Mar 15

‘Fifty States Under God’is theme for JLPP Spring Symposium

Published on: Friday, March 15, 2013

Much of contemporary American culture’s understanding of religious liberty is focused on the First Amendment religion clauses contained in the United States Constitution. But what about religious liberties language in the constitutions of the individual states, some of which even predate the federal Bill of Rights?

How should constitutional scholars view the concept of religious liberty through the prism of the various state constitutions as they relate to the modern day? A handful of experts in the field of constitutional law and religious liberty will attempt to tackle that question as they gather Friday, April 19 at the UST Law Journal of Law and Public Policy’s Spring Symposium.

Entitled “Fifty States Under God: State Constitutions and Religious Liberty,” the event, which runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., features a lineup of speakers who will discuss the history of religious liberty rights included in various state constitutions and their application to modern day issues.

The JLPP invited the following speakers to present papers they have submitted for its upcoming edition. Those speakers (along with title and description of their papers) include:

Prof. Robert Williams, Rutgers University School of Law; “State Constitutional Religion Clauses: Lessons from the New Judicial Federalism.”

   Description: “State constitutional religion clauses will be used to illustrate many of the central features of the New Judicial Federalism (NJF). The NJF is the recognition by courts, lawyers and scholars, beginning in the 1970s, that state courts may interpret their state constitutions to provide more expansive rights protections than the United States Supreme Court recognizes under similar or identical provisions of the Federal Constitution.  The methodology and differing techniques of interpretation applied to state constitutions in the NJF will be reviewed in the context of religion guarantees.”

Prof. Mary Jane Morrison, Hamline University School of Law; “Dictionaries, Newspapers, and ‘Blaine Amendments’ in State Constitutions in the 21st Century”

  Description: This paper notes several of the evidentiary claims about the historical context of “Blaine Amendments” in state constitutions.  The label “Blaine Amendments” applies to clauses that entered state constitutions in the last quarter of the nineteenth century to ban use of state money to support private sectarian schools.  A prominent gloss on the history of the adoption of those clauses is that they stemmed from an anti-Catholic bias, and some twenty-first century constitutional litigation has claimed this historical legacy as a basis for invalidating the clauses.  But what role should private bias play in constitutional law when large groups of Americans express that bias in public arenas about identifiable segments of the population?  What evidence, if any, ever is sufficient proof of bias to be a factor in constitutional analysis of laws of that era?  Even assuming an anti-Catholic bias should have resulted in the late nineteenth century in invalidating those clauses on constitutional grounds, should that old bias have a similar invalidating tail for those clauses on constitutional grounds more than a century later?  In exploring answers to these questions, this paper employs existing federal constitutional doctrine and decisions only for the purpose of illustrating possible lines of analysis under state constitutions about clauses in those state constitutions.

Dr. Christopher Hammonds, Houston Baptist University; “God and American Constitutionalism”

  Description:  Discussions of religion and American constitutionalism focus almost exclusively on the US Constitution.  This is a mistake because it overlooks and older and equally important constitutional tradition at the state level.  Focusing on the American state constitutions provides an interesting perspective into the relationship between religion and constitutionalism that has largely been overlooked by participants on both sides of the long-standing debate over religious freedom in America.

Also slated to speak at the event is attorney Paul Linton of the St. Thomas More Society and UST Law Prof. Teresa Collett.  UST Law Prof. Tom Berg will provide opening remarks.

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