A University of Toledo law professor’s scholarly research about the Founding Fathers’ definition of religion was cited in the majority opinion in a case prominently associated with President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
Professor Lee Strang’s article “The Meaning of ‘Religion’ in the First Amendment” was published in the Duquesne Law Review in 2002.
It was cited in the majority opinion in the 2013 case of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. vs. Sebelius in the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals based in Denver, in which Judge Gorsuch joined the majority.
That ruling held in favor of a corporation and its owners to be able to claim religious-liberty objections. The owners of the business objected to paying for what they considered to be life-terminating contraception required under the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Strang, 42, said he wrote the article on his own time while he was working as a law clerk in the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals based in Cincinnati.
The 60-page article was based on his research into how the framers of the Constitution viewed religion. He said he looked up every use of the word “religion” in writings by anyone involved in crafting or ratifying the Constitution to find out what they meant by it.
He concluded that the framers’ understanding of religion was a belief in a deity, with duties in this life, and with a future state of rewards and punishments.
The article said that when the framers changed their terminology from protecting “conscience” to protecting the “free exercise” of religion in the First Amendment they wanted to protect religious practice, which is something a group of people can do.
“Groups of human beings can’t have a conscience, but groups of humans beings can exercise religion,” he said.
The Supreme Court upheld the ruling allowing closely held corporations to have the right of religious freedom in its 2014 case Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.
“It’s the highlight of a law professor’s life,” Mr. Strang said. “When you see a court cite your opinion and it’s a key part of their reasoning, that’s very gratifying. I feel I had a part in helping to protect religious liberty.”
Mr. Strang said he’s updated his article since 2002 by using electronic document searches and is to present his findings Friday at Brigham Young University in Utah.