Center For Law and Religion Hosts Conversation On SCOTUS Church-and-State Cases

Center for Law and Religion SCOTUS Cases Conversation
September 16, 2019

Earlier this month, the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s Law hosted a conversation with Hon. Kyle Duncan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and Hon. Richard Sullivan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on church-and-state issues before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Facilitated by Center Director Mark L. Movsesian and Associate Director Marc O. DeGirolami at Manhattan’s iconic New York Athletic Club, the discussion focused on issues that the Court has addressed recently, or will consider in upcoming cases, including legislative prayer, public religious displays, and the conflict between anti- discrimination laws and religious freedom.

The judges also offered insights on the issue of state financial assistance to religious organizations, which is coming before the Court this session in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. More broadly, they explained how they, as federal appellate judges, try to understand the Court's religion clause jurisprudence and apply it in their own cases.

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“It was fascinating to hear how Judges Duncan and Sullivan attempt to make sense of the Court's often divided rulings," Professor Movsesian says. "I know the students in attendance got a lot out of the discussion, since it provided real-world context for the law and religion cases and judicial decision-making they learn about in class. Events like this, which expose our students to the inner workings of our court system, are a particularly important part of our work at the Center."

Anthony Nania, a Center for Law and Religion Student Fellow who also serves as Editor-in-Chief of the St. John’s Law Review, agrees that the event was a valuable learning opportunity. "Listening to Judges Duncan and Sullivan discuss the complexities of handling these church-and-state issues, such pertinent and emotive legal topics, really brought the cases to life,” he says. “It’s one thing to read a case in class, but quite another to witness two circuit judges exploring these matters from their unique perspectives and experiences."

After the facilitated discussion, the students, alumni, and friends of the Center in the audience stayed on to continue the engaging conversation. The Center's Board of Advisors also met to discuss plans for future programs, including the Center’s milestone 10th anniversary next year.

About the Center for Law and Religion
Established in 2010, the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s Law provides a forum for studying law and religion from domestic, international, and comparative perspectives with the aim of:

  • Examining the role of law in the relationship between religion and the state
  • Exploring the concept of law in different religious traditions
  • Promoting St. John’s Vincentian mission by encouraging an open dialogue on law and religion in the local, national, and international communities

In addition to hosting academic programs locally and around the world, the Center coordinates the Law School’s law and religion curriculum. It also hosts the Law and Religion Forum, a blog about recent law and religion scholarship and news, and Legal Spirits, a podcast series on law and religion issues in the courts.