A nationwide survey of legal scholars Thursday indicated recent federal court interpretations of the First Amendment have raised serious threats to religious freedom in the United States.
The Report Card on Religious Freedom was prepared by the David V. Kahn Religious Liberty Resource Center, a project of the American Jewish Congress headquartered at the AJC's Midwest Region office in Chicago.The center included five categories in the poll, and the report said the federal court actions range from "threatening" to "endangering" in four of the five classifications.
Survey director Sylvia Neil said "a very disturbing trend of the courts" is a quiet erosion of many constitutionally protected religious liberties.
"Not one category of religious freedom and equality was judged to be `extremely well protected' by the courts," she said.
The survey included a letter grade - A, B, C, D or F - for each of the five categories. "Freedom from explicit government discrimination against individuals due to their religious beliefs" got the highest grade, a "B." "Freedom from indirect government burdens or restrictions on religious practices" got the lowest grade, a "D."
The other three categories - "freedom from government promotion of religion," "freedom from government inculcation of religion in public schools" and "freedom from government financial entanglements with religious institutions" - received "Cs."
The center said the 18 professors from major law schools across the nation were asked to grade how well the federal courts protected religious freedom, based on recent rulings involving intepretation of the establishment and free-exercise clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
"We knew the project would be valuable only if we had input from the nation's most knowledgeable and objective authorities," said Geoffrey Stone, dean of the University of Chicago Law School and a member of the DVK Center Board of Advisors. Stone also was one of the 18 respondents.
"We created the DVK Center to help safeguard the rights of all Americans of all religions to practice their beliefs without government interference," said David Kahn, founder of the center.
Center Chairman Allen Turner said the organization's goal "is to educate the public on the impact court decisions have on their constitutional right to separation of church and state."