First Amendment Issues

Gerard V. Bradley

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In First Amendment Issues , Professor Bradley predicts a “martyrdom of religious institutions,” making him a prophet of what is now threatening Catholic institutions.  Listen to his course to learn more about the interpretation of the First Amendment throughout the past 70 years, and how it has brought us to this place. 

This course begins with a reading of the First Amendment, and goes on to explain the history of the Supreme Court’s interpretations of both the Establishment Clause (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,”) and the Free Exercise Clause (“…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”). This course was delivered in 1997, before much of the recent assault on Religious Liberty. But it is a discussion of principles and history, neither of which have changed.

6 1-hour lectures

  1. The Establishment Clause
  2. The Free Exercise Clause
  3. Secularism and the Constitution
  4. The Trajectory Toward the Naked Public Square
  5. Catholic Institutions in the Naked Public Square
  6. Possibilities for Reform 


More about this course: 

The Establishment Clause
In the 1940s, the Supreme Court expanded the reach of the Establishment Clause.  Previously understood to apply only to the federal government, it is now interpreted as including states, their subsidiaries, and all offices of government.  Rather than simply restricting the federal government from choosing one religion over another or otherwise joining in religious disputes, it was now considered out of the realm of all levels of government to take part in discussions about morality, to be influenced by religion, or to even be able to acknowledge that there is anything of higher value in religion whatsoever.  Any ruling seen to aid religion is now considered unconstitutional – and the courts have sole power in each case to decide what constitutes an “aid” to religion. 

The Free Exercise Clause
Since the new interpretation of the Establishment Clause denies government the ability to presume an absolute right and wrong, the Supreme Court upholds the Free Exercise Clause by declaring that as long as laws are generally applicable to all and neutral regarding religion, courts cannot carve out exemptions for particular cases.  To do so would be to say that these otherwise unlawful actions are acceptable in the name of religion, which is to admit that religion is a good.  In such a climate, faithfully religious institutions will cease to exist.  There will be no exemptions made to protect them for their counter-cultural policies, as long as the law burdening them was not intended to do so.  Religions will be persecuted in the name of religious liberty.

Professor Bradley suggests avenues for reform. Writing better legislation regarding religion, putting religious exemptions into law, and otherwise reigning in the empirical Supreme Court would put the morality of the nation back into the hands of Congress, ensuring that the moral standards of the people are represented.