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Amicus Briefs

Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania (consolidated with Trump v. Pa.) (2020)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation signed onto this coalition brief that was filed with the Supreme Court. This case centered around the Affordable Care Act, which required employer-provided health plans to cover preventive care for women. Since 2013, there have been accommodations exempting houses of worship from this requirement once notice was given that they wanted one. 

The Trump administration sought to dramatically increase exemptions to the contraceptive mandate and this brief argued that the administration breached the First Amendment by allowing certain religion-based exemptions from required birth-control coverage.

Richard Katzke of Americans United for Separation of Church and State was counsel of record on this amicus and filed it on behalf of FFRF and twenty-four other like minded organizations on this brief.

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Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru (consolidated with St. James School v. Biel) (2020)

FFRF filed this 2020 brief with the Supreme Court in support of a woman who was fired by her employer, a religious school, while she underwent treatment for breast cancer. The school argued that they had the right to conduct hiring, firing and other employment decisions under the claim that their teachers are subject to the ministerial exemption.

This amicus brief focused on the concerns over allowing religious organizations to have a carte blanche to hire and fire without regard to the civil rights of their employees. The brief also examined how this could affect the millions of healthcare workers that are employed by religious hospitals. 

FFRF partnered with the American Medical Women’s Association in filing this brief.

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Tanzin v. Tanvir (2020)

FFRF filed this brief with the Supreme Court on January 14, 2020 in support of neither party. This case was brought by three Muslim men who sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) after they were put on the no-fly list for refusing to be government spies in their religious communities.

The amicus discussed the issues that could arise if government employees could be held personally liable for monetary damages under RFRA. It would require public servants to evaluate whether the laws they’re enforcing require a religious exemption as part of their job.

The brief was written by Constitutional legal scholar Marci Hamilton and the American Humanist Association joined FFRF in filing this brief.

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International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump (2019)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation signed onto this coalition brief that was filed with the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. It argues against the Trump era ban on immigrants from several Muslim-majority countries. FFRF specifically took a position against this ban because the policy impinges the rights of Muslims, other religious minorities, and non-believers.

This brief was filed by the Bernabie & Kabat law firm. Groups that also joined on the brief include Advocates for Youth, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law, Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Mississippi Center for Justice, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Urban League, People for the American Way Foundation; Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. 

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Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue (2019)

This Supreme Court amicus brief was filed by FFRF on November 13, 2019. It argued against the governmental funding of religious education through a neo-voucher system that would have provided a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donors that supported scholarships for private schools. The brief also relies on the No Aid Clause of the Montana constitution that prevents the direct or indirect payments for sectarian education.

FFRF was joined by the Center for Inquiry, American Atheists, and the American Humanist Association in filing this brief. 

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New Hope Family Services Inc v. Poole (2019)

FFRF filed this amicus brief with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on October 28, 2019 in collaboration with other secular organizations against an organization who sought to receive a religious exemption from New York State’s non-discrimination laws. New Hope Family Services, a Christian adoption agency, argued that they should be allowed to exclude same-sex couples from adopting. This brief argued that the adoption agency should not be allowed to be exempt from non-discrimination laws and should instead focus on serving the best interests of the children in their care.

This brief was filed by Geoffrey Blackwell of American Atheists. The American Humanist Association and Center For Inquiry also signed on.

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Fields v. Speaker of the Penn. House of Representatives (2019)

This brief was filed in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in support of non-believers who were denied the opportunity to lead an invocation. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives began most legislative sessions with a prayer from a guest chaplain, preventing those with no faith from participating. This brief argued that Pennsylvania House's policy of excluding non-believers is a violation of the Establishment Clause.

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June Medical Services v. Gee (2019)

FFRF filed this Supreme Court amicus brief with a group of 71 other organizations in support of abortion rights. This brief argued against a Louisiana law that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. It also explains that these types of barriers make it more difficult for clinics to operate and often lead to unnecessary closures. 

This brief was filed by Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in collaboration with the National Women's Law Center. 

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Lions Club of Albany, CA v. City of Albany (2019)

FFRF filed this brief before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the removal of a 20-foot cross that was located on city property. In an attempt to distance themselves from ownership of the cross the City of Albany granted an easement to the Lion’s Club for the purpose of upkeep. This brief argued that granting the Lion’s Club an easement to the land was not a solution and that the cross remained unconstitutional because it was still on city land.

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The American Legion v. American Humanist Association (2019)

FFRF filed this amicus brief in collaboration with four other secular groups in opposition to a 40-foot cross on public land in Maryland. The Bladensburg cross was originally erected as a war memorial for those who died in the first World War. This brief argued that the monument was not constitutional or representative of the faith backgrounds of veterans it claimed to represent. 

Counsel of record on this brief was Robert Loeb of Orrick, Herrington, and Sutcliffe LLP. FFRF was joined by the Center for Inquiry, American Atheists, Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, and the Secular Coalition for America in signing onto this brief. FFRF previously filed an amicus brief with CFI when this case was before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Espinosa v. Dzurenda et al (2018)

This amicus brief was filed in collaboration with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. This case centers around a Nevada inmate who identified as a Humanist and was denied the right to meet with other Humanist inmates on the basis that Humanism doesn't require the belief in a god. 

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Cambridge Christian School v. Florida High School Athletic Association (2017)

This brief was filed with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on December 11, 2017 in support of the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA). This case centered around a christian school that wanted to compel the FHSAA to broadcast prayers at state football championship games. The school requested access to the PA system so that prayers could be broadcast before games and FHSAA denied this request. 

FFRF’s brief argued that a private religious school did not have a constitutional right to use a PA system at a state-sponsored event. It went on to explain that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protects only private speech, not government speech. If the FHSAA were forced to broadcast Christian prayers, it would have violated the constitutional rights of thousands of families.

This brief was filed in collaboration with the Central Florida Freethought Community. An amicus was filed at the District Court level in the case as well. 

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Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2017)

FFRF filed this Supreme Court amicus brief on October 27, 2017. This case centered around a baker who refused to design and bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. In response, the couple filed a discrimination complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The commission found that the baker had violated the couple’s rights under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA). The baker argued that the Free Exercise Clause protected him from enforcement of CADA.

This amicus brief argued that the bakery sought to redefine the free exercise into an unlimited right to act on religious beliefs, which is contrary to historic precedent. Second, granting this type of religious exemption would have far-reaching effects beyond this one issue. This is because there is no practical way to draw a line between things like religiously motivated discrimination and discrimination motivated by nonreligious beliefs.

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Taxpayers for Public Education v. Douglas County School District (2017)

This Colorado Supreme Court amicus brief was filed on October 25, 2017 in support of a challenge to school vouchers. After the Trinity Lutheran case was decided this case was brought back for reconsideration. It focused on a program that provided certain students funding to offset tuition at participating private schools.

FFRF’s brief argued that the tax dollars should not go to benefit religion. It also argues that the No Aid Clause in the Colorado Constitution is there to protect religious freedom for all by avoiding preferential treatment for one specific religion.

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Trump v. Hawaii (2017)

This amicus brief was filed by FFRF on September 14, 2017 in opposition to then President Trump's travel ban on immigration from several Muslim-majority countries. This brief argued that the executive order, "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States," violated the Establishment Clause. The executive order effectively established Christianity as a favored religion and Christians as favored members of society, while overtly discriminating against Muslims. The brief goes on to explain that this type of discrimination could easily be applied with other minority views, such as nonbelievers. 

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St. Raphael's Congregation v. City of Madison (2017)

 This amicus brief was filed on June 28, 2016 in support of the taxation of a vacant plot of land that was the location of a church. The lot was once the site of St. Raphael's Cathedral as well as a dilapidated school building that was torn down. Because the conjoined lot was vacant, the city began taxing the property in 2012. That prompted the church to add a "Way of the Cross" walking path with plans to rebuild the church at some point. The church then claimed the property was tax exempt because it was being used for religious purposes.

FFRF’s brief argued in favor of the city of Madison levying taxes on the property. It further explained that because the property was vacant and merely being held for future development, it did not qualify for a tax exemption under Wisconsin law.

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Ming Tung v. China Buddhist Association (2016)

The Freedom from Religion Foundation filed this brief with the Supreme Court on November 4th, 2016 in support of the petitioners. This case revolved around a property dispute between the China Buddhist Association and the sole surviving member of the original Board of Trustees.

FFRF argued that church property issues should be handled with ordinary secular law and that no special attention should be given to the fact that the properties were religious in nature. It further explained that as more people begin to identify as non-religious and churches begin selling off their property this issue will become more common, thus, a consistent and neutral application of law is important to establish.

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American Humanist Association v. Birdville Independent School District (2016)

This coalition brief was filed in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the American Humanist Association and a high school student. This was a challenge to a Texas school district who selected students to deliver prayers to the public at its school board meetings.

This amicus brief argued that the Birdville school board's practice was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The practice also encouraged community backlash and antagonism toward nontheists, while creating divisiveness in the community.

The brief was filed in collaboration with the Center for Inquiry, American Atheists, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and the Secular Coalition for America.

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Catholic Health Initiatives v. Janeen Medina (2016)

This brief was filed before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in a case surrounding religious exemptions for retirement plans. The Employment Retirement Income Security Act regulates retirement plans, but exempts those managed by churches from requirements such as paying insurance premiums, meeting minimum funding standards, and disclosing funding levels to plan participants. 

FFRF made the argument that this exemption violated the Establishment Clause and that imposing the same requirements on religious plans as for all others would not be an excessive entanglement of government and religion. It goes on to explain that this exemption has led to under regulation and deficient plans through churches.

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Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer (2016)

FFRF filed this brief in collaboration with like-minded organizations in support of the denial of a government grant to a church. Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, MO applied for a state grant to fund the upgrade of a playground for their preschool. Their application was denied by the state because the Establishment Clause prohibits direct payment of taxpayer funds to churches and other houses of worship.

This brief took the position that the state was correct to deny the grant application because it would otherwise be an Establishment Clause violation. Additionally, the limited record before the court showed a significant risk that the church would use its taxpayer-improved playground for religious activities. 

This brief was co-filed with the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Missouri, American Humanist Association, Center for Inquiry, and People for the American Way Foundation. 

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Final Exit Network, Inc. v. State of Minnesota (2016)

This brief was filed before the State of Minnesota Court of Appeals in support of the Final Exit Network, an organization who believe in the rights of mentally competent adults to voluntarily end their own life. In May of 2015 they were convicted of the felony of assisting a suicide because they provided a Minnesota resident with the necessary information for her to be able to end her own life.

FFRF’s brief argued that suppressing information on the subject of end of life care would have a direct impact on freethinkers and others who support the rights of individuals to make end of life decisions without religious influence. Additionally, it explained that the Minnesota statute applied in the case would have a chilling effect on speech because it is impossible to discern what speech was permitted under the law.

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Lund, et al v. Rowan County (2015)

FFRF joined a coalition to file this brief in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in opposition to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners’ prayer practice. Rowan County officials typically opened their meetings with prayer led by the commissioners and then instructed attendees to join in those prayers.

This brief argued that the prayer practice put pressure on citizens of varying or no faith to violate their conscience by participating in Christian religious exercises. It also pushed back on the notion that Greece v. Galloway would allow for this type of legislative prayer.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State authored the brief. It was also joined by the American Humanist Association, Anti-Defamation League, Center for Inquiry, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, Sikh Coalition, Union for Reform Judaism, and Women of Reform Judaism. 

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Kaplan v. Saint Peter's Healthcare System (2015)

FFRF filed this amicus brief in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that concerns religious exemptions for retirement plans. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) regulates retirement plans, but exempts church plans from requirements such as paying insurance premiums, meeting minimum funding standards, and disclosing funding levels to plan participants.

FFRF’s brief argued that the "church plan exemption" itself is unconstitutional under the First Amendment because it treats churches preferentially.

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Stapleton v. Advocate Healthcare Network (2015)

This amicus brief was filed on May 13, 2015 in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a case surrounding religious exemptions for retirement plans. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) regulates retirement plans, but exempts church plans from requirements such as paying insurance premiums, meeting minimum funding standards, and disclosing funding levels to plan participants.

FFRF’s brief made the argument that the "church plan exemption" itself is unconstitutional under the First Amendment because it treats churches preferentially.

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Beaton v. City of Eureka (2015)

FFRF filed this brief with the California Court of Appeals on April 22, 2014 in support of a local atheist who opposed the city council opening their meetings with prayers. Prior to 2009, the town had no official policy on invocations. Beginning that year, anyone who volunteered was permitted to give an invocation. The practice of sectarian prayers at meetings was challenged in 2012 by the plaintiff and local resident.

The brief argued that prayers at government meetings violate the constitution. It goes on to explain that the California Constitution provides protection of the separation of state and church and that the government should refuse to use its power to endorse religious practices. 

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Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014)

This coalition amicus brief was filed in the Supreme Court on January 27, 2014. At issue in this case was the corporation Hobby Lobby’s argument that it was “a person” under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and that the federal government’s mandate on contraceptive insurance imposed a substantial burden on the corporation’s claimed Christian beliefs.

This brief countered Hobby Lobby’s claim that for-profit corporations have a right to deny contraceptive coverage to workers based on religious objections. It argued that the intensity surrounding religious freedom and women’s reproductive health obscured the fact that the unconstitutionality of RFRA was the real issue that the court should have ruled on. FFRF’s interest in this case arose from its radical redefinition of religious liberty to include the right to impose those beliefs on others.

This brief was drafted by Constitutional legal scholar Marci Hamilton. FFRF was joined by BishopAccountability.org, Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD), the Child Protection Project, the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse, Survivors for Justice, and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

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Town of Greece v. Galloway (2013)

FFRF filed this amicus brief on September 23, 2013 in the Supreme Court. This case centered around the town of Greece, NY, which began scheduling prayers to open meetings starting in 1999. Up until that point, two-thirds of the prayers had been sectarian Christian. Two local residents challenged the prayer practice as unconstitutional, one of whom was Jewish and the other an atheist. 

The brief focuses on the argument of overturning Marsh v. Chambers, the 1983 decision that originally allowed for nonsectarian government prayer. It further explains that because legislative invocations are government speech that it is prohibited by the Establishment Clause.

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Matthews v. Kountze Independent School District (2012)

This amicus brief was filed in October 2012 in support of the Kountze Independent School District (KISD). The issue in the case arose after KISD hosted cheerleader banners with bible verses painted on them for the football team to run through during games. FFRF sent KISD a letter of complaint in September of 2012. The District adopted a new policy on banners and requested that the cheerleading squad stop putting bible verses on run-through banners.   Several cheerleaders then brought a lawsuit against the District.

FFRF’s brief focused on the argument that the cheerleaders’ banners were not an exercise of free speech. The brief argued that the banners were government speech as they were displayed in a context implying school endorsement and because the school had effective control over the messages.

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Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn (2010)

This coalition amicus brief was filed with the Supreme Court on September 22, 2010. The case involved tax credits for donations to groups that provide tuition payments to private, religious schools. The program started in 1997 and allowed dollar-for-dollar income tax credits for individuals who contributed to School Tuition Organizations.

This brief made the argument that the scholarship program was unconstitutional because it violates the Arizona and US Constitutions as they both prohibit government funding of religious institutions. 

This brief was drafted by Attorney Bob Ritter of the American Humanist Association. FFRF joined the brief alongside the American Ethical Union, Atheist Alliance International, Center for Inquiry, Council for Secular Humanism, Institute for Humanist Studies, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, Society for Humanistic Judaism, and Universalist Association. 

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Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (2010)

This coalition amicus brief was filed with the Supreme Court on March 15, 2010 in collaboration with like-minded organizations. The case centered around the formation of a Christian Legal Society (CLS) student club at the UC Hastings College of the Law (now UC Law San Francisco). The law school had a non-discrimination policy that required official student clubs to be open to all regardless of faith or sexual orientation. CLS sought an exemption from the non-discrimination policy on the basis that it had a statement of faith that included restricting marriage between a man and a woman. The law school refused to provide an exemption to the policy.

The amicus brief argued that CLS was allowed to have restrictions on their membership, however, they were not entitled to school approval of their discriminatory policies. Additionally, it argued that Hastings College of the Law’s non-discrimination was allowed because it was neutral and generally applied to every student group. 

This brief was drafted by Attorney Bob Ritter of the American Humanist Association. FFRF joined the brief along with The American Ethical Union, Atheist Alliance International, Institute for Humanist Studies, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, and Secular Student Alliance. 

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Satawa v.  Road Commissioners of Macomb County (2009)

FFRF filed this amicus brief with the Eastern District Court of Michigan on December 9, 2009 on behalf of the Macomb County Road Commission. The case centered around a nativity display that had been placed without a permit along a road in Warren, MI for the previous sixty years. The Road Commission requested the removal of the display to avoid the appearance of religious endorsement.  

This amicus brief argued that the Macomb County Road Commission was right to request the removal of the display. It explained that if the Commission allowed the display to stand that it would be an endorsement of religion and a violation of the Establishment Clause.

The brief was drafted and filed on FFRF’s behalf by Attorney Danielle J. Hessell of Butzel Long Law Firm.

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Salazar v. Buono (2009)

FFRF filed this amicus brief with the Supreme Court on August 5, 2009. At issue in this case was an effort to save a large cross on public land in the Mojave Desert through a land transfer. This cross was framed as a memorial for World War I veterans.

This brief focused on the fact that many veterans are not religious and did not feel represented by the religious message the cross conveyed. It explained that the Foundation’s own membership was made up of many veterans who identified as atheist or non-religious. It also argued that a land transfer was not a viable solution and the cross should have instead been relocated to a new piece of land. 

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Roe v. Rio Linda Union School District (2006)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed this Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Brief on July 21, 2006 in support of the removal of “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. This case was brought by an atheist mother on behalf of her child as a challenge to the teacher-led recitation of the pledge and the “under God” language. 

This brief argued that due to the “under God” language the pledge is forced religious exercise and indoctrination. It also argues that required recitation of the Pledge created a religious requirement for participation in the government.

This brief was drafted and filed on FFRF’s behalf by Attorney George Daly. 

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McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky (2005)

FFRF filed this amicus brief with the Supreme Court on January 7, 2005 in support of the ACLU. The ACLU sued two Kentucky counties after they placed framed pictures of the Ten Commandments in their courthouses. After the counties received unfavorable rulings they added other historic and religious documents along with interpretive signs in an attempt to claim the documents were important to the founding of the United States.

This brief argued that the displays violated the Establishment Clause because they endorsed a particular religion. It also argued that the addition of other documents and signage did not negate the intrinsically religious nature of the Ten Commandments.

This brief was drafted and filed on FFRF’s behalf by Attorney James A. Friedman.

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Van Orden v. Perry (2004)

FFRF filed this Supreme Court amicus on December 13, 2004. At issue in this case was a Ten Commandments monument that was gifted to the state of Texas for display at the capitol.

This brief argued that the Ten Commandments display was a violation of the Establishment Clause because it gave the appearance of the state endorsing religion.

This brief was drafted and filed on FFRF’s behalf by Attorney James A. Friedman.

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Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow (2004)

FFRF filed this amicus brief in the Supreme Court in February 2004. This case was centered around a challenge to The Pledge of Allegiance in the Elk Grove Unified School District by Michael Newdow.

This brief argued that the Pledge was unconstitutional in a school setting and shouldn’t be recited regardless of whether or not students are willing. It goes on to argue that the “under God” language is harmful to students whose parents are raising them to be non-religious.

This brief was drafted and filed on FFRF’s behalf by Attorney Robert Tiernan.

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Newdow v. U.S. Congress (2003)

This Supreme Court brief was filed on July 25, 2003 in support of Michael Newdow. At issue in this case was the petition to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

FFRF’s brief argued that having “under God” in the Pledge is unnecessarily divisive and unrepresentative of those who are non-religious. 

This brief was drafted and filed on FFRF’s behalf by Attorney Robert Tiernan.

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Koenick v. Felton (1997)

This Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals brief was filed in collaboration with other organizations on December 2, 1997. This case centered around the state of Maryland establishing Good Friday and Easter Monday as public school holidays.

This brief took the position that allowing these to be public school holidays is an Establishment Clause violation and endorses Christianity. FFRF had a particular interest in this case because of its successful 1996 challenge to Good Friday as a state holiday in Wisconsin. 

FFRF was joined in filing this brief by the National Council on Islamic Affairs, Americans for Religious Liberty, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Humanist Association and the American Ethical Union.

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Capitol Square v. Pinette (1995)

FFRF filed this Supreme Court amicus brief on February 23, 1995. This brief was filed in opposition to the Ku Klux Klan’s request to put up a cross on the state-house plaza in Columbus, Ohio, during the 1993 Christmas season.

This brief took the position that an unattended cross display is a violation of the Establishment Clause and it should not be permitted to be on public grounds. It argued that the First Amendment should not be applied to religious speech in this instance because it forced the government to endorse a particular religion.

This brief was drafted and filed on FFRF’s behalf by Attorney Robert Tiernan.

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