Education Week: Lawyer teaches how to protect religious freedom

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By Carly Wasserlein

Editor’s note: Education Week coverage can be found in this section of the website.

Alexander Dushku, a lawyer with expertise in the First Amendment, taught Education Week attendees during Thursday afternoon of Education Week. Dushku discussed various Supreme Court cases and urged the audience to continue to show the goodness of faith. (Addie Blacker)

Alexander Dushku, a lawyer who specializes in the First Amendment, taught Education Week attendees that the best way to support religious freedom is to show the public the beauty of religion.  

Dushku taught that there are many challenges to religious freedom in the United States, but that “things aren’t horrible.” Most court rulings on religious freedom are based on the Supreme Court case Employment Division v. Smith, which held that any law that does not specifically target religion doesn’t violate the First Amendment. 

“This was a bit of an earthquake,” Dushku said. “It basically got rid of 30 years of prior precedent.”

The ruling completely changed how religious freedom was treated in the United States. Dushku explained that if a law applies to everyone indiscriminately, it will not be held in violation of the First Amendment. Dushku later described how this could be an issue. 

“What if there’s a law that says that no one can consume wine for any purpose? What would the Catholics do in their mass? That would completely prohibit the core of the religious ceremony of the Catholic faith,” Dushku said.

Despite this, the Supreme Court still often rules in favor of religious freedom. 

In Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, the Court ruled against a law that was written to stop ritual animal sacrifice necessary in the church’s religious ceremony. The written law gave exceptions to hunters, butchers, and any other person who might need to kill an animal. The court ruled that because the law was specifically targeting one religion, it was against the Constitution. 

Another recent case saw baker Jack Phillips sued for discrimination when he refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. The prosecution attacked Phillips’ religion, leading to the Court’s final ruling in Phillips’ favor. The Court said that because the prosecution had let other bakers refuse to make cakes for other reasons, this case was specifically discriminating against Phillips’ religion. 

“Americans will protect what they think is good, and they want not to protect what they think is bad,” Dushku said. “We as a people need to show the goodness of our faith.” 

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