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Religious Liberty: Core Court Cases

Selected and introduced by Ken Masugi

Core Document Volume Religious Liberty: Core Court Cases $12.99

Amendment I.  Ratified December 15, 1791

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

As the text of the First Amendment makes clear, originally it applied only to Congress, and not the states, which could make laws establishing churches and prohibiting the free exercise of religion. As a practical matter, the latter was not an issue by the time the Bill of Rights was adopted. States did still have established churches, however. In 1833, Massachusetts became the last state to stop funding and disestablish its church. In the last 150 years, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) (“nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”) expanded the application of the First Amendment and most of the Bill of Rights to state and local laws. Thus, the Court has required a uniform standard for both federal and state governments on major issues arising from violations of the Bill of Rights. The Court did not apply the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment to state and local laws until the mid-twentieth century (See West Virginia v. Barnette and Everson v. Board of Education).

The First Amendment includes freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Freedom of religion is first, the key element of republican citizenship. This freedom is expressed in two clauses. First, the government may not establish a religion—that is, make one religion the official, government-supported religion. But may the government promote or prefer religion generally, or even at all? Second, the government may not prohibit the free exercise of religion. But does protecting free exercise mean that all religious practices as well as beliefs must be allowed (See Reynolds v. U.S)? If not, how are we to distinguish between those practices which should and those which should not be protected?

This collection of cases introduces teachers and students to the legal debate over the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses through excerpted opinions of Supreme Court justices. While the cases are presented chronologically, they are also categorized by the focus each has on the two Religion Clauses, as well as by which cases involve schools or universities (Appendix A).  These cases present the most clear, contentious, and instructive opinions on freedom of religion. The goal is to permit the reader to decide how each opinion attempts to protect religious freedom.

This goal means that, in the earlier cases that developed the Court’s understanding of the establishment and free exercise of religion, we emphasize the Court opinions, the opinion that declares which party in the case won or lost and, more important, why they deserved to do so. In explaining the Court’s opinion or in concurring with or dissenting from it, justices present reasoned arguments on the meaning of the Constitution or the law; on precedents or previous, similarly decided cases; or on the implications of this case for deciding later ones. Therefore, in these later cases (from the 1980s to the present), where the opinions of the justices are more divided, we often represent cases through dissenting or concurring opinions rather than the Court opinions. In addition to reflecting on the consequences of earlier decisions, concurring or dissenting opinions sometimes show the direction in which the Court is moving.

Collections such as these are not intended to be read straight through from beginning to end—as ambitious and useful as this might be. Locating a particular case in the stream of precedents—similarly decided cases—is crucial for understanding it. Justices bolster their arguments by reference to earlier Court opinions and write theirs with an eye to shaping future ones. At which cases, however, should a reader enter the often contentious conversation of the justices? One place to start is with the last three cases in the collection, Documents 21-23.

The first of these three introductory cases is Town of Greece v. Susan Galloway, et al. This case decided whether a New York State city council’s practice of opening its meetings with sectarian prayers, those of a particular religion, violated the Constitution. In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan presents a moving series of objections that the practice actually does “tend to establish” a religion by making it appear official to citizens attending the meetings. Writing in support of the Court majority, concurring Justice Samuel A. Alito argued, against Justice Kagan, that she exaggerated the seriousness of the town’s actions or inactions. With the arguments of the justices in mind, the reader might review why the Court ruled school prayer unconstitutional in Engel v. Vitale and Lee v. Weisman.

The issue of establishment concerns not only prayer but the place of religious symbols (as in Christmas displays on public property, Lynch v. Donnelly, including representations of the Ten Commandments (See Van Orden v. Perry and McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky). These cases show how the Court has expanded what it means to establish religion, that is, for government to endorse, support, or prefer, one particular religion to the disadvantage of others. Is the government endorsing a religion when a public school permits a football pep rally with a student-led prayer? What of a town’s war memorial, a 40-foot high cross at a major highway, to the region’s fallen veterans? The principles involved in the town of Greece case go far beyond the city council chambers.

Next, the reader might turn to Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, a case involving state aid for a religious school’s playground. This Missouri case illustrates the potential conflict between the ways the Court has understood the Establishment Clause and how it has understood the Free Exercise Clause. May a state prohibit a religious school from competing for a state grant to pave a playground? Is the state denying the school’s free exercise of religion or is it preventing establishment of religion? To see how the Court has decided this conflict, the reader might turn to the first school cases, including Everson v. Board of Education and McCollum v. Board of Education. These early cases set forth the doctrine that government may not directly aid religious schools or promote religious doctrines in the public schools. These should not be read without Justice William H. Rehnquist’s dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree, which provides a different historical account of the meaning of religious establishment. According to Justice Rehnquist, “establishment” meant not aiding religion but setting up an official state church. (In Lee v. Weisman, Justice David H. Souter offered a different history, leading to a different conclusion.) The later school funding cases of Lemon v. Kurzman and Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, show the complexities of the funding issue and how the Court has expanded the type of aid that a school could receive from government. Arguments over free exercise rights are foreshadowed in Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah and Locke v. Davey, among other cases. In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer the clashing opinions of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor offer a series of arguments for and against the constitutionality of state aid to a church-run school based on their respective understandings of religious freedom and establishment of religion.

Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., et al., Petitioners v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, et al. raises the question of the reach of the Religious Free Exercise Clause. May a business owner use his religion as a restraint on the scope of civil rights laws? The first case in the book, Reynolds v. U.S., a unanimously decided case, turned aside Reynolds’ contention that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment meant that it protected the polygamy his Mormon faith permitted. The Court found that freedom of religion cannot justify violating laws against improper or criminal behavior—the core of the controversy the religious business owner faced in Masterpiece Cakeshop.

From Reynolds one might review the older free exercise cases, including the flag salute case of West Virginia v. Barnette and Wisconsin v. Yoder, which exempted Amish children from state school attendance laws. Perhaps the most controversial free exercise case is Oregon v. Smith, which ruled that a person’s free exercise of religion is not violated by an otherwise valid law. Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby further expanded free religious exercise, the latter through its interpretation of a law, rather than the First Amendment.

These elaborations on three cases are just examples of how the cases can be linked to illustrate continuities and breaks in the interpretation of the law. Another way to approach the cases is by asking basic questions, such as what is free exercise, what is establishment, what might the elected branches do to protect First Amendment rights?

Did the Court get off on the wrong step by defining establishment as not only government favoring one religion over another but more broadly by favoring religion over non-religion? Consider the very first Establishment Clause cases involving schools, Everson v. Board of Education, McCollum v. Board of Education¸ and Engel v. Vitale. Does aiding a religious school advance, that is, tend to establish, that religion? Apparently, funds for school construction pass muster but, at least at one point, funds for teachers’ salaries do not. (See Lemon v. Kurtzman). Perhaps the strongest expression of this viewpoint occurs in Justice John Paul Stevens’ and Justice Souter’s opinions. In Wallace v. Jaffree, Justice Stevens wrote that “[T]he First Amendment requires that a statute must be invalidated if it is entirely motivated by a purpose to advance religion.”  Likewise, Justice Souter in the school prayer case of Lee v. Weisman wrote of “the settled principle that the Establishment Clause forbids support for religion in general no less than support for one religion or some.” (See as well Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in Trinity Lutheran).

Contrast these views on how governments should treat religion with Justice Rehnquist’s dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree, Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrence in Van Orden v. Perry, and Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissents in Lee v. Weisman and McCreary County, all of which emphasize a government interest in promoting religion in general. This view seeks support in the traditional use of religious language and ideas in public proclamations by presidents and Congress, as in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In fact, in this view, the elimination of a national established religion on the one hand and the public embrace of religion on the other are both necessary for the promotion of free religious exercise, a central purpose of the first amendment.

Justice Souter replied to this objection, contending, in Lee, that “religious invocations in Thanksgiving Day addresses and the like, rarely noticed, ignored without effort, conveyed over an impersonal medium, and directed at no one in particular, inhabit a pallid zone worlds apart from official prayers delivered to a captive audience of public school students and their families.” Do school principals then need to be monitored more closely than presidents for constitutional violations? In his Van Orden concurrence Justice Thomas made the test of constitutionality whether beliefs were being coerced—that is punished by legal penalties. Does his likening of religious expression to free speech—whose constitutionally protected robustness can be acrimonious, vulgar, and even dishonest—fail to protect religious minorities?

Must we choose between religious free exercise and religious establishment? Have the Court’s interpretations over the past 70 years actually made these opposed principles? Is accommodating a minority religion the same as privileging it? Is a state law allowing moments of silence in public schools a subtle way of legalizing prayer and therefore establishing a religion? Are there not ways to see free exercise and establishment as parts of a larger comprehensive view of religious freedom?

All of this discussion leads to other questions, such as the proper constitutional role for the Court to play. Early on, Justices Felix Frankfurter and Robert H. Jackson (See West Virginia v. Barnette and McCollum v. Board of Education) worried that the Court was substituting its own opinions for the practical wisdom of elected legislatures and school boards. Justices Rehnquist and Scalia would also see practical wisdom expressed in the religious language in presidential speeches and proclamations, congressional resolutions, and the traditions of the American people (See Wallace v. Jaffree and Lee v. Weisman). Contrast these views with the confidence of Justices Souter and Stevens on the Court’s judgments versus their skepticism of the views from the past, which they regard as antiquated. Justice Stevens once declared in dissent, “Fortunately, we are not bound by the Framers’ expectations—we are bound by the legal principles they enshrined in our Constitution,” which the Court interprets (See Van Orden v. Perry). But how much confidence should we citizens have in the wisdom of the Court? Or the justice of our traditions?

These are a few of the many questions readers of these opinions ought to be raising as they exercise their capacities as human beings and citizens. Ultimately, it is not the Courts but informed citizens who will determine the vitality of the First Amendment and of republican self-government.

Establishment (Schools)

Establishment (Religious Symbols in Public Spaces)

Free Exercise

Free Exercise (Free Speech), Schools

Filter by Thread

The “A” questions are for the listed case, while the “B” questions relate this case to others in the volume.

1. Reynolds v. United States

A. What is the basis for the Court opinion? How do the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment shape it? Is there another legal source that guides the opinion?

B. If the 20th century Court had strictly adopted Reynolds’ logic, how might later Courts have decided free exercise cases such as Sherbert v. Verner or Wisconsin v. Yoder? Was Justice Antonin Scalia in Oregon v. Smith simply reinstating Reynolds?

2. West Virginia v. Barnette

A. Questions for both the Court opinion and the dissent: If a compelled oath is at best invalid, according to Justice Jackson, what about an oath of office or oath of American citizenship? Is Justice Frankfurter right that “Law is concerned with external behavior, and not with the inner life of man”? Can there be a shared political life unless the laws concern themselves, at some level, with “the inner life of man”?

B. How should the justices in all our cases weigh a concern for patriotism or any common good against a concern for “small and helpless” religious minorities? How would you (or could you) square Justice Scalia’s dissent in the commencement prayer case of Lee v. Weisman, as well as his Court opinion in Oregon v. Smith, with Justice Jackson’s Court opinion here?

3. Everson v. Board of Education

A. Does Justice Black have in mind a particular religion that he thinks government should be separated from? Is his “wall” metaphor justified by American history or even a closer reading of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, which he quotes?

B. Are public schools a part of political authority in the same way legislatures and agencies, such as the Department of the Treasury, are? Should that make a difference for the Court in the way it treats schools? Does the Court’s affirmation of Ohio’s voucher program for private schools in distressed areas (See Zelman v. Simmons-Harris) extend Everson or change or even reverse it?

4. McCollum v. Board of Education

A. How does Justice Black develop his notion of establishment of religion? How does establishment come to mean something other than establishing an official church? Would he think the Court would one day be considering the constitutionality of prayers said at a public high school’s pep rally before a football game?

B. Justice Jackson’s concurrence worries about whether “it is possible, even if desirable . . . to isolate and cast out of secular education all that some people may reasonably regard as religious instruction.” Compare Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer as an example of denying any secular content to a religious education and therefore denying government support for religious schools. Whose understanding of religion is right? Is everything a religious school undertakes (for example, playground sports) religious? May, for example, the Puritans be studied seriously in public schools—that is, by considering the truth of their beliefs?

5. Engel v. Vitale

A. In his footnote included in the excerpt, Justice Black writes “There is, of course, nothing in the decision reached here that is inconsistent with the fact that school children and others are officially encouraged to express love for our country by reciting historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence which contain references to the Deity.” Is the Declaration merely an “historical document”? Are its religious references (e.g., “all men are created equal”) merely historical or are they intended to have enduring political and legal relevance, including its religious language?

B. After comparing the respective first amendment histories of Justice Black and Justice Rehnquist in Wallace v. Jaffree, which historical account seems more accurate? Should justices even try to be their own legal historians?

6. Sherbert v. Verner

A. Is Justice Harlan’s dissent correct that the Court’s Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses jurisprudence collide in this case? What sort of test would the Court opinion propose for the state to accommodate an individual’s religion?

B. How far does the right of free exercise go and when do laws based on the common good begin (see both Reynolds and Oregon v. Smith? For example, the Court recently ruled unanimously that many employee protections do not apply to employees of religious institutions, if the employees are regarded as fulfilling a religious role, as types of ministers. How far can religious exemptions go in protecting religious institutions from law suits by its employees? Compare what the Court did here with what it did in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 565 US 171 (2012) a unanimous Court (the opinion written by Justice Ginsburg) found that a discharged employee, who argued her job as a teacher was not religious, had in fact been designated a “minister” of her church and therefore could not sue for being fired for violating church doctrine.

7. Lemon v. Kurzman

A. How coherent is the three-pronged Lemon test? Is each part of the test consistent with the other parts? How does one distinguish between religious and secular purposes? How does one determine that a law has as its “principal or primary effect” either advancing or inhibiting religion? When does a law foster “excessive government entanglement with religion”?

B. In light of the controversy the Court’s Establishment Clause cases stirred up, one might ask whether the Lemon test applies to Supreme Court decisions themselves? That is, isn’t the Supreme Court itself a governmental entity having effects on religion and secularism and entangling itself with the practice of religion? Or is the Supreme Court above the law and politics? Based on the arguments you have read so far, do you think the Court is approaching these issues appropriately as one branch of the separated powers of our government?

8. Wisconsin v. Yoder

A. How would the Court have ruled if a religious sect insisted on separate education for girls and women? Or if it denied membership to blacks? Should the Court always accept the “unchallenged testimony of acknowledged experts in education and religious history” (or any other field) in deciding this or any other case? Does Yoder signify the privileging of minority sects over larger ones? How or how not?

B. How does Yoder grow out of Sherbert v. Verner? How does Yoder help explain Justice Scalia’s opinion in the free exercise case of Oregon v. Smith, which both concurring and dissenting justices claimed overturned precedents that protected religious freedoms?

9. Widmar v. Vincent

A. What are the advantages of using a free speech argument here in addition to a religious free exercise one?

B. If the Court had protected religious free exercise in the same vigorous way it protected free speech and expression, how might the Court have approached the free exercise cases following Widmar (See Church of Lukumi Babula Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, Locke v. Davey, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission)?

10. Lynch v. Donnelly

A. Does dissenting Justice Brennan’s “ceremonial deism” argument let him have his cake and eat it too, in the face of Chief Justice Burger’s court opinion? Is not deism itself a religion, just as Unitarianism is?

B. Would non-Christian seasonal symbols (such as a menorah) be treated with as much scrutiny as Christian symbols? Would the secular good of religious toleration protect the minority non-Christian symbols but not the majority Christian ones? Has “discrete and insular minority” protection—see footnote 1 in the flag salute case (See West Virginia v. Barnette)—been interpreted to undermine majority or plurality religious freedom against secular objections?

11. Wallace v. Jaffree

A. How important should the original meaning of the text of the Constitution be for interpreting it today?

B. Who is more persuasive in his history of the First Amendment, Justices Black, Stevens, and Souter or Rehnquist and Thomas (See Everson v. Board of Education, McCollum v. Board of Education, Engel v. Vitale, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, Van Orden v. Perry, and McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky)? What are the strengths and weaknesses of their respective arguments?

12. Edwards v. Aguillard

A. As in the court opinion in Wallace v. Jaffree, the motives of one legislator supporting the law played a crucial role in its reasoning. How does one assess the motives behind a law? Would the Court similarly overturn or sustain a state law banning the teaching of quantum theory or requiring or prohibiting a course promoting man-made climate change?

B. Is there more in this case about free speech than about religion? If so, would free speech (see Widmar v. Vincent) be a more appropriate argument?

13. Oregon v. Smith

A. Does Justice Scalia’s opinion clause unreasonably restrict religious free exercise, as both the concurrence and dissent charge? Does this opinion overturn the Amish exception to school attendance laws in Wisconsin v. Yoder? Why do three of the dissenting justices join part of Justice O’Connor’s concurrence in the judgment?

B. How much of Oregon v. Smith remains in place given RFRA and subsequent opinions and laws protecting free exercise? Consider burdens on free exercise explored in Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, Locke v. Davey, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

14. Lee v. Weisman

A. Why did Justice Kennedy cite social psychology studies to make a kind of coercion argument concerning teenage behavior? “We do not address whether that choice [of protesting or standing in respect for a benediction] is acceptable if the affected citizens are mature adults, but we think the state may not, consistent with the Establishment Clause, place primary and secondary school children in this position.” Does the first amendment apply differently children? Should it apply at all?

B. How does Justice Souter’s concurring argument against “non-preferentialism” support his objection to preferring any religion over non-religion? “When public school officials, armed with the state’s authority, convey an endorsement of religion to their students, they strike near the core of the Establishment Clause. However “ceremonial” their messages may be, they are flatly unconstitutional.” Why does Justice Scalia regard this decision as “only a jurisprudential disaster and not a practical one”? How does his judgment reflect on the limits of the Court’s powers not only in religion cases? He predicted: “Logically, that [elimination of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag] ought to be the next project for the Court’s bulldozer.” The Court declined to be logical and ducked the issue in what promised to be a case about the “under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance (Elk Grove United School District v. Newdow, 2004). One might raise a question applicable to other cases as well: If a citizen has a right, must he or she push it to its outer limits for it to be secure?

15. Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah

A. Could the city council have drafted any health or animal treatment ordinance that could have survived challenge in the courts?

B. How zealous has the Court been subsequently in adopting the Court opinion’s reiteration of the “strict scrutiny” test of constitutionality for any law that impinges on religious freedom? How does this decision square with Justice Scalia’s Court opinion in Oregon v. Smith? Does it compel the result of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Commission on Civil Rights?

16. Zelman v. Simmons-Harris

A. Based on what you can infer from Justice Souter’s dissent, suggest a defense of the constitutionality of the Cleveland plan. Why should his arguments that state aid would corrupt the independence of religious schools and incite religious conflict be a part of first amendment jurisprudence?

B. Answer Justice Souter’s rhetorical question, “How can a Court consistently leave Everson on the books and approve the Ohio vouchers?” How does his defense of a high wall of separation of church and state differ from the earliest arguments, such as those in Everson v. Board of Education, McCollum v. Board of Education, and Engel v. Vitale?

17. Locke v. Davey

A. Is Washington State’s sole exclusion of “devotional theology” as justifiable as the exclusion for funding of any other major? What if Washington State had also excluded physical education, social work, and business as majors it would not fund?

B. Given other opinions of his you have read, such as his dissent in Wallace (see Wallace v. Jaffree), are you surprised by Chief Justice Rehnquist’s argument in this case? Is such a prohibition on funding, as in the Washington State Constitution (cited in footnote 5), a neutral stance or does it reflect a bias against religious study? Was Trinity Lutheran v. Comer more forthright in confronting the anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments to state constitutions, which, beginning in the 1870s, prohibited government funding of religious schools?

18. Van Orden v. Perry

A. How might Justice Thomas respond to Justice Stevens’ criticism of his originalist approach to constitutional interpretation?

B. From Justice Stevens’ dissent: “It is our duty, therefore, to interpret the First Amendment’s command that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” not by merely asking what those words meant to observers at the time of the founding, but instead by deriving from the clause’s text and history the broad principles that remain valid today.” How does his “living Constitution” theory inform the decisions and arguments of recent justices, such as Justice Souter in his dissent in Lee v. Weisman and McCreary County (see McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky)?

19. McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky

A. Is Justice Souter correct that favoring “religion over irreligion” is the same as favoring “one religion over another”? Or is dissenting Justice Scalia correct? “If religion in the public forum had to be entirely nondenominational, there could be no religion in the public forum at all.” Or is he begging the question?

B. Justice Scalia contends, “Those responsible for the adoption of the Religion Clauses would surely regard it as a bitter irony that the religious values they designed those Clauses to protect have now become so distasteful to this Court that if they constitute anything more than a subordinate motive for government action they will invalidate it.” How has the Court since the earliest cases confirmed or disputed his conclusion?

20. Hobby Lobby v. Burwell

A. Is Hobby Lobby’s argument for an exemption from the contraception mandate made best by the legal analysis or by its First Amendment free exercise claim?

B. Which free exercise cases seem most applicable to the arguments here? Is Justice Scalia consistent as author of the opinion in Oregon v. Smith and as voting with the majority here?

21. Town of Greece v. Galloway

A. Dissenting Justice Kagan cites George Washington’s letter to the Newport synagogue, but how might Justice Alito have used it in support of his concurring position?

B. How do the arguments here affirm or dispute the various arguments in the school prayer decisions, beginning with Engel v. Vitale and ending with Lee v. Weisman and the Ten Commandments opinions (see Van Orden v. Perry and McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky)? How might they influence arguments about religious symbols, such as a cross, on public memorials?

22. Trinity Lutheran v. Comer

A. With the clashing opinions here about “play in the joints” of the First Amendment Religion Clauses, are we back to the original issue of whether religion is fundamentally about individual conscience and worship or as that plus a religious institution’s activity within society?

B. Does Trinity Lutheran’s logic overthrow the rationale in the earlier Establishment Clause cases of Everson v. Board of Education and McCollum v. Board of Education? (See as well Wallace v. Jaffree). Does religious free exercise now constrict the earlier meaning of establishment of religion in the school funding cases? Is this the consequence of the “play in the joints” between free exercise and establishment both Justice Gorsuch and Justice Sotomayor note?

23. Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

A. Why does Justice Thomas base his decision more on free speech or free expression than religious free exercise?

B. Does Masterpiece Cakeshop advance the unanimous free exercise argument in Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye? Or is it a return to the logic of the flag salute case of West Virginia v. Barnette? How does it stand in relation to the Court’s unanimous opinion upholding the validity of monogamous marriage laws in the first case in this book, Reynolds v. U.S.?

This list contains recommendations ranging from sources on basic orientation to the Supreme Court to sophisticated analyses of the cases.

Basic Orientation to the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court’s website provides an introduction to its procedures.

Black’s online legal dictionary explains legal terms,

Audio recordings of arguments and opinion announcements, as well as other useful materials, can be found at A source for cases currently being decided in the Supreme Court is SCOTUS blog,, which provides links to the oral arguments, past federal courts’ actions on current cases, and a variety of commentary on the justices’ opinions.

Casebooks, Books, and Other Sources

Outstanding casebooks on the first amendment religion clauses include Vincent Philip Munoz, ed. Religious Liberty and the American Supreme Court: The Essential Cases and Documents. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013, 654 pp. This contains 64 cases and seven documents. See also Terry Eastland, ed. Religious Liberty in the Supreme Court: The Cases That Define the Debate over Church and State. Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1993, 544 pp. Besides cases, this older volume provides political, social, and scholarly reaction to the decisions.

Hadley Arkes, First Things: An Inquiry into the First Principle of Morals and Justice (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986).

Kathleen Brady, The Distinctiveness of Religion in American Law: Rethinking Religion Clause Jurisprudence (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Marc O. DeGirolami, The Tragedy of Religious Freedom (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013).

Donald L. Drakeman, Church, State, and Original Intent (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Daniel L. Dreisbach and Mark David Hall, eds. The Sacred Rights of Conscience Selected Readings on Religious Liberty Church-State Relations in the American Founding (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2009).

Noah Feldman, Divided by God: America’s Church-State Problem—And What We Should Do About It (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2005).

Robert George, The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2001).

Kent Greenwalt, Religion and the Constitution: Vol. I: Free Exercise and Fairness, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).

Kent Greenwalt, Religion and the Constitution: Vol. II: Establishment and Fairness, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).

Philip Hamburger, Separation of Church and State (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002).

Douglas Laycock, Religious Liberty: Five Volumes (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, Emory University Studies in Law and Religion), 2018.

Leonard W. Levy, The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment (New York: Macmillan, 1986).

Michael McConnell, “The Origins and Historical Understanding of Free Exercise of Religion” Harvard Law Review 103: Nr. 7 (May, 1990): 1409–1517.

Vincent Philip Munoz, God and the Founders: Madison, Washington, and Jefferson (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Daniel N. Robinson and Richard N. Williams, eds. Religious Liberty: Essays on First Amendment Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Steven D. Smith, The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).


Besides this sample of websites devoted to religion and law, one may also check websites of particular religions, political and social groups, and think-tanks.

American Civil Liberties Union:

Becket Legal Institute:

The Department of Justice website

Join your fellow teachers in discussing the Core Documents.