‘Because of Sex’: The Coming Battle between the Free Exercise Clause and the Equality Act

Christine M. Venter is a Teaching Professor at Notre Dame Law School and Affiliated Faculty in Gender Studies at the University of Notre Dame

The Equality Act has had a long and arduous history in its quest to become law. The Act was first introduced in 1974 by Congresswoman Bella Abzug, who was determined to end discrimination on account of “sex, marital status, and sexual orientation” in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Although that effort failed, the Act was reintroduced in 2019 and passed the House by a vote of 276 in favor to 173 opposed. Under the leadership of Mitch McConnell, the Senate declined to move it forward for a vote.

Enter the Supreme Court, and Justice Gorsuch’s majority opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County, in June 2020, that Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination “because of … sex,” extended to sexual orientation and gender identity. Although the Court specifically limited its analysis to Title VII, focusing only on the employment discrimination claims based on sexual orientation and gender identity that were before the Court and not on any other area of federal law, both supporters and opponents of equality for the LGBTQ+ community were quick to question the case’s impact.


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The U.S. Supreme Court and Pandemic Restrictions on Religious Worship

Frederick Mark Gedicks is Guy Anderson Chair and Professor of Law in the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University

The current pandemic has presented challenges to normal life in the United States and elsewhere, including to the free exercise of religion. The U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in several times on COVID-related free exercise claims; though these are summary dispositions, they illuminate a doctrinal fault line that is likely to emerge in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (3rdCir. 2019), a free-exercise case currently pending before the Court.

The Supreme Court’s Jurisprudence on Pandemic Restrictions

Employment Division v. Smith (1990) famously held that the First  Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion does not include the right of believers to be excused from complying with generally applicable laws that incidentally burden their religious beliefs or practices. Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah (1993) clarified that Smith does not apply to laws which target religion with burdens from which comparable secular activities are relieved. Together, Smith and Lukumi transformed the free exercise of religion in the U.S. from a liberty to an equality right more consistent with the rule of law: believers are to be treated no better than other people, but also no worse.


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Religious Exceptions to COVID Vaccine Mandates

Doriane Lambelet Coleman is Professor of Law at Duke Law School, Senior Fellow at Duke University’s Kenan Institute for Ethics, and Associate of the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine

Just as individual cells are permeable so that disease can move from cell to cell and spread within our bodies, so too our bodies are permeable so that disease can move from individual to individual and spread within our communities. Those who’ve recovered from infectious disease typically have some degree of immunity, which results from the antibodies we develop to fight the infection.  Like soldiers who’ve defeated the enemy and stand guard for a time to repel further invasions, antibodies linger in our cells, remembering the disease and how to fight it if it returns.  The immunity that comes from having survived disease may be incomplete or temporary, but so long as it resides within us, we’re unlikely to become ill again ourselves, and we’re also unlikely to contaminate others.


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