BYU law students dedicated an immense amount of time and talent to the cause of religious liberty by writing an amicus curiae brief for Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision supporting the ministerial exception giving religious organizations the liberty to hire and fire religious leaders without the threat of government interference.
Students at the BYU Law School worked with the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, ICLRS, in submitting the amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court that could assist in the court’s final decision. For six weeks, students endured long days and late nights in compiling research outlining global ties between law and religion from lawyers and scholars in 34 different countries.
Joseph Stewart, a second-year BYU law student from Shelley, Idaho, devoted himself to the cause by focusing his research on religious laws in the United Kingdom and Ireland. He said he was skeptical how the court would rule and was delighted when he heard the final outcome.
“You see in society how quick people are to discount religion and undermine people’s beliefs,” Stewart said. “Anytime the Supreme Court stands up for religion, saying this is our tradition, that to me is paramount; it’s fantastic.”
A BYU graduate from Fairfax, Va., Megan Taylor, participated as a summer extern and said this case was “phenomenally important” for protecting religious freedom. Taylor said she found researching the international aspect of religion rewarding and enjoyed learning more about the legal profession.
“I liked working at the BYU Law School because it was an opportunity to work on issues I wouldn’t at any other school and it left me with a desire to work on topics like this,” Taylor said. “You work 12 hours a day for weeks and work with a team; you learn your limits and how far you can push yourself and that’s a valuable experience to know, whether you decide to go that route.”
Taylor also had the opportunity to attend the oral argument in October where the attorneys’ arguments followed the same direction as the brief the ICLRS had submitted to the Supreme Court.
Robert T. Smith, a professor at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, directed students on the amicus curiae brief and explained the argument they strove to convey in the brief.
“We argued the ministerial exception is very important because it protects church autonomy,” Smith said. “The founders rejected the idea that the state could control a church organization. If the ministerial exception had been rejected then that would be more control over a church than any other European countries.”
Smith recognized the importance of the research done by the students and said he would like to believe their work contributed to the court’s unanimous decision.
“This was not just a win but a grand-slam home run,” Smith said. “We could not have done this without the students finding information, getting responses and organizing the arguments. They worked hard.”