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Lesson Plan – Trinity Lutheran Church v. Sarah Parker Pauley

Trinity Lutheran Church v. Sarah Parker Pauley

Certiorari granted by the United States Supreme Court on January 15, 2016
Oral arguments TBD

Outline:

The Parties

Petitioner: Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, MO

 v.



Respondent: Sarah Parker Pauley, Director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources

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The Question Presented

  • Does funding a playground associated with a Church violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?
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Case Background

Trinity Lutheran Church (Trinity) in Columbia, Missouri. manages a licensed preschool and daycare called The Learning Center. The daycare center was founded as a non-secular non-profit, but later became a part of Trinity Lutheran Church in 1985. The Learning Center follows an open admissions policy, where anyone can enroll, regardless of their faith. It also integrates daily religious instruction into its programs.

The playground at the Trinity Lutheran Church.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR), a state agency, offers Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material Grants. This grant funds qualifying organizations to purchase recycled tires to resurface their playgrounds. In 2012, Trinity applied for a grant, disclosing that the school and daycare were a part of the church. Although Lutheran was otherwise qualified for the grant, DNR denied their application because of Article I, § 7 of the Missouri Constitution, which provides:

 “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, section or denomination of religion.”

Trinity sued and argued that denying their application violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the First Amendment’s protections of freedom of religious exercise and speech. The district court dismissed the case, finding that Trinity did not present a valid case, or state a claim. Trinity asked the district court to reconsider its decision, and argued that the state had previously awarded these grants to religious organizations. The district court was still not persuaded and ruled against Trinity. The U.S. Court of Appeals of the Eighth Circuit agreed with the district court, and affirmed the judgment against Trinity. 

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The Law

U.S. Constitution, Amendment I

 “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .”

Missouri Constitution, Article I, Section 7

“That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect, or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.”

Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township, 330 U.S. 1 (1947)

Pursuant to a New Jersey statute authorizing district boards of education to make rules and contracts for the transportation of children to and from schools other than private schools operated for profit, a board of education by resolution authorized the reimbursement of parents for fares paid for the transportation by public carrier of children attending public and Catholic schools. The Catholic schools operated under the superintendency of a Catholic priest and, in addition to secular education, gave religious instruction in the Catholic Faith. A district taxpayer challenged the validity under the Federal Constitution of the statute and resolution so far as they authorized reimbursement to parents for the transportation of children attending sectarian schools. No question was raised as to whether the exclusion of private schools operated for profit denied equal protection of the laws; nor did the record show that there were any children in the district who attended, or would have attended but for the cost of transportation, any but public or Catholic schools.

Held:

1. The expenditure of tax raised funds thus authorized was for a public purpose, and did not violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

2. The statute and resolution did not violate the provision of the First Amendment (made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment) prohibiting any “law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971) 

Rhode Island’s 1969 Salary Supplement Act provides for a 15% salary supplement to be paid to teachers in nonpublic schools at which the average per-pupil expenditure on secular education is below the average in public schools. Eligible teachers must teach only courses offered in the public schools, using only materials used in the public schools, and must agree not to teach courses in religion. A three-judge court found that about 25% of the State’s elementary students attended nonpublic schools, about 95% of whom attended Roman Catholic affiliated schools, and that to date about 250 teachers at Roman Catholic schools are the sole beneficiaries under the Act. The court found that the parochial school system was “an integral part of the religious mission of the Catholic Church,” and held that the Act fostered “excessive entanglement” between government and religion, thus violating the Establishment Clause. Pennsylvania’s Nonpublic Elementary and Secondary Education Act, passed in 1968, authorizes the state Superintendent of Public Instruction to “purchase” certain “secular educational services” from nonpublic schools, directly reimbursing those schools solely for teachers’ salaries, textbooks, and instructional materials. Reimbursement is restricted to courses in specific secular subjects, the textbooks and materials must be approved by the Superintendent, and no payment is to be made for any course containing “any subject matter expressing religious teaching, or the morals or forms of worship of any sect.” Contracts were made with schools that have more than 20% of all the students in the State, most of which were affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. The complaint challenging the constitutionality of the Act alleged that the church-affiliated schools are controlled by religious organizations, have the purpose of propagating and promoting a particular religious faith, and conduct their operations to fulfill that purpose. A three-judge court granted the State’s motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim for relief, finding no violation of the Establishment or Free Exercise Clause.

Held: Both statutes are unconstitutional under the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, as the cumulative impact of the entire relationship arising under the statutes involves excessive entanglement between government and religion.

(a) The entanglement in the Rhode Island program arises because of the religious activity and purpose of the church-affiliated schools, especially with respect to children of impressionable age in the primary grades, and the dangers that a teacher under religious control and discipline poses to the separation of religious from purely secular aspects of elementary education in such schools. These factors require continuing state surveillance to ensure that the statutory restrictions are obeyed and the First Amendment otherwise respected. Furthermore, under the Act, the government must inspect school records to determine what part of the expenditures is attributable to secular education, as opposed to religious activity, in the event a nonpublic school’s expenditures per pupil exceed the comparable figures for public schools.

(b) The entanglement in the Pennsylvania program also arises from the restrictions and surveillance necessary to ensure that teachers play a strictly nonideological role and the state supervision of nonpublic school accounting procedures required to establish the cost of secular, as distinguished from religious, education. In addition, the Pennsylvania statute has the further defect of providing continuing financial aid directly to the church-related schools. Historically, governmental control and surveillance measures tend to follow cash grant programs, and here the government’s post-audit power to inspect the financial records of church-related schools creates an intimate and continuing relationship between church and state.

(c) Political division along religious lines was one of the evils at which the First Amendment aimed, and in these programs, where successive and probably permanent annual appropriations that benefit relatively few religious groups are involved, political  fragmentation and divisiveness on religious lines are likely to be intensified.

(d) Unlike the tax exemption for places of religious worship, upheld in Walz v. Tax Commission, which was based on a practice of 200 years, these innovative programs have self-perpetuating and self-expanding propensities which provide a warning signal against entanglement between government and religion.

Allegheny County v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989) 

This litigation concerns the constitutionality of two recurring holiday displays located on public property in downtown Pittsburgh. The first, a creche depicting the Christian nativity scene, was placed on the Grand Staircase of the Allegheny County Courthouse, which is the “main,” “most beautiful,” and “most public” part of the courthouse. The creche was donated by the Holy Name Society, a Roman Catholic group, and bore a sign to that effect. Its manger had at its crest an angel bearing a banner proclaiming “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” meaning “Glory to God in the Highest.” The second of the holiday displays in question was an 18-foot Chanukah menorah or candelabrum, which was placed just outside the City-County Building next to the city’s 45-foot decorated Christmas tree. At the foot of the tree was a sign bearing the mayor’s name and containing text declaring the city’s “salute to liberty.” The menorah is owned by Chabad, a Jewish group, but is stored, erected, and removed each year by the city. Respondents, the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and seven local residents, filed suit seeking permanently to enjoin the county from displaying the creche and the city from displaying the menorah on the ground that the displays violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, made applicable to state governments by the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court denied relief, relying on Lynch v. Donnelly, which held that a city’s inclusion of a creche in its annual Christmas display in a private park did not violate the Establishment Clause. The Court of Appeals reversed, distinguishing Lynch v. Donnelly and holding that the creche and the menorah in the present case must be understood as an impermissible governmental endorsement of Christianity and Judaism under Lemon v. Kurtzman.

 Held:
1. Under Lemon v. Kurtzman, a “practice which touches upon religion, if it is to be permissible under the Establishment Clause,” must not, inter alia, ”advance [or] inhibit religion in its principal or primary effect.” Although, in refining the definition of governmental action that unconstitutionally “advances” religion, the Court’s subsequent decisions have variously spoken in terms of “endorsement,” “favoritism,” “preference,” or “promotion,” the essential principle remains the same: the Clause, at the very least, prohibits government from appearing to take a position on questions of religious belief or from “making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person’s standing in the political community.” Lynch v. Donnelly, (O’CONNOR, J., concurring).
2. When viewed in its overall context, the creche display violates the Establishment Clause. The creche angel’s words endorse a patently Christian message: Glory to God for the birth of Jesus Christ. Moreover, in contrast to Lynch, nothing in the creche’s setting detracts from that message. Although the government may acknowledge Christmas as a cultural phenomenon, it may not observe it as a Christian holy day by suggesting that people praise God for the birth of Jesus.
3. JUSTICE KENNEDY’s reasons for permitting the creche on the Grand Staircase and his condemnation of the Court’s reasons for deciding otherwise are unpersuasive.

(a) History cannot legitimate practices like the creche display that demonstrate the government’s allegiance to a particular sect or creed.

(b) The question whether a particular practice would constitute governmental proselytization is much the same as the endorsement inquiry, except to the extent the proselytization test requires an “obvious” allegiance between the government and the favored sect. This Court’s decisions, however, impose no such burden on demonstrating that the government has favored a particular sect or creed, but, to the contrary, have required strict scrutiny of practices suggesting a denominational preference. E.g., Larson v. Valente.

(c) The Constitution mandates that the government remain secular, rather than affiliating itself with religious beliefs or institutions, precisely in order to avoid discriminating against citizens on the basis of their religious faiths. Thus, the claim that prohibiting government from celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday discriminates against Christians in favor of nonadherents must fail, since it contradicts the fundamental premise of the Establishment Clause itself. In contrast, confining the government’s own Christmas celebration to the holiday’s secular aspects does not favor the religious beliefs of non-Christians over those of Christians, but simply permits the government to acknowledge the holiday without expressing an impermissible allegiance to Christian beliefs.

Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District (1993)

 New York law authorizes local school boards to adopt reasonable regulations permitting the after-hours use of school property for 10 specified purposes, not including meetings for religious purposes. Pursuant to this law, respondent school board (District) issued rules and regulations allowing, inter alia, social, civic, and recreational uses of its schools (Rule 10), but prohibiting use by any group for religious purposes (Rule 7). After the District refused two requests by petitioners, an evangelical church and its pastor (Church), to use school facilities for a religious oriented film series on family values and child rearing on the ground that the film series appeared to be church related, the Church filed suit in the District Court, claiming that the District’s actions violated, among other things, the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech Clause. The court granted summary judgment to the District, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. It reasoned that the school property, as a “limited public forum” open only for designated purposes, remained nonpublic except for the specified purposes, and ruled that the exclusion of the Church’s film was reasonable and viewpoint neutral.

Held:

(b) Permitting District property to be used to exhibit the film series would not have been an establishment of religion under the three-part test articulated in Lemon v. Kurtzman, Since the series would not have been shown during school hours, would not have been sponsored by the school, and would have been open to the public, there would be no realistic danger that the community would think that the District was endorsing religion or any particular creed, and any benefit to religion or the Church would have been incidental. Widmar v.Vincent Nor is there anything in the record to support the claim that the exclusion was justified on the ground that allowing access to a “radical” church would lead to threats of public unrest and violence. In addition, the Court of Appeals’ judgment was not based on the justification proffered here that the access rules’ purpose is to promote the interests of the general public rather than sectarian or other private interests. Moreover, that there was no express finding below that the Church’s application would have been granted absent the religious connection is beside the point for the purposes of this opinion, which is concerned with the validity of the stated reason for denying the application, namely, that the film series appeared to be church related. Pp.395-397.

Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819 (1995)

Respondent University of Virginia, a state instrumentality, authorizes payments from its Student Activities Fund (SAF) to outside contractors for the printing costs of a variety of publications issued by student groups called “Contracted Independent Organizations” (CIOs). The SAF receives its money from mandatory student fees and is designed to support a broad range of extracurricular student activities related to the University’s educational purpose. CIOs must include in their dealings with third parties and in all written materials a disclaimer stating that they are independent of the University and that the University is not responsible for them. The University withheld authorization for payments to a printer on behalf of petitioners’ CIO, Wide Awake Productions (WAP), solely because its student newspaper, Wide Awake: A Christian Perspective at the University of Virginia, “primarily promotes or manifests a particular belie[f] in or about a deity or an ultimate reality,” as prohibited by the University’s SAF Guidelines. Petitioners filed this suit alleging that the refusal to authorize payment violated their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. After the District Court granted summary judgment for the University, the Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the University’s invocation of viewpoint discrimination to deny third-party payment violated the Speech Clause, but concluding that the discrimination was justified by the necessity of complying with the Establishment Clause.

Held:

The violation following from the University’s denial of SAF support to petitioners is not excused by the necessity of complying with the Establishment Clause.

(a) The governmental program at issue is neutral toward religion. Such neutrality is a significant factor in upholding programs in the face of Establishment Clause attack, and the guarantee of neutrality is not offended where, as here, the government follows neutral criteria and even-handed policies to extend benefits to recipients whose ideologies and viewpoints, including religious ones, are broad and diverse, Board of Ed. of Kiryas Joel v. Grumet. There is no suggestion that the University created its program to advance religion or aid a religious cause. The SAF’s purpose is to open a forum for speech and to support various student enterprises, including the publication of newspapers, in recognition of the diversity and creativity of student life. The SAF Guidelines have a separate classification for, and do not make third-party payments on behalf of, “religious organizations,” and WAP did not seek a subsidy because of its Christian editorial viewpoint; it sought funding under the Guidelines as a “student . . . communications . . . grou[p].” Neutrality is also apparent in the fact that the University has taken pains to disassociate itself from the private speech involved in this case. The program’s neutrality distinguishes the student fees here from a tax levied for the direct support of a church or group of churches, which would violate the Establishment Clause.

(b) This case is not controlled by the principle that special Establishment Clause dangers exist where the government makes direct money payments to sectarian institutions, see, e.g., Roemer v. Board of Public Works, since it is undisputed that no public funds flow directly into WAP’s coffers under the program at issue. A public university does not violate the Establishment Clause when it grants access to its facilities on a religion-neutral basis to a wide spectrum of student groups, even if some of those groups would use the facilities for devotional exercises. See e.g., Widmar. This is so even where the upkeep, maintenance, and repair of those facilities is paid out of a student activities fund to which students are required to contribute.  There is no difference in logic or principle, and certainly no difference of constitutional significance, between using such funds to operate a facility to which students have access, and paying a third-party contractor to operate the facility on its behalf. That is all that is involved here: the University provides printing services to a broad spectrum of student newspapers. Were the contrary view to become law, the University could only avoid a constitutional violation by scrutinizing the content of student speech, lest it contain too great a religious message. Such censorship would be far more inconsistent with the Establishment Clause’s dictates than would governmental provision of secular printing services on a religion-blind basis.

Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004)

Washington State established its Promise Scholarship Program to assist academically gifted students with postsecondary education expenses. In accordance with the State Constitution, students may not use such a scholarship to pursue a devotional theology degree. Respondent Davey was awarded a Promise Scholarship and chose to attend Northwest College, a private, church-affiliated institution that is eligible under the program. When he enrolled, Davey chose a double major in pastoral ministries and business management/administration. It is undisputed that the pastoral ministries degree is devotional. After learning that he could not use his scholarship to pursue that degree, Davey brought this action under 42 U. S. C. §1983 for an injunction and damages, arguing that the denial of his scholarship violated, inter alia, the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses. The District Court rejected Davey’s constitutional claims and granted the State summary judgment. The Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that, because the State had singled out religion for unfavorable treatment, its exclusion of theology majors had to be narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest under Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U. S. 520. Finding that the State’s antiestablishment concerns were not compelling, the court declared the program unconstitutional.

Held: The State of Washington established the Promise Scholarship Program to assist academically gifted students with postsecondary education expenses. In accordance with the State Constitution, students may not use the scholarship at an institution where they are pursuing a degree in devotional theology. We hold that such an exclusion from an otherwise inclusive aid program does not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

Historical Sources:

James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (June 20, 1785)

The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no mans right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

Because finally, “the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience” is held by the same tenure with all our other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consult the “Declaration of those rights which pertain to the good people of Virginia, as the basis and foundation of Government,” it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis. Either then, we must say, that the Will of the Legislature is the only measure of their authority; and that in the plenitude of this authority, they may sweep away all our fundamental rights; or, that they are bound to leave this particular right untouched and sacred: Either we must say, that they may controul the freedom of the press, may abolish the Trial by Jury, may swallow up the Executive and Judiciary Powers of the State; nay that they may despoil us of our very right of suffrage, and erect themselves into an independent and hereditary Assembly or, we must say, that they have no authority to enact into law the Bill under consideration. We the Subscribers say, that the General Assembly of this Commonwealth have no such authority: And that no effort may be omitted on our part against so dangerous an usurpation, we oppose to it, this remonstrance; earnestly praying, as we are in duty bound, that the Supreme Lawgiver of the Universe, by illuminating those to whom it is addressed, may on the one hand, turn their Councils from every act which would affront his holy prerogative, or violate the trust committed to them: and on the other, guide them into every measure which may be worthy of his blessing, may redound to their own praise, and may establish more firmly the liberties, the prosperity and the happiness of the Commonwealth.


George Washington, Thanksgiving Proclamation (1789)

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Letter from Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President to Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins & Stephen S. Nelson, Comm. of the Danbury Baptist Ass’n in the State of Conn. (January 1, 1802).

The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

St. George Tucker, Blackstone’s Commentaries with Notes of Reference (1803)

The pretext of religion, and the pretences of sanctity and humility, have been employed throughout the world, as the most direct means of gaining influence and power. Hence the numberless martyrdoms and massacres which have drenched the whole earth with blood, from the first moment that civil and religious institutions were blended together. To separate them by mounds which can never be overleaped, is the only means by which our duty to God, the peace of mankind, and the genuine fruits of charity and fraternal love, can be preserved or properly discharged. This prohibition, therefore, may be regarded as the most powerful cement of the federal government, or rather, the violation of it will prove the most powerful engine of separation. Those who prize the union of the states will never think of touching this article with unhallowed hands. The ministry of the unsanctified sons of Aaron scarcely produced a flame more sudden, more violent, or more destructive, than such an attempt would inevitably excite. . . . I forbear to say more, in this place, upon this subject, having treated of it somewhat at large in a succeeding note.

. . .

Civil establishments of formularies of faith and worship, are inconsistent with the rights of private judgement. They engender strife . . . they turn religion into a trade . . . they shore up error . . . they produce hypocrisy and prevarication . . . they lay an undue bias on the human mind in its inquiries, and obstruct the progress of truth . . . genuine religion is a concern that lies entirely between God and our own souls. It is incapable of receiving any aid from human laws. It is contaminated as soon as worldly motives and sanctions mix their influence with it. Statesmen should countenance it only by exhibiting, in their own example, a conscientious regard to it in those forms which are most agreeable to their own judgments, and by encouraging their fellow citizens in doing the same. They cannot, as public men, give it any other assistance. All, besides, that has been called a public leading in religion, has done it an essential injury, and produced some of the worst consequences.

The church establishment in England is one of the mildest sort. But even there what a snare has it been to integrity? And what a check to free inquiry? What dispositions favourable to despotism has it fostered? What a turn to pride and narrowness and domination has it given the clerical character? What struggles has it produced in its members to accommodate their opinions to the subscriptions and tests which it imposes? What a perversion of learning has it occasioned to defend obsolete creeds and absurdities? What a burthen is it on the consciences of some of its best clergy, who, in consequence of being bound down to a system they do not approve, and having no support except that which they derive from conforming to it, find themselves under the hard necessity of either prevaricating or starving? No one doubts but that the English clergy in general could with more truth declare that they do not, than that they do give their unfeigned assent to all and every thing contained in the thirty-nine articles, and the book of common prayer: and, yet, with a solemn declaration to this purpose, are they obliged to enter upon an office which above all offices requires those who exercise it to be examples of simplicity and sincerity . . . Who can help execrating the cause of such an evil?

But what I wish most to urge is the tendency of religious establishments to impede the improvement of the world. They are boundaries prescribed by human folly to human investigation; and enclosures, which intercept the light, and confine the exertions of reason. Let any one imagine to himself what effects similar establishments would have in philosophy, navigation, metaphisics, medicine, or mathematics. Something like this, took place in logic and philosophy, while the ipse dixit of Aristotle, and the nonsense of the schools, maintained, an authority like that of the creeds of churchmen; and the effect was a longer continuance of the world in the ignorance and barbarity of the dark ages. But civil establishments of religion are more pernicious. So apt are mankind to misrepresent the character of the Deity, and to connect his favour with particular modes of faith, that it must be expected that a religion so settled will be what it has hitherto been . . . a gloomy and cruel superstition, bearing the name of religion.

Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (Arthur E. Sutherland ed. 1970) (1833) 

§ 1866. The real difficulty lies in ascertaining the limits, to which government may rightfully go in fostering and encouraging religion. Three cases may easily be supposed. One, where a government affords aid to a particular religion, leaving all persons free to adopt any other; another, where it creates an ecclesiastical establishment for the propagation of the doctrines of a particular sect of that religion, leaving a like freedom to all others; and a third, where it creates such an establishment, and excludes all persons, not belonging to it, either wholly, or in part, from any participation in the public honours, trusts, emoluments, privileges, and immunities of the state. For instance, a government may simply declare, that the Christian religion shall be the religion of the state, and shall be aided, and encouraged in all the varieties of sects belonging to it; or it may declare, that the Catholic or Protestant religion shall be the religion of the state, leaving every man to the free enjoyment of his own religious opinions; or it may establish the doctrines of a particular sect, as of Episcopalians, as the religion of the state, with a like freedom; or it may establish the doctrines of a particular sect, as exclusively the religion of the state, tolerating others to a limited extent, or excluding all, not belonging to it, from all public honours, trusts, emoluments, privileges, and immunities.

§ 1867. Now, there will probably be found few persons in this, or any other Christian country, who would deliberately contend, that it was unreasonable, or unjust to foster and encourage the Christian religion generally, as a matter of sound policy, as well as of revealed truth. In fact, every American colony, from its foundation down to the revolution, with the exception of Rhode Island, (if, indeed, that state be an exception,) did openly, by the whole course of its laws and institutions, support and sustain, in some form, the Christian religion; and almost invariably gave a peculiar sanction to some of its fundamental doctrines. And this has continued to be the case in some of the states down to the present period, without the slightest suspicion, that it was against the principles of public law, or republican liberty. Indeed, in a republic, there would seem to be a peculiar propriety in viewing the Christian religion, as the great basis, on which it must rest for its support and permanence, if it be, what it has ever been deemed by its truest friends to be, the religion of liberty. Montesquieu has remarked, that the Christian religion is a stranger to mere despotic power. The mildness so frequently recommended in the gospel is incompatible with the despotic rage, with which a prince punishes his subjects, and exercises himself in cruelty. He has gone even further, and affirmed, that the Protestant religion is far more congenial with the spirit of political freedom, than the Catholic. “When,” says he, “the Christian religion, two centuries ago, became unhappily, divided into Catholic and Protestant, the people of the north embraced the Protestant, and those of the south still adhered to the Catholic. The reason is plain. The people of the north have, and will ever have, a spirit of liberty and independence, which the people of the south have not. And, therefore, a religion, which has no visible head, is more agreeable to the independency of climate, than that, which has one.” Without stopping to inquire, whether this remark be well founded, it is certainly true, that the parent country has acted upon it with a severe and vigilant zeal; and in most of the colonies the same rigid jealousy has been maintained almost down to our own times. Massachusetts, while she has promulgated in her BILL OF RIGHTS the importance and necessity of the public support of religion, and the worship of God, has authorized the legislature to require it only for Protestantism. The language of that bill of rights is remarkable for its pointed affirmation of the duty of government to support Christianity, and the reasons for it. “As,” says the third article, “the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through the community, but by the institution of the public worship of God, and of public instructions in piety, religion, and morality; therefore, to promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this Commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize, and require, and the legislature shall from time to time authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, &c. &c. to make suitable provision at their own expense for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.” Afterwards there follow provisions, prohibiting any superiority of one sect over another, and securing to all citizens the free exercise of religion.

§ 1868. Probably at the time of the adoption of the constitution, and of the amendment to it, now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.

§ 1869. It yet remains a problem to be solved in human affairs, whether any free government can be permanent, where the public worship of God, and the support of religion, constitute no part of the policy or duty of the state in any assignable shape. The future experience of Christendom, and chiefly of the American states, must settle this problem, as yet new in the history of the world, abundant, as it has been, in experiments in the theory of government.

§ 1870. But the duty of supporting religion, and especially the Christian religion, is very different from the right to force the consciences of other men, or to punish them for worshipping God in the manner, which, they believe, their accountability to him requires. It has been truly said, that “religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be dictated only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.” Mr. Locke himself, who did not doubt the right of government to interfere in matters of religion, and especially to encourage Christianity, at the same time has expressed his opinion of the right of private judgment, and liberty of conscience, in a manner becoming his character, as a sincere friend of civil and religious liberty. “No man, or society of men,” says he, “have any authority to impose their opinions or interpretations on any other, the meanest Christian; since, in matters of religion, every man must know, and believe, and give an account for himself.” The rights of conscience are, indeed, beyond the just reach of any human power. They are given by God, and cannot be encroached upon by human authority, without a criminal disobedience of the precepts of natural, as well as of revealed religion.

§ 1871. The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution, (the vice and pest of former ages,) and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age. The history of the parent country had afforded the most solemn warnings and melancholy instructions on this head; and even New England, the land of the persecuted puritans, as well as other colonies, where the Church of England had maintained its superiority, would furnish out a chapter, as full of the darkest bigotry and intolerance, as any, which could be found to disgrace the pages of foreign annals. Apostacy, heresy, and nonconformity had been standard crimes for public appeals, to kindle the flames of persecution, and apologize for the most atrocious triumphs over innocence and virtue.

§ 1872. Mr. Justice Blackstone, after having spoken with a manly freedom of the abuses in the Romish church respecting heresy; and, that Christianity had been deformed by the demon of persecution upon the continent, and that the island of Great Britain had not beenentirely free from the scourge, defends the final enactments against nonconformity in England, in the following set phrases, to which, without any material change, might be justly applied his own sarcastic remarks upon the conduct of the Roman ecclesiastics in punishing heresy. “For non-conformity to the worship of the church,” (says he,) “there is much more to be pleaded than for the former, (that is, reviling the ordinances of the church,) being a matter of private conscience, to the scruples of which our present laws have shown a very just, and Christian indulgence. For undoubtedly all persecution and oppression of weak consciences, on the score of religious persuasions, are highly unjustifiable upon every principle of natural reason, civil liberty, or sound religion. But care must be taken not to carry this indulgence into such extremes, as may endanger the national church. There is always a difference to be made between toleration and establishment.” Let it be remembered, that at the very moment, when the learned commentator was penning these cold remarks, the laws of England merely tolerated protestant dissenters in their public worship upon certain conditions, at once irritating and degrading; that the test and corporation acts excluded them from public and corporate offices, both of trust and profit; that the learned commentator avows, that the object of the test and corporation acts to exclude them from office, in common with Turks, Jews, heretics, papists, and other sectaries; that to deny the Trinity, however conscientiously disbelieved, was a public offence, punishable by fine and imprisonment; and that, in the rear of all these disabilities and grievances, came the long list of acts against papists, by which they were reduced to a state of political and religious slavery, and cut off from some of the dearest privileges of mankind.

§ 1873. It was under a solemn consciousness of the dangers from ecclesiastical ambition, the bigotry of spiritual pride, and the intolerance of sects, thus exemplified in our domestic, as well as in foreign annals, that it was deemed advisable to exclude from the national government all power to act upon the subject. The situation, too, of the different states equally proclaimed the policy, as well as the necessity of such an exclusion. In some of the states, episcopalians constituted the predominant sect; in others, presbyterians; in others, congregationalists; in others, quakers; and in others again, there was a close numerical rivalry among contending sects. It was impossible, that there should not arise perpetual strife and perpetual jealousy on the subject of ecclesiastical ascendancy, if the national government were left free to create a religious establishment. The only security was in extirpating the power. But this alone would have been an imperfect security, if it had not been followed up by a declaration of the right of the free exercise of religion, and a prohibition (as we have seen) of all religious tests. Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions; and the Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Arminian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship.

Additional Resources

(1)   First Amendment Center, Establishment Clause Overview

(2)   Introduction to the Establishment Clause

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Tournament Instructions

Resolved:  

  • Does funding a playground associated with a Church violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

Using historical materials related to the Establishment Clause, and the precedents of the United States Supreme Court, teams of two high school students will write an appellate brief on the FantasySCOTUS Blog arguing whether or not states can provide funding for a playground that is associated with a Church. Further, the teams will submit an oral argument video.

The Brief

After registering, teachers should contact the Harlan Institute and ConSource at info@HarlanInstitute.org, and we will randomly assign teams to argue either for or against the position. The Petitioner will argue on behalf of Trinity Church that the funding is compatible with the Establishment Clause. The Respondents will argue on behalf of the state of Missouri that the funding violates the Establishment Clause.

The brief should have the following sections:

  • Table of Cited Authorities: List all of the original sources, and other documents you cite in your brief.
  • Statement of Argument: State your position succinctly in 250 words or less.
  • Argument: By relying on the history sources and Supreme Court precedents in this lesson plan, structure an argument about whether the Establishment Clause permits funding a playground associated with a church. The more authorities you cite, the stronger your argument will be–and the more likely your team will advance.
  • Conclusion: Summarize your argument, and argue how the Supreme Court should decide this issue.

The brief should be submitted as a blog post by February 27, 2017. The brief must be a minimum of 2,000 words. For examples of what a complete Supreme Court brief should contain, see the winning briefs from previous years:

We recommend you develop your brief in Microsoft Word or Google Docs, and paste it into the blog post when you are finished. Be sure to proof read your work. The work must be yours, and you may not seek help from anyone else–including attorneys or law students. Students who submit plagiarized briefs will be disqualified.

Preliminary Oral Arguments

In addition to the brief, each team must submit a YouTube video of their oral arguments. We will provide your teachers with questions to ask, and they can of course supplement with their own questions. Each argument must be at least ten minutes in length. The videos must be submitted with the blog post on Friday, February 27, 2017. For examples of how the arguments should be structured please watch some of the submissions from last year.

Oral Arguments Semifinals

The top sixteen teams will advance to the oral argument semifinals, which will be held virtually over Google Hangout on March 11, 2017. Oral arguments will be judged based on our scoring rubric. More information will be provided about the semifinals after the briefs are submitted.

Oral Arguments Championship Round

The final round of the Virtual Supreme Court Competition will be held In Philadelphia on April 13, 2017. The Harlan Institute and ConSource will sponsor the top two teams, and their teachers, for a trip to Philadelphia on April 13th to debate in front of a panel of expert judges, including lawyers, university level debate champions, and legal scholars.

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