Aug. 10, 2017 - Faculty members discussed a case involving religious freedom, immigration issues and other topics at the U.S. Supreme Court Update on July 27 at the University of Houston Law Center.
Assistant Professor James Nelson began the discussion with an analysis of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer
The case centered on an application by the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia to resurface its playground at the church's preschool and daycare center.
"Missouri had a grant program which allowed non-profit organizations to apply to the state for funds so that they can resurface their playground with recycled tires," Nelson said. "It also had a policy in the grant program of categorically denying any funds to churches or other similar religious organizations.
"Trinity Lutheran Church applied for a grant to convert its gravel playground to the recycled tire surface and not surprisingly it was denied funding on the basis of Missouri's policy and was denied funding despite the fact that it had finished fifth among 44 applicants in the scoring process. The top 14 qualified for funds, and had it not been a church it would have qualified for the funds."
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Missouri's policy toward religious institutions was discriminatory.
"The church filed suit and claimed its exclusion from the grant program violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, The free exercise clause forbids laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion," Nelson said. "The Supreme Court in this case held that Missouri's policy of excluding churches from the grant program was unconstitutional and violated the free exercise clause of the first amendment."
The second speaker was Clinical Associate Professor Geoffrey A. Hoffman, who discussed the recent attempts at a travel ban along with citizenship and immigration cases. Hoffman, director of the Law Center's Immigration Clinic, recounted when he helped immigrants affected by the ban by volunteering at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in late January.
"I felt like I was in a moment of history," Hoffman said. "I spent from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the airport. It was quite an experience. Protestors arrived in the afternoon and Terminal E was completely flooded with people. It was very dramatic."
The session concluded with a discussion about the October 2016 Supreme Court Term with Professor Peter Linzer and Josh Blackman, an associate professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston. Attendees received 2.75 hours of continuing legal education credit.