Articles and Publications

Law, Rights & Religion Project team members regularly write original articles, editorials, and papers on issues related to the work of the Project and the Racial Justice Program. A list of these papers, with relevant quotations and links, may be found below.

The Law, Rights, and Religion Project and the Racial Justice Program welcome inquiries from Journalists, Scholars, Activists, and Students seeking insight and advice on issues related to law and policy concerning law, rights, religion, and the balance of religious liberty with other fundamental and civil rights. Please reach out to us via our Contact Page if we may be of help in supporting your work.

We also maintain an up-to-date listing of all Media Mentions of our work, wherein Law, Rights, and Religion Project reports, articles, policy papers, amicus briefs are cited and our team members quoted. Access our Media Mentions page, here.

Parading the Horribles: The Risks of Expanding Religious Exemptions (policy brief)

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, The Law, Rights, and Religion Project
November 4, 2021

People of faith now have a constitutional right to practice their religion—even when doing so conflicts with a government law or policy—that is more rigorously protected than nearly any other right. Some states have passed bills that provide an even broader right to such “religious exemptions” from the law than provided under the U.S. Constitution. Many more such bills have been introduced and await consideration.

Among the most expansive state exemption bills are those modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which provides a robust framework for gaining religious exemptions from any law, policy, or act of the federal government. State RFRAs provide a similar means of gaining religious exemptions from state and local policies. Advocates expect a concerted effort over the next few years to pass RFRAs in additional states. Other, somewhat narrower exemption bills include those (introduced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic) that exempt religious activities from public health laws, and bills that allow medical providers to refuse certain types of health care, such as contraception.

This article corrects the common misconception that religious exemption measures pose a threat to only a narrow set of issues—namely LGBTQ and reproductive health. The continual expansion of the right to religious exemptions has been granted at the expense of countless rights and liberties of others, far beyond these two issues. By citing real cases, we demonstrate that nearly any law or policy, including those protecting crucial interests like workers’ rights, public health, environmental welfare, emergency response, and religious pluralism, may be limited and/or significantly undermined by religious exemptions. 

Religious liberty' is coming for voting rights (op-ed)

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, The Hill
March 10, 2021

Excerpt: “While religious exemption conversations are still dominated by debates over sex, marriage and reproduction, we confine it to a “culture war” issue at our peril. The ability of religious exemptions to undercut a wide swath of regulations and protections in the areas of economic and workers’ rights, public health, environmental justice and even democratic reforms should not be underestimated.

Rather than continually playing defense in response to ever broader religious exemption requests across a widening range of issues, those outside the Christian right must reclaim and fight for our own vision of religious liberty rooted in a commitment to democracy, pluralism and equality.”

Whose Faith Matters? New Report Challenges Current 'Religious Liberty' Narrative

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Sojourners
November 14, 2019

"Whose Faith Matters? challenges two widespread misconceptions: that the political left has abandoned the fight for “religious liberty,” seeing religion as a threat to its values, and that Christian conservatives are resolutely dedicated to protecting religious liberty. [...] As proof of the robust fight for religious freedom outside the Christian right, the report offers a sweeping overview of such activism, both historical and contemporary, within 12 different social movements, including claims brought by atheists and other non-theists."

Losing their religion: AG Barr should recognize the faith of progressives

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, The Hill
November 12, 2019

"Scott Warren is among dozens of people nationwide targeted by the U.S. government for acting on their religious beliefs. [...] The Whose Faith Matters? report offers a sweeping overview of the often-ignored religious liberty activism taking place outside of the conservative movement, including by those whose faith motivates them to assist immigrants, protect the environment, protest capital punishment, provide abortions, and preserve church-state separation."

Texas Woman Opposes Divorce Citing ‘Blood Covenant’; Will Anti-Sharia Law Get in the Way?

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Religion Dispatches
January 31, 2019

"Despite the existence of covenant marriage laws, Shawn’s demand—that the state of Texas enforce a Christian 'covenant' marriage on an unwilling party who has not signed away their right to a no-fault divorce—is clearly unconstitutional. The most basic objective of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is, after all, to prevent the government from imposing religious doctrine on nonbelievers. However, Shawn’s case may run into another, less obvious legal barrier: Texas’ 'anti-sharia'law, which went into effect in 2017."

Religious freedom for me, but not for thee

Katherine Franke, The Washington Post
September 28, 2018

"When you pay close attention to the litigation strategy pursued by the federal government’s lawyers, what you see is that this administration is not committed to an overarching principle of religious liberty — or even rights for Christians, in general. Like so much of the current political climate under President Trump, the administration is not defending a neutral constitutional principle — religious liberty — for all people, but rather only for those who share the administration’s political perspective. In fact, this government has weaponized the notion of religious liberty, not for its own sake, but rather to advance a blatantly partisan, conservative agenda."

How a Decades-Old Decision Shows the Supreme Court's Shift Toward White Christian Supremacy

Kira Shepherd, Rewire.News
June 29, 2018

"Falling in line with the Trump administration, the U.S. Supreme Court has appeared to embrace the idea of white Christian supremacy—the view that conservative Christianity and mainstream white culture are superior to other religious systems and cultural norms, respectively. It has done so at the expense of more democratic values that reflect the United States as an inclusive, diverse society founded on a commitment to equality and liberty."  

Some Plaintiffs Are More Equal Than Others

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Religion Dispatches, Rewire.News
June 27, 2018

"In these four cases, spanning four different constitutional rights, a pattern is clear: The Supreme Court has been willing to zero in on minor evidence, such as stray comments, in order to find that the government is unfairly targeting the (white, Christian) religious right in a way that is not just untoward, but unconstitutional. In doing so, it has undermined the enforcement of health and civil rights laws. At the same time, it has ignored meticulously collected evidence of a state’s decades-long history of voter suppression against people of color. And it has also—perhaps most shockingly—chosen to consciously overlook the sitting president’s clear and virulent animus towards Muslims."

Will SCOTUS' New Zeal for "Neutrality" Affect its Decision on the "Muslim Ban"?

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Religion Dispatches, Rewire.News
June 5, 2018

"The Supreme Court’s decision on Masterpiece Cakeshop yesterday hinged on the Court’s apparent concern for religious neutrality—a word the opinion uses nearly a dozen times. Rather than decide the substantive question of whether or when the Free Speech Clause or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment exempts a business from compliance with anti-discrimination law, the Court instead found only that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had violated the Constitution by failing to consider the baker Jack Phillip’s claims 'with the neutrality that the Free Exercise Clause requires.'"

5 Questions with Katherine Franke on the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case

Katherine Franke with Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Columbia University
June 4, 2018

"The plaintiff’s lawyers view religious liberty rights as more fundamental than any other rights, and thus should occupy the top tier of constitutional protection. The rights of LGBTQ people, women, people of color and others, in their view, should yield when in conflict with religious liberty. This approach to constitutional law derives from something we call 'natural law' — that no man-made law can be superior to God’s law. This amounts to a radical theocratization of the Constitution, a document that was intended to be an adamantly secular social contract."

How a Supreme Court Decision for Masterpiece Cakeshop Would Harm Religious Minorities

Katherine Franke and Johnathan Smith, Slate Outward
December 4, 2017

"In recent years, claims of religious discrimination have risen dramatically. According to data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC), there were over 1,000 more workplace religious discrimination complaints in 2016 than in 2006. Discrimination is particularly severe for religious minorities; for instance, while Muslims represent only one percent of the U.S. population, over twenty percent of the filed EEOC religious discrimination charges in 2015 related to incidents of anti-Muslim discrimination. The Department of Justice also consistently reports a disproportionately high number of discriminatory incidents against Muslims and Jews."

Trump's New Birth Control Rules are White Christian Supremacy Veiled as Religious Freedom

Kira C. Shepherd, Reverend Naomi Washington-Leapheart & Reverend Alba Onofrio, Rewire.News
October 18, 2017

"The Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, which was designed to help a large number of people of color access reproductive health care at no extra cost, is the latest victim of the Trump administration’s embrace of white Christian supremacy. Under the benefit, the number of women filling prescriptions for birth control pills quadrupled between 2012 and 2013, increasing from 1.2 million to 5.1 million. Birth control options are particularly important for Black and Latina women who experience unintended pregnancies at triple and double the rate of white women, respectively."


What's So Troubling About Funding a Playground? How Trinity Lutheran Undermines the First Amendment

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Religion Dispatches
June 27, 2017

"On Monday, the Supreme Court took a dramatically new approach to the First Amendment, though you wouldn’t have known it from reading the brief, oversimplified opinion. In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer the Court held that—at least in some circumstances—the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment requires governments to provide taxpayer funds to churches. This newfound requirement is something the dissent argued should, in fact, be prohibited under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause."

Texas House Passes Bill Allowing Adoption Agencies to Turn Away Same-Sex Couples

Ashe McGovern, Slate Outward
May 10, 2017

"The state of Texas will cause tangible harm to already vulnerable communities if it passes this bill. By officially supporting the religious viewpoints of agencies in a way that will limit the provision of services to the general public, and the rights of young people in the agency’s custody, the state improperly allows religious objectors to impose their beliefs on others—which may be constitutionally impermissible."  

White House's 'Religious Liberty' Order Still Likely to Lead to Discrimination

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Rewire.News
May 5, 2017

"Unlike an earlier leaked draft, the executive order (EO) on religion signed by President Trump on Thursday does not single out for special protection the religious belief that “sexual relations are properly reserved” for marriage between cisgender, heterosexual partners. Nevertheless, the EO is likely to result in religious exemptions for those who hold conservative views about sex, marriage, and reproduction. While such exemptions harm LGBTQ communities, they also injure those who have had sex outside marriage, especially unmarried pregnant women and parents. Furthermore, President Trump has also promised to sign the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), which would more explicitly permit discrimination against unmarried families."

Not All Gorsuch Religious Liberty Decisions Are Alike

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Rewire.News
March 28, 2017

"Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch has gained a reputation as a religious liberty advocate. In two of his most renowned decisions as a Tenth Circuit judge, Gorsuch ruled in favor of religious organizations seeking exemptions from laws that conflicted with their beliefs. But in at least one area, Gorsuch appears less amenable to religious exemptions: when the plaintiffs are prisoners. This inconsistency is troubling and reflects a larger concern that Gorsuch may protect the rights of corporations more robustly than those of individuals."

Because You're Not Fooling Anyone: Why Trump Travel Ban 2.0 Still Unconstitutional

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Religion.Dispatches
March 14, 2017

"Trump’s second attempt at banning travel from certain Muslim-majority countries is clearly written to avoid being struck down under the Establishment Clause. Most notably, it no longer contains provisions that preference entry for religious minorities—language the President himself admitted was intended to prioritize entry for Christian rather than Muslim refugees."

WA Supreme Court: LGBT Discrimination No More About Flowers than Civil Rights Were About Sandwiches

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Religion.Dispatches
February 22, 2017

"[T]he Washington Supreme Court issued a significant and unanimous decision in the ongoing dispute—being litigated in courts across the country—over whether antidiscrimination law must yield to the religious beliefs of business owners opposed to marriage equality. The case involved a florist, Barronelle Stutzman, who refused to provide floral arrangements for a wedding between same-sex partners because of her deeply held religious beliefs about marriage."

What Muslim Ban? A Religious Liberty Hearing in the Trump Era

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Religion.Dispatches
February 16, 2017

"Today, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the 'State of Religious Liberty in America.' What was perhaps most striking about the hearing was how dated many of the speeches and arguments felt—as if an Obama-era hearing was being held nearly a month into the Trump administration."


Executive Order on Religious Freedom Could Impose Harm on Black Women and Their Families

Kira Shepherd, MomsRising
February 14, 2017

"There has been a great deal of discussion about the draft religious freedom order that was recently leaked. Most of the conversation has centered around how the order would allow for discrimination against LGBTQ folks, and rightly so, the order clearly targets that community. However, the order also outlines broad religious liberty protections that will allow individuals and organizations to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, familial status, and marital status. Such provisions will disproportionately impact Black women who, according to a recent report by Columbia Law’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, are statistically more likely to become pregnant and raise families while unmarried."

Trump Attempts to Pit LGBTQ Communities, People of Color, and Women Against Muslim Refugees and Immigrants

Ashe McGovern, Rewire.News
January 31, 2017

"Trump's latest executive order highlights what is becoming standard practice within his administration: obscuring the destructive impact of an action on some marginalized communities by couching it in a feigned concern for 'protecting' others."

Government's Latest Accommodation Proposals Put Vulnerable Populations at Risk of Going Without Preventive Care

Kira Shepherd, Rewire.News
October 6, 2016

"While it remains to be seen how the public’s comments will sway the government’s actions, it’s important to understand that the two accommodations proposed by the federal agencies in the RFI risk a constitutional violation and could harm vulnerable populations.... The proposed accommodations would make it much harder for a large number of women to easily access contraceptives. This places both a financial and emotional burden on women, affecting their ability to make crucial family planning decisions."

The 'Do No Harm Act' Could Help Prevent Discrimination on Religious Grounds, But Will Congress Ever Vote on It?

Kira Shepherd, Rewire.News
September 25, 2016

The Do No Harm Act aims to restore RFRA to its original purpose by preserving the law’s power to protect the religious liberty of individuals, while at the same time ensuring that the law is not used to harm third parties in the name of religion. For example, the act would prevent RFRA from being used to trump non-discrimination laws and/or deny employees access to health care.

5 Reasons Laws used for LGBTQ Discrimination hurt People of Color

Kira Shepherd, Ebony
June 14, 2016

"As the LGBTQ community mourns the victims of the tragic mass shooting in Orlando, it’s important to look at how some religious beliefs have harmed not only that community, but those of color as well. Over the last few years the idea of religious liberty has been used to push forward anti-gay legislation in the name of religious freedom. For example Mississippi’s religious exemption bill, which was signed into law in April, giving legal cover to those who want to discriminate against LGBTQ people out of 'sincerely held religious beliefs.'"

The Latest on Zubik v. Burwell: Religious Orgs Propose a Compromise that they Themselves Would Oppose

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Religion Dispatches
April 19, 2016

"With headlines like '53 Percent Say Making Nuns Participate in Obamacare Birth Control Mandate is Unfair,' the conservative Christian press has found its angle on Zubik v. Burwell. For the rest of us, here’s a way through the legal thicket."

Georgia Governor Vetoes Right-to-Discriminate Bill

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Religion Dispatches
March 29, 2016

"Governor Nathan Deal announced that he would veto HB 757, a broad religious exemption bill that would have sanctioned discrimination against LGBT and other Georgians. A Frankenstein-esque combination of what had previously been several different bills, HB 757 would have violated the Establishment Clause by stripping many Georgians of their legal rights in order to accommodate the preferences of religious actors." 

The Context of Historical Racism Matters in the Birth Control Benefit Case

Kira Shepherd, Religion Dispatches
March 25, 2016

"Even though women of all backgrounds work for the plaintiffs in Zubik, women of color in particular will be disproportionately affected by the outcome: Even as unintended pregnancy rates have declined in recent years, racial and economic disparities have persisted. Moreover, historical racism in the health-care system has contributed to higher rates of maternal mortality among women of color compared to white women, which combined with other poor health outcomes have had an impact on the psychological, economic, and social vitality of these communities."

Silence of "Religious Liberty" Activists on Muslims' Cases - Not What You Think

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Religion Dispatches
March 10, 2016

There are plenty of arguments for why courts should exercise caution in granting any religious accommodation in the workplace, and should carefully consider the effects an accommodation will have on employers, employees, consumers and the public. It should raise suspicion, however, when those who most adamantly demand the right for business-owners to enforce their beliefs on workers seem unwilling to speak up for the religious rights of minority workers.

Will SCOTUS Call the "Bluff" of Religious Liberty Activists?

Kara Loewentheil, Religion Dispatches
November 9, 2015

What’s really at issue here is whether the Supreme Court is going to allow religious objectors to completely opt-out of laws by continually re-defining the burden on their religious exercise, regardless of the impact on third parties and the harms done to them. And you can bet if that strategy succeeds here, we’ll see it in use very soon in other contexts, like exemptions to LGBT non-discrimination laws and marriage equality protections. 

It's Not the Thought That Counts: Tragic Case Highlights Flaws in "Religious Liberty" Debate

Kara Loewentheil, Religion Dispatches
October 20, 2015

"This is why the emphasis on third-party harms in religious exemption doctrine is so important. Because going by intention as the guide to when an exemption should be allowed produces normatively undesirable results; but focusing on whether harm has been caused to third parties allows us to keep a stable set of priorities when evaluating claims for religious exemptions in the first place."

We Shouldn't be Surprised Pope Francis met with Kim Davis

Kara Loewentheil, Religion Dispatches
October 1, 2015

"In America, conservatives want broad religious exemptions, tax breaks and policies that clearly benefit the wealthy, and border control. But those ideas aren’t necessarily related; they’re just an accidental cluster created by various political dynamics that are, globally-speaking, regional."

Unholy Alliance Between Conservatives and Liberals Behind Rise in RFRAs

Katherine Franke, Huffington Post Gay Voices
April 7, 2015

"Religious Freedom Restoration Acts — are made possible by an unholy alliance between the religious right and mainstream liberals. Conservatives want to be sure they aren’t forced to recognize same-sex marriages once they become legal, and some liberals — including in the legal academy — maintain that the measures are harmless because no entity has ever won when challenged by a gay couple that has been denied service under an RFRA."

Anti-Vaxxers Illustrate Danger of Overly Broad Religious Freedom Laws

Kara Loewentheil, Religion Dispatches
February 2, 2015

"All in all... vaccination exemptions should remind us of the dangers of including overly broad exemptions in generally applicable laws, especially those protecting public health and access to civil rights like education. Once the exemptions are in, they are hard to get out and very difficult to control."

Is Refusal to Write Anti-Gay Cake Message a Violation of Religious Freedom?

Kara Loewentheil, Religion Dispatches
January 23, 2015

"There’s an ongoing question in other areas of discrimination law, like Title VII’s employment discrimination protections, about whether religious discrimination means discriminating against someone because they are a member of a given religion or because they take or don’t take actions that are aligned with a given religion’s beliefs, and this situation seems to me to implicate that question."