Published on: Friday, September 27, 2013
Thomas Berg, James L. Oberstar Professor of Law and Public Policy, is participating in two First Amendment cases on the merits in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 term.
McCullen v. Coakley is a free speech challenge to a Massachusetts law that makes it a crime for anti-abortion speakers to be within 35 feet of the entryway or driveway to a reproductive health care facility, where they might seek to provide information to clinic patrons about abortion alternatives; financial support, housing, and health care for women and children; parenting training; and other assistance.
Berg wrote an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief supporting the plaintiff “sidewalk counselors” – who are elderly people, priests and former doctors who seek to peacefully advocate alternatives to abortion – on behalf of the Democrats for Life of America and Clergy for Better Choices, an organization of New York City clergy concerned about abortion, especially the high rates in minority communities. Both organizations emphasize providing the kinds of support to pregnant women that the plaintiffs in the case offer. The gist of the amicus brief is that a significant number of women would be responsive to the kind of calm, conversational offers of support the plaintiffs seek to provide. An excerpt from the brief is here.
In addition, in Town of Greece v. Galloway, a case challenging the constitutionality of official prayers opening town council meetings, Berg joined five other major religious-liberty scholars from around the nation in filing an amicus brief arguing that the practice of official prayers by selected clergy entangles government in decisions and disputes concerning religion, in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Berg also described the case in detail and offered commentary on it in a story for Bloomberg/BNA’s United States Law Week Supreme Court preview edition.
Berg regularly participates in cases in the Supreme Court and lower cases involving freedom of religion and freedom of speech. In the past four terms of the Supreme Court, he has written and filed briefs in five cases and been a signatory on briefs in four others.