Dear Religion Clause Readers:
Happy New Year 2017! I hope you continue to find Religion Clause a useful, if not indispensable, source of news on religious liberty and church-state developments. While I focus primarily on developments in the United States, I have increased my coverage of international law-and-religion issues that are of special interest.
In a year in which distrust of media outlets and concerns over "fake" news reports have gained prominence, I hope I have remained reliably objective in my posts and have provided links to an abundance of primary source material for your use in fleshing out your understanding of developments. I am pleased that my regular readers span the political and religious spectrum and include a large number of law school faculty, journalists, clergy, governmental agency personnel, and others working professionally dealing with church-state relations and religious liberty concerns.
Last year was a year of surprises-- not the least of which were the untimely death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Both of these will significantly impact church-state and religious liberty developments in 2017.
The aphorism "Predictions are very difficult, particularly if they are about the future" has variously been ascribed to Neils Bohr, Yogi Berra and others. Well here is my difficult, and some might say foolhardy, prediction for 2017. The year has the potential of bringing seismic developments in the church-state and religious liberty arenas. There are three areas to watch.
First, religious liberty claims are increasingly seen as part of the "culture wars"-- a religious, social and political divide that became more salient with the election of Donald Trump. A fundamental issue that is likely to pervade a number of specific disputes this year is how to distinguish a "religious" claim that enjoys special legal protection from a cultural claim that is subject to the will of political majorities.
Second, the added wall of separation provided by Blaine Amendments in numerous state constitutions is under challenge in the Supreme Court in the Trinity Lutheran case. This challenge coincides with Donald Trump's designation as Secretary of Education of an individual who is a vigorous proponent of school choice. In recent years, Blaine Amendments have been a primary stumbling block for school vouchers and similar plans.
Third, during the campaign, Donald Trump promised evangelical audiences that repeal of the Johnson Amendment was high on his agenda. Repeal would mean that houses of worship could actively participate in political campaigns and still keep their non-profit status. The revolution in campaign financing resulting from on-line fundraising from millions of supporters that was finely tuned in the 2016 elections could be supplemented by the raising of what would effectively be tax-deductible campaign funds to finance electioneering by religious organizations.
Continue to read Religion Clause to find out if developments bear out any of my speculative suggestions. I also remind you that the Religion Clause sidebar contains links to a wealth of resources. Please e-mail me if you discover broken links or if there are other links that I should consider adding.
Thanks to all of you who are loyal readers-- both those who have followed Religion Clause for years and those of you who have only recently discovered the blog. Thank you for making Religion Clause the most recognized source for keeping informed on the intersection of religion with law and politics. I encourage you to recommend Religion Clause to colleagues and friends who might find it of interest. It is accessible via Twitter and Facebook, as well as through traditional online access and RSS feeds.
Best wishes for 2017! Feel free to contact me by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) in response to this post or throughout the year.
Howard M. Friedman