About the Center
For over 40 years, the Center has been a passionate, yet measured, voice for religious freedom in the courts, the legislatures, and the Executive Branch.
Christian Legal Society established the Center for Law & Religious Freedom (CLRF) in 1975, at the urging of Christopher Hall, a California attorney, and Skeeter Ellis, from Seattle. They saw the need for Christian lawyers to be better equipped to defend our religious freedoms, which are threatened by an increasingly secularized society. Through the years, CLRF has not only provided appellate advocacy but also has provided public education and legislative counsel in Congress and various state legislatures. Since 1996, CLRF staff attorneys have also provided direct trial court and administrative agency representation for persons or organizations whose religious freedoms are at stake.
The Center defends First Amendment rights at all levels of the American judicial system, including the Supreme Court. Based on the recommendations of a committee of First Amendment experts, the Center targets potentially influential cases and taps leading law professors and practitioners to assist Center staff in writing briefs to protect religious freedom. The Center has filed an impressive array of briefs in scores of critical cases over its 40-year history.
BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT
The Center represented parties in three cases in which the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari:
Christian Legal Society v. Martinez: The Center represented a religious student group that was penalized by a public law school for requiring its leaders and members to agree with its religious beliefs.
Bender v. Williamsport Area School District: The Center represented a group of religious students who were denied the right to meet for prayer and Bible study even though other student groups met on campus. The case became the basis for the federal Equal Access Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 4071-4074.
Garnett v. Renton School District: The Center secured a religious student group’s right to meet under the federal Equal Access Act for prayer and Bible study at their high school.
Since 1980, the Center has filed friend-of-the-court briefs in nearly every significant religious freedom case before the Supreme Court.
BEFORE THE COURTS OF APPEALS
The Center represented parties before federal courts of appeals in the following precedent-setting cases:
Christian Legal Society v. Walker (7th Cir.): The Center represented a religious student group after a university said the group violated its nondiscrimination policy because it required its leaders to agree with its religious beliefs. The court ruled in favor of the religious student group.
California v. United States (9th Cir.): California challenged as unconstitutional a federal law passed to protect doctors and nurses from forced participation in abortions. The Center intervened on behalf of a group of Christian doctors and other pro-life medical associations. The Ninth Circuit agreed with the Center that the federal law’s protection for pro-life healthcare workers was constitutional.
National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association v. Gonzales (D.C. Cir.): A pro-abortion group attacked a federal law protecting medical professionals from forced participation in abortions. The Center intervened on behalf of pro-life medical associations. The federal appellate court ruled that the pro-abortion group could not challenge the law.
Colorado Christian University v. Weaver (10th Cir.): The Center represented a Christian university in challenging state laws that excluded its students from a scholarship program because the state had deemed the college to be too religious. The Tenth Circuit struck down the laws as unconstitutional.
Child Evangelism Fellowship of New Jersey v. Stafford Township School District (3rd Cir.): A public school district refused to distribute fliers to parents about a religious after-school program that taught children about God, even though fliers for nonreligious community groups frequently were sent home to parents. The Center sued on behalf of the Child Evangelism Fellowship chapter and won.
Christian Evangelism Fellowship of Montgomery County v. Montgomery County Public Schools (4th Cir.): A public school district refused to distribute fliers to parents about a religious after-school program that taught children about God, even though fliers for nonreligious community groups frequently were sent home to parents. The Center sued on behalf of the Child Evangelism Fellowship chapter and won a ruling that distribution of religious community groups’ fliers would not violate the Establishment Clause.
Christian Evangelism Fellowship of Montgomery County v. Montgomery County Public Schools II (4th Cir.): A public school district adopted a new policy and continued to refuse to distribute fliers to parents about a religious after-school program that taught children about God, even though fliers for nonreligious community groups frequently were sent home to parents. The Center sued on behalf of the Child Evangelism Fellowship chapter and won a ruling that the new policy violated the Free Speech Clause.
DeBoer v. Village of Oak Park (7th Cir.): To observe the National Day of Prayer, a religious community group asked to meet in the town hall on the same basis as other civic groups. The town denied the request because the group’s speech was religious. After a lengthy court fight, the Center won the group’s right to observe the National Day of Prayer.
The Center seeks legislative solutions when necessary to protect religious freedom and human life. The Center is known for its collaborative work with organizations of all faiths and across the political spectrum. The Center tracks legislation that threatens First Amendment rights and provides legal analysis and commentary on critical issues.
Equal Access Act of 1984, 20 U.S.C. §§ 4071-4074: The Center was instrumental in the drafting of the Equal Access Act, federal law that has protected the right of millions of public secondary school students to meet for prayer and Bible study for over 33 years. The Center provided guidance to 14,000 school superintendents nationwide as to how to implement the Act.
Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, 42 U.S.C. §2000bb: The Center helped lead a coalition of nearly 60 organizations from across the political and religious spectrum to protect Americans’ free exercise of religion from substantial burdens imposed by the government with the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. §2000cc-1: The Center led a coalition to secure passage of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects freedom of religion for churches threatened by onerous zoning restrictions, as well as prisoners’ religious exercise.
Twenty years ago, the Center initiated the movement to pass Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in the states. Twenty-one states have Religious Freedom Restoration Acts: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
The Center has also supported legislation to protect religious student groups from being excluded from college campuses because they require their leaders to agree with the groups’ religious beliefs. Nine states have laws that explicitly protect religious student groups: Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Virginia.
The Center works in a bipartisan manner to advance religious freedom, regardless of the political party in the White House. Because the federal agencies and departments, as well as the independent commissions, affect the health of religious freedom in a myriad of ways, the Center tracks administrative developments and participates as appropriate in the process. The Center speaks on behalf of religious freedom through the notice-and-comment rulemaking process, by attending listening sessions with agency staffs, and by sending coalition letters to officials to bring religious freedom concerns to their attention.
United States Department of Education “Religious Expression in Public Schools”: The Center assisted in drafting the guidelines that formed the basis for the Department of Education guidance letter sent to all school superintendents by both the Clinton and Bush Administrations.
Presidential Guidelines on “Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace”: The Center helped craft guidelines that President Clinton issued as guidance for all federal agencies to protect two million federal workers’ religious expression in the workplace. In October 2017, the Trump Department of Justice reaffirmed the validity of the Clinton guidance as having the “force of an executive order.”