemption would shift the cost of accommodating Hobby Lobby’s religious exercise to employees who do not share its beliefs,” argues Elizabeth Sepper, JD, associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis. “Such cost-shifting violates the Establishment Clause.” Sepper is one of several experts who have authored an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court arguing the unconstitutionality of Hobby Lobby’s request.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule this spring on whether prayers before town hall meetings violate the First Amendment clause that prohibits the establishment of religion. John Inazu, a First Amendment expert and professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, highlights one dimension of the litigation often unaddressed by commentators: what he calls the “mistakes of the past, present and future” adopted by proponents of legislative prayer.
A multiweek visit to the United States by Burmese lawmakers kicked off with a two-day intensive workshop on constitutional reform conducted by David S. Law, professor of law and of political science at Washington University in St. Louis. The curriculum included mechanisms and strategies for amending a constitution; options for structuring a federal system of government; the decentralization of control over natural resources; protection of minority rights; the role of the judiciary in promoting democracy and enforcing constitutional guarantees; and strategies for promoting the rule of law. Law was selected to conduct the workshop for his interdisciplinary background and expertise on global constitutionalism, constitutional drafting, design of government institutions, and Asian constitutionalism in particular.
John Inazu, JD, first amendment expert and professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, was invited to provide testimony to the United States Commission on Civil Rights briefing on “Peaceful Coexistence? Reconciling Non-discrimination Principles with Civil Liberties.”
The upcoming holiday season brings with it the annual gaze upon religious displays — and the legal issues that come with them. “The Supreme Court’s approach to public religious displays under the Establishment Clause has been less than clear,” says John Inazu, JD, expert on religion and the constitution and professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.“Some commentators have described it as the ‘three plastic animals rule’ –a Christian nativity scene on public property passes muster if it is accompanied by a sufficient combination of Rudolph, Frosty, and their friends.” Inazu says that future litigation will likely press against this line-drawing, but even apparent victories for religious liberty may come at a significant cost.
The WikiLeaks controversy raises a number of important legal issues about national security and freedom of the press under U.S. law, says Neil Richards, JD, professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis. Journalists and government officials have suggested that either WikiLeaks or The New York Times (NYT) might face legal liability for publishing the contents of diplomatic cables and other leaked documents. “In order to find either WikiLeaks/Julian Assange or the NYT liable, the government would need to prove two things — first that a law had been broken, and second that enforcement of the law was constitutional under the First Amendment,” Richards says.
The U.S. Supreme Court is again considering whether it is constitutional to display the Ten Commandments on public property. An expert on the American religious experience from Washington University in St. Louis argues that the only way to allow all citizens to contribute to this country’s religious tapestry is for religion not to have a direct role in civil affairs and on government property. “If there is anything the Founding Fathers wanted to avoid, it was a repeat of the wars of religion that wracked Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries,” says Frank K. Flinn, Ph.D., adjunct professor of religious studies in Arts & Sciences.
RugerTheodore Ruger, an expert in constitutional law and an associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, discusses freedom of religion with Mike Sampson of KWMU’s “St. Louis on the Air” on Nov. 3. This show is part of a three part series on the First Ammendment in the 21st century. Listen to the program from the KWMU Web site.