To Navigate Uneasy Times, Chart a Course with Thoughtful Analysis


Posted on February 1st, 2017 by Elizabeth Boylan

In these uneasy times, it is important that we as lawyers, activists, advocates and citizens seek out clear and factual information and analysis, so as to be able to navigate the waters of uncertainty. As members of the Columbia Law School community, we are grateful for a position where we can develop thoughtful discourse and pursue research that sheds light on these complicated issues.

Two memos from the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP), published on Monday, January 30th, offer thoughtful legal analysis on the proposed policies and recently signed Executive Orders of President Donald J. Trump. The PRPCP’s mission is to bring legal academic expertise to bear on the multiple contexts in which religious liberty rights conflict with or undermine other fundamental rights to equality and liberty.  The PRPCP is a research initiative within the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School.  Per the PRPCP’s mission statement, “We undertake approaches to the developing law of religion that both respects the importance of religious liberty and recognizes the ways in which too broad an accommodation of these rights threatens Establishment Clause violations and can unsettle a proper balance with other competing fundamental rights.”

The first of these memos, Church State & the Trump Administration reviews the policies proposed by the President during his campaign, his recent edicts and Executive Orders, and the policies supported by members of his cabinet both historically and currently.  In a press release for this memo, the PRPCP notes: “Despite his stated commitment to religious freedom, during his first week in office President Trump has issued an Executive Order that clearly expresses an official State preference for Christianity, and disapproval of Islam. Furthermore, Trump has consistently demonstrated that his policies will be grounded in the concerns of certain conservative Christian groups. His Executive Order reinstating a significantly expanded version of the anti-choice global gag rule, an expected Executive Order sanctioning anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and his selections for cabinet appointments all point to an administration that will seek to further particular religious ideals while breaking down the barrier between church and state.”  In response to President Trump’s campaign promises and his interactions with his support bases in the United States, Ashe McGovern, Associate Director for the PRPCP affirms, “Trump has made clear, through executive orders and cabinet appointments, that he seeks only to prioritize a version of white Christian nationalism and supremacy, that, if left unchecked, would create tangible harms to many marginalized communities—and violate fundamental liberty and equality guarantees under the Constitution”.  The PRPCP is committed to continuing the thoughtful analysis of the Trump Administration’s proposals, and have noted that the memo will be updated as the President and his cabinet take further actions over the next several weeks.

The second memo, Trump’s Executive Order Banning Refugees is Unconstitutional, focuses on President Trump’s Executive Order of January 27th on travel and immigration–the “Muslim Ban”–specifically noting how the text of the EO in direct violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  The memo states, “The Executive Order amounts to both a form of state sponsored discrimination against persons of one particular faith and a religious preference for persons of another faith, in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

The memos, co-written by PRPCP Director Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Associate Directors Ashe McGovern and Kira C. Shepherd, with the support of Faculty Advisor Professor Katherine Franke, may be found at the PRPCP policy page.  Detailed blog posts regarding both analyses may be found on the PRPCP Blog.

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