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Wayne Law professor writes Supreme Court brief for religious freedom case

October 24, 2013

DETROIT — Five law professors from across the country have signed on to an amicus brief written by Wayne State University Law School Associate Professor Christopher Lund in a U.S. Supreme Court religious freedom case.

The six professors, all of whom are scholars in the field of church-and-state, came together to offer their expertise on Town of Greece v. Galloway. The case originated in Greece, N.Y., a small town near Rochester, and involves the town council’s practice of opening its meetings with a prayer from a “chaplain of the month.” The case is on the Supreme Court’s docket for its new session, which began Oct. 7.

The town council began its practice of having opening prayers in 1999, and, since then, nearly all of the volunteer chaplains involved have been Christian. Some residents, including respondents Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and Linda Stephens, an atheist, challenged the practice in 2008 as a violation of the First Amendment. A district court ruled for the town council. That decision was appealed in 2012, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.

This spring, the justices agreed to hear the case, which has drawn dozens of friend-of-the-court briefs, many of which argue that the prayers should be allowed. Lund and the other signatory law professors take a different view.

“I weighed in for a number of reasons,” Lund said. “For one thing, I’ve written a couple of academic articles on legislative prayer. One focused on the history of the congressional chaplaincies. The other focused on modern issues that have come up with legislative prayers. Both discovered things that I thought were surprising. I wanted to write in to tell the court about what I found.”

Lund’s 27-page amicus brief details the impact of legislative prayer on religious believers and on political bodies, as well.

“At its root, the problem with legislative prayer is that it commits the government to making an unparalleled number of religious choices: Inevitably government will have a dangerous degree of discretion over who gets to pray, what they will be allowed to say, and the penalties for nonconformists,” the brief’s summary states.

Many legal scholars, including Lund, consider Town of Greece v. Galloway to be an important case, saying that the Supreme Court’s decision could have far-reaching effects. While the case itself involves prayer before local government bodies, the court could potentially reshape its entire approach to the issue of whether the government can endorse or promote religion more generally.

Lund teaches Religious Liberty in the United States, Constitutional Law and other courses at Wayne Law. His principal scholarly focus is the field of religious liberty, and he is widely published and consulted. He has represented a broad variety of groups and causes. He has worked for the American Civil Liberties Union defending the rights of Christian parents to homeschool their children and for a diverse coalition of religious groups supporting the freedom of Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Lund joined Wayne Law’s faculty in 2009. He is on leave this semester, teaching as a visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and psychology from Rice University and his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law.