Ideas to Impact Blog

Protecting Religious Freedom: A Strategy for Success

“Religious freedom isn’t just for the religious.”

— Rick Garnett

Mark Rienzi, President and CEO of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, has become well-known on the Right and feared on the Left for Becket’s remarkable success in defending religious minorities in recent years. Indeed, religious liberty has seen a historic winning streak for the last twelve years or so, both because of the excesses of the Left and strong unity on the Right, including several organizations, like the Becket Fund, that receive strong support from members of the Bradley Impact Fund.

While this expansion of religious liberty in law is sometimes attributed to “Trump justices” or the appointment of many conservative Christian judges in recent years, the record shows something that is obviously not reducible to merely Christian or conservative judicial philosophy. Many of the most prominent cases were won by Muslim prisoners, Jewish synagogues, and Christians of various political perspectives. This is why, Mr. Rienzi pointed out, several of the cases that made it to the Supreme Court were unanimously decided. Justices appointed by both parties recognize in the Constitution and legal precedent that protecting religion and religious liberty is fundamental for a peaceful, pluralist society.

There is still hostility to the First Amendment in some state legislatures and courts, of course, but the precedents in defense of liberty are stacking up. And because courage is contagious, more people are willing to stand up and fight for religious freedom. Mr. Rienzi discussed a current Becket case in which the clients are Maryland parents whose preschool children were being told that their sex was determined by a doctor who was guessing.

In that case, Becket’s lead clients are Muslim, and it’s happening in a very liberal district. Case selection matters, and advocates for religious liberty have to make as much progress as possible, with as broad a range of allies as possible.

Rick Garnett, Professor of Political Science at Notre Dame and Director of the University’s Church, State, and Society Program, affirmed with Mr. Rienzi that religious freedom wasn’t an add-on in the United States Constitution. Rather, it was foundational, and widely agreed upon among the Founders that freedom of religion was going to be a core part of our historic constitutional experiment. Mr. Garnett was emphatic, however, that religious freedom be seen not as some kind of luxury good for a few true believers since it is so closely, intrinsically linked with the other basic rights.

Notre Dame Law School is producing some of the strongest young litigants for religious freedom, both Mr. Rienzi and Mr. Garnett agreed. The school works hard to instill in its students that religious freedom is rooted in human dignity. This principle informs not only their curriculum, but also their engagement with society.

Since being good neighbors to their community and forming students to win are also paramount, the program invests in a free religious liberty clinic that gives law students the chance to serve and to participate directly in litigation. Another popular program is the law school’s religious freedom moot court tournament, which now attracts teams from all around the country. Mr. Garnett thanked the Bradley Impact Fund community for its support of this program, which provides invaluable experience to the next generation of champions for religious liberty, even beyond Notre Dame.

The goal, Mr. Garnett concluded, was to form attorneys capable of causing trouble for opponents of religious freedom. By getting experienced, top-ranked students into clerkships with federal judges, Notre Dame’s law school is positioning the next generation of skilled advocates to defend freedom of religion.

Protecting Religious Freedom A Strategy for Success