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Religion and the U.S.

Supreme Court
Lori Veilleux
skype: lori.veilleux

Spring 2015
Location: TBD
Times: TBD

Course Description
“Oyez, oyez, oyez!” With that exclamation, the U.S. Supreme Court (SC) begins a
new session. Once again, religion cases appear on this year's docket, and the
Court’s rulings promise to be as consequential as ever. In the 135 years since its
first dealings with the religion clauses, the SC has had a profound influence on
disparate areas of American life, from the public arena of Friday night football
games to the privacy of the doctor’s office. This course uses SC rulings on religion to
dive deep into some of the most interesting and controversial social issues of our
day, including same-sex marriage, abortion, birth control, evolution, and the place
of religion in public life. The dynamic participatory format of the course allows you
to develop your opinions on these topics while becoming masters of argument and
By the end of the class, you’ll…
 Know the circumstances and processes through which the SC considers and
decides cases, as well as the status and import of SC rulings.
 Be able to recognize and critically evaluate common interpretations of the
religion clauses and the arguments for and against them.
 Have highly developed and well supported personal opinions about how the
clauses ought to be interpreted and applied.
 Understand precedent and use it to forecast how the Court might decide
cases concerning religious freedoms.
 Have empathetic understandings of those who feel their religious freedoms
have been violated by the state (e.g. a Jehovah’s Witness boy who refused to
participate in his school’s compulsory flag salute). You’ll make insightful
connections between their experiences and your own life experiences.
Class Format & Activities
The course is designed to appeal to you with a variety of learning styles. Each class
meeting will include interactive lectures, multimedia presentations (including
videos), group discussions, and lively exercises. Among other things, you’ll visually
represent abstract ideas and complex processes, work in teams to solve problems,
and serve as friendly critics of one another’s writing assignments. In every class
meeting, you’re going to work on argumentation, from identifying and analyzing the
arguments of others to forming and supporting arguments of our own.
Importantly, this class approaches learning as a process, not a performance. Please
come with a growth mindset! Also note that the controversies relating to our topic
are by no means settled, and the course does not offer “authoritative” answers to

the questions considered. Instead, you’ll will gain the information and skills to
develop and articulate your own perspectives. In all likelihood, your fellow class
members will exhibit a range different perspectives on the issues we study.
Readings for this course are compiled in a required course pack. Before each class,
you must complete short reading assignments. These have varying formats,
including ethnographic materials, newspaper articles, letters to the editor,
interviews, summaries of issues, and excerpts of SC opinions. The readings present
a range of different perspectives on a particular issue, and our class activities and
discussions build upon this content. Coming to class with an understanding of the
readings is extremely important; indeed, having lively and productive class
meetings absolutely depends upon it.
Assignments & Grades
The assignments in this class will ask you to show your understanding of course
content and demonstrate your improving facility with argumentation. Every class
meeting, you’ll practice identifying and critically evaluating different authors’
positions on particular issues and the supporting arguments for them. From one
meeting to the next, these activities will ask you to become more and more
independent. You’ll begin by critiquing and editing the arguments of journalists,
editorialists, and even SC justices in groups, then individually. You’ll end by
articulating your own well-argued position on an issue. Along the way, you’ll give
and receive peer feedback, receive formative feedback from me, and revise in light
of feedback before receiving summative feedback from me.

First Graded Writing Assignment:
Write a three-to-five page paper arguing for you favored method of interpreting the
Constitution and against alternative methods. You’ll receive peer feedback on this
paper, revise, and then receive feedback from me. Final product due Week 4. 10%
of your final grade.

Project 1 & Second Graded Writing Assignment:
Weeks 6 & 7, in an in-class project you’ll assume the role of SC justices deciding a
case, following the same processes the Court follows (e.g. selecting which case to
hear, discussing the case, drafting opinions, circulating drafts and signing them,
revising, and making a final ruling). You’ll use this experience to outline an
argument, then, making revisions you deem necessary, write a polished opinion on
the hypothetical case (5-7 pages). You’ll fill out a questionnaire and write a short
paragraph evaluating your own performance on the in-class project, both
individually and as a group. You’ll will receive formal feedback from me on the
writing assignment. Final product is due week 8. The project and the writing
assignment are each worth 10% of your final grade.

Religion and the SC Syllabus


Third Graded Writing Assignment:
You’ll choose an opinion piece on a SC case relating to the religion clauses. In a
three-to-five page paper, you’ll summarize and critically evaluate the position and
argument of the author. You’ll receive peer feedback on this paper, revise, and then
receive feedback from me. Due week 10. 10% of your final grade.

Project 2 & Fourth Graded Writing Assignment:
At week ten, you’ll participate in an in-class team problem solving exercise in which
you assume the roles of school committee members charged with fulfilling a
school’s mission (actual mission statements of secular and religiously affiliated
schools drawn from a hat) with and without financial support from the government.
This activity gives you direct experience negotiating a problem central to the
course. Then, you’ll reflect on what you learn from this activity in a three-to-five
page paper. You’ll fill out a questionnaire and write a short paragraph evaluating
your own performance on the in-class project, both individually and as a group.
You’ll receive formal feedback from me on the writing assignment. Due week 12.
The project and the writing assignment are each worth 10% of your final grade.

Final Writing Assignment
On the first day of class, you’ll take ten minutes to write out your initial
interpretation of the religion clauses. You’ll return to this document for your final
writing assignment, which will describe your initial position on the religion clauses,
describe how your thinking developed over the semester, and describe and defend
your position at the end of the course. In an appendix to this assignment, you’ll
reflect on how your facility and confidence at making sound arguments grew over
the course of the semester (7-9 pages). Due finals week. 15% of your final grade.

Participation and completion of small weekly assignments (e.g. sharing scavenger
hunt items or giving feedback to a peer) account for the final 25% of your final
grade. I’ll meet individually with you halfway through the course to discuss your inclass participation and, if necessary, techniques for improving.

Course Schedule
Meeting 1: Introduction
What are our shared goals for the semester and how can we meet them? What does
the SC do? What does the Constitution say about religion? Where do we stand on
day one?
During our first meeting, we’ll get to know each other, establish shared goals, and
go over the course. Through an interactive multi-media lecture, we review the
basics of the First Amendment and the SC. We also briefly sketch religion in the
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United States, past and present. Then, we do some group and individual exercises
to get a sense of where we stand on key issues. Finally, we’ll take our first pass at
applying the religion clauses to a real-life scenario, document our opinions at this
early phase, and tuck these away for use in a later assignment.
Meeting 2: History of the Religion Clauses and Methods of Interpretation
What is the historical context of the religion clauses? What methods do people use
to interpret the Constitution?
Alley, Robert. “A Memorial and Remonstrance by James Madison.” School Prayer:
The Court, the Congress, and the First Amendment. Prometheus Books,
Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to the Danbury Baptists”
Excerpts of Hugo Black’s Majority Opinion in Everson v. Board of Education
We will begin with a multi-media, interactive lecture that gives a quick and dirty
sketch of the SC and its work. Then we will outline approaches to interpreting the
Constitution, and we’ll take a poll and compare the class results to national results.
We’ll will then work in groups to analyze documents, identifying positions and
supporting arguments, and present summaries of your group work to classmates.
Meeting 3: Free Exercise, the Belief/Action Distinction, Bigamy, and Ritual
Are religiously motivated actions exempt from general laws? What benefits arise
from a distinction between beliefs and actions? What problems might it create?
Reynolds v. United States (1879) in Constitutional Debates, 76-78.
Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940) in Constitutional Debates, 80-83.
Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (1993) Oyez Summary.
Biskupic, Joan. “Court Says Ban on Ritual Sacrifice Violates Free Exercise of
Religion” Washington Post 06/12/1993 p. A12
Miller, Russell. “A Leap of Faith” New York Times 01/30/1994 p. A8.
In cases related to the Free Exercise clause, the SC makes a distinction between
beliefs and actions. The opinion in the Reynolds case argues that absolute
protection of religious practices would have problematic implications for our society
and government. Cantwell v. Connecticut codifies the belief-action distinction and
illustrates a recurring connection between religious rights and the right to free
speech. The Hialeah case contains an interesting, recent iteration of the beliefaction distinction. After discussing these issues and doing some related in-class
exercises, you’ll work in pairs to provide peer feedback on graded writing
assignment 1.
Meeting 4: Free Exercise, Flag Salutes, and the Appropriate Qualities of SC
Are religiously motivated actions exempt from general laws? What duties does the
state have toward young people? What qualities should a SC justice have?
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Konkoli, Toni. “Famous Dissents: Minersville School District v. Gobitis (1940).”
(letter & interview with the Gobitas children)
Manly, Chelsy. “SC Upholds Forced Salute to Flag.” Chicago Daily Tribune (June
4, 1940): 8.
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943) in Constitutional
Debates, 84-88.
“Religious Leaders in L.A. Differ Widely on School Prayer Ruling.” Los Angeles
Times (June 18, 1963): 1.
Davis, Kenneth C. “Jefferson, Madison, Newdow?” New York Times (March 26,
2004): A19. "Should the Words ‘Under God’ be in the US Pledge of Allegiance?"
Our first discussion will consider two remarkable cases about schoolchildren who
refused to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance because it went against their
religious beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses. A multimedia presentation featuring clips
from The Colbert Report and the always-interesting Sonya Sotomayor will lead to a
discussion of the qualities we should expect in appointments to the SC. Finally, we’ll
make our first move toward the Establishment Clause as we consider the Pledge
from a different angle in Newdow.
Meeting 5: A Temporary Free Exercise Trend, Compelling Interest, and the
How did the concept of “compelling interest” expand religious freedoms? What is
the historical context of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?
Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) in Constitutional Debates, 107-112.
Wexler, Jay D. “Amish Agitation,” in Holy Hullabaloos, 59-68, 74-89.
First, we review and discuss Court rulings related to conscientious objection to war
on religious grounds. Then we turn to the unique aspects of the Berger Court’s
rulings on religion. The Wisconsin case concerns Amish parents’ refusal to send their
children to school beyond the eighth grade on religious grounds. Our discussion will
address conflicts between parental rights, children’s rights, and state interests.
Finally, in a rapid fire team exercise, you’ll practice using precedent to predict the
Court’s rulings in cases related to Blue Laws, Native American religious practices,
prisons, and the military.
Meetings 6 & 7: In-Class Project – Selecting and Deciding a Free Exercise
Meeting 8: Evolution, Prayer, and Devotional Exercises
Do religious activities in public schools violate the Establishment clause? How and
where should/shouldn’t people learn about religions?
Engle v. Vitale (1962) in Constitutional Debates, 160-164. (skim)
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Abington School District v. Schempp (1963) in Constitutional Debates, 164-169.
Eastland, Terry. “Responses to Abingdon V. Schempp (1963).” In Religious
Liberty in the SC, 167–168.
Interview with Donna and Ellery Schempp, in Freedom of Religion.
Solomon, Stephen D. Ellery’s Protest, 1-30. [selections marked in coursepack]
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. “From Darwin to Dover: An Overview of
Important Cases in the Evolution Debate.”
We turn to the Establishment Clause and questions about the proper relationship
between church and state. The Engle and Abington cases address devotional
practices in public schools. Our discussion considers the country’s religious identity
and the potential pressure and coercive power of public religious practices. Finally,
we take the Pew Research Center’s “Religious Knowledge Quiz” and compare our
scores with the findings of the Center’s survey of the American public. This exercise
opens a discussion of teaching and learning about religions. Finally, we consider the
religion clauses issues surrounding teaching evolution, creation science, and
intelligent design.
Meeting 9: Religion in the Public Square, Establishment Tests, and
Government Funding
In this class, we learn about and discuss rulings concerning public displays of the
Ten Commandments, Nativity Scenes, and other religious symbols. We then turn to
the Rosenberger and Bob Jones cases to consider Establishment Clause issues
related to religion and taxpayer dollars.
Rosenberger v. University of Virginia (1995) in Constitutional Debates, 285-292.
Bob Jones University V. US (1983) in Constitutional Debates, 119–121.
“Two Principles Collide on a Virginia Campus.” America 172, no. 12 (April 8,
1995): 3.
Gaffney Jr., Edward. “At Jefferson’s University.” Commonweal 122, no. 8 (April
21, 1995): 6-7.
“Religious Speech, Public Money.” Christian Century 112, no. 9 (1995): 286.
Totenberg, Nina. “Christian Magazine Takes Case to the SC.” Morning Edition.
Washington, D.C.: National Public Radio, March 1, 1995.
Meeting 10 & 11: In-Class Project – Solving Problems of Money and
Mission: Using Funding Issues Demonstrate the Tension between the
Religion Clauses
Meeting 12: The Hobby Lobby Birth Control Case and Religious Angles of
the Abortion Debate
In this class, we turn to the recent hot-button issue of birth-control and Hobby
Lobby’s religious objections to providing healthcare coverage for it. The topic brings
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up long running religious debates about abortion and state aid for reproductive
healthcare services. Our multi-media, interactive lecture will address these and
enrich the conversation.
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (Oyez Summary & Excerpts of Oral Arguments)
Amy Howe, “Court rules in favor of for-profit corporations, but how broadly? In
Plain English” (SCOTUSblog)
Find, summarize, and bring an opinion piece on this issue to class.
Meeting 13: The Same Sex Marriage Debate
Finally, we arrive at the most recent action by the Court concerning the religion
clauses, an inaction. By declining to hear several cases, the Court effectively
allowed same-sex marriages to go ahead in several states. After activities and
discussion related to this topic, we’ll take time to reflect on and assess the course.
Masci, “What Today’s Supreme Court Decision Means for Gay Marriage”
Masci, “Where Christian Churches, Other Religions Stand on Gay Marriage”
Find, summarize, and bring an opinion piece on this issue to class.

Religion and the SC Syllabus