More than a quarter-century has passed since the Supreme Court decided inEmployment Division v. Smith that religious accommodations are primarily a matter of legislative grace, not constitutional right. In that time, barrels of ink have been spilled over the merits of the Smith decision. But comparatively little attention has been given to the issue of how legislatures and other political actors should exercise their discretion to grant or deny specific religious accommodations. In their article To Accommodate or Not to Accommodate: (When) Should the State Regulate Religion to Protect the Rights of Children and Third Parties?, Professor Hillel Levin, Dr. Allan Jacobs, and Dr. Kavita Arora aim to fill that critical gap. They propose a specific methodology for political actors to use in considering requests for religious exemptions—with the goal of bringing more consistency to the accommodation project—and their proposal has much to recommend it. This Response argues, however, that the Authors’ argument for their proposal suffers by trying to do too much. Instead of offering their proposal solely as a prudential tool for policymakers, they also frame it as a constitutional tool that judges can use to enforce the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. As detailed in this Response, the Authors’ effort to have their proposal serve this second function runs into serious problems that can only distract from their primary mission. Accordingly, this Response suggests that the Authors refocus exclusively on that primary mission in future efforts to advance their proposal and offers a few suggestions for how the Authors might seek to operationalize their test in the political realm.
Grand Theory or Discrete Proposal? Religious Accommodations and Health Related Harms
James M. Oleske, Jr.
September 17, 2016