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US Commission on Civil Rights:  Public comments on religious liberty accepted until April 21

US Commission on Civil Rights: Public comments on religious liberty accepted until April 21

On Friday, March 22, the United States Commission on Civil Rights heard briefings from two panels on legal developments concerning the intersection of non-discrimination principles with those of religious liberty. The discussion involved the ministerial exception case, Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, and the student group non-discrimination policy case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. Also discussed were religious liberty claims under First Amendment provisions other than the religion clauses.

In Hosanna-Tabor,  the Supreme Court for the first time recognized a “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws, saying that churches and other religious groups must be free to choose their leaders without government interference.  In Christian Legal Society, the courts found that the California Hastings College of the Law was not required to give public funds or recognition to a Christian-only student group that denied non-Christians or gays membership in the group.

Written comments from the public will be accepted by email until April 21, 2013 at publiccomments@usccr.gov.  Public comments received will become part of the public record.

The Christian right advocacy group, the Liberty Institute, has already submitted its report, The Survey of Religious Hostility in America.  The report, co-authored by the Family Research Council, has been criticized by People for the American Way (PFAW) for its exaggerations and factual errors.  "The report itself consists of 100+ pages of  short descriptions of seemingly every court case along with the various urban legends that the Religious Right trots out whenever they are trying to play the victim," wrote Kyle Mantyla on PFAW's blog, Right Wing Watch.

As to the panels that appeared before the Commission on Friday, the first panel included speakers involved in the Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC or Christian Legal Society v. Martinez litigation:  Kimberlee Colby , Senior Counsel at the Christian Legal Society; Ayesha Khan , Legal Director, Americans United for Separation of Church and State; Daniel Mach , Director, American Civil Liberties Union Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief; and Lori Windham , Senior Counsel, Becket Fund.

The second panel consisted of scholars who discussed the broader conflict between anti-discrimination norms and religious liberty. Speakers scheduled to appear on the second panel include Alan Brownstein , Professor, University of California at Davis Law School; Marc DeGirolami , Associate Professor, St. John's University School of Law; Leslie Griffin , Professor, University of Nevada Las Vegas Law School; Marci Hamilton , Professor, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law; Michael Helfand , Associate Professor, Pepperdine University School of Law; and Edward Whelan , President, Ethics and Public Policy Center.

 Additional information can be found at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights website.

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