Notre Dame, IN — Religious social service organizations in many states — from adoption agencies to pantries — may face the choice of whether to secularize or drop their funding and close following a recent charter school ruling. private in North Carolina.
The Notre Dame Religious Liberty Clinic today filed an amicus judicial brief with the United States Supreme Court, seeking certiorari in Peltier v. Charter Day School. In Peltierthe Fourth Circuit ruled that a publicly funded charter school in Leland, North Carolina is a “state actor” for purposes of federal law, even though it was privately operated.
Religious Liberty Clinic Supervising Lawyer John Meiser explained the significance of the Court’s decision: “The doctrine of state action is not something many people would think of or perhaps even hear of. But it is quite important in constitutional law and, as this case shows, for the freedom of private organizations. The Constitution only regulates the actions of government, so private citizens are free to behave in ways that government could not.”
“This distinction is particularly important for religious groups,” continued Meiser. “While the government must act in a religiously neutral manner, private individuals have a fundamental right to practice their religion. Thus, if the programs of a private religious group were declared to be “state action,” which would force the group to choose: either secularize these programs or end them.”
The Clinic’s brief argues that the Fourth Circuit’s expansive interpretation of “state action” threatens to impose that choice on many thousands of private religious groups. The brief argues that although charter schools – and many other social service organizations – partner with governments to serve critical public goals, this does not turn them into state actors. Nor does it make these organizations state actors in order to receive government funding.
The brief argues that treating so many private groups as “state actors” will endanger the vital services provided by religious charity groups.
“Religious organizations partner with government to meet a wide range of important public needs,” Meiser said. “Communities across the country rely on the work of faith-based charity groups every day, including adoption and fostering agencies, day care centers and early learning centers, emergency shelters, food pantries , healthcare providers, refugee organizations, and more. If religious organizations are forced out of public service, these vital resources will be lost to those who need them most.
The amicus brief was filed on behalf of the Clinic; the Jewish Coalition for Religious Freedom, a nonprofit organization comprised of lawyers, rabbis, and professionals who practice Judaism and advocate for religious freedom; and the Action Team on Islam and Religious Freedom of the Religious Freedom Institute, which amplifies Muslim voices on religious freedom, seeks to better understand the support for religious freedom in the teachings of Islam, and protects the religious freedom of Muslims.
Notre Dame students Luray Buckner, Billy Eisenhauer, Bernadette Shaughnessy and Chris Ostertag helped Meiser and Nicole GarnettJohn P. Murphy Foundation law professor at Notre Dame with the memoir.
“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Professors Meiser and Garnett on this project,” said Buckner, a 3L in her second year at the clinic. “Writing this brief has given me a greater appreciation of the irreplaceable and positive impact religious groups have on American society through their various ministries. I hope our brief will help the Court see the impact this case could have. have and why she should take it.
Contact: Anna Bradley, Program Manager, Religious Liberty Initiative, 574-631-6003, email@example.com
Established in 2020, the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative promotes and defends religious freedom for all through advocacy, education, and thought leadership. The initiative protects the freedom of individuals to hold religious beliefs as well as their right to exercise, express and live by those beliefs.
The Religious Liberty Clinic has represented individuals and organizations from a range of religious traditions to defend the right to religious worship, to preserve sacred lands from destruction, to promote the freedom to choose religious ministers, and to prevent discrimination against schools and religious families.
Learn more about the Religious Freedom Initiative at law.nd.edu/RLI.