J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Winners of the Religious Liberty Writing Competition Announced

Sponsors of the Religious Liberty Writing Competition saw more entries this year than any year ever before.

“The number of entries more than doubled since the competition began seven years ago,” said Stephanie Barclay, Chair of the Religious Freedom Committee for the District of Columbia Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Law Society, which co-sponsors the annual competition with the International Center for Law and Religion Studies.

The competition invited students and recent graduates to submit academic papers exploring topics related to domestic or international religious liberty.

“I think that there is tremendous value in encouraging students or recent students to learn more about religious liberty, and to dig deep into some of these issues,” Barclay said. “It allows them to focus on angles that are helpful both from a scholarly perspective and from the point of view of practitioners who are trying to defend religious liberty in a positive way for society.”

Barclay says that organizers are thrilled to see increased awareness of and participation in the competition, adding that the increase parallels a surge in broader societal participation in matters related to religious freedom.

“Religious liberty issues are coming more frequently to the forefront of the public discourse and these topics matter to a lot of people,” Barclay said.

Entries this year covered topics including analysis of the Establishment Clause, interpretations of Title VII, discussion of political PACs and the Affordable Care Act, and even the intersection between the Free Exercise Clause and facial hair.

Barclay said that not only did the quantity of submissions in the competition increase this year, but the quality of the papers has risen significantly over the history of the competition as well. The winning entries can be seen at https://www.iclrs.org/index.php?pageId=1&contentId=1&blurbId=68507.

This year’s first place winner is Herman Hofman, a recent graduate of the law school at Michigan State University and current federal judicial clerk. His paper analyzed the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Obergefell v. Hodges and argued that the decision combined with the doctrine set forth in Bob Jones University v. United States has opened the door for courts to extend the Bob Jones doctrine in ways that could significantly impact non-profit organizations that oppose same-sex marriage.

Hofman, whose father is a pastor, said conversations about religious freedom and legal issues impacting faith communities were common topics around the dinner table growing up. He said he watched with interest the commentary that followed the Obergefell decision. “I followed that case and could see there were a lot of ramifications for religious liberty,” he said. But he did not see any articles that “were in line with what my voice would say.” “I thought I could contribute to the scholarship out there by giving a different perspective,” he said. Opportunities for students and others to contribute to religious freedom scholarship are important, Hofman said, because “it helps to inform all parties as to the ramifications of government decisions.” “It is undisputed that religion played a large role in the founding of our country, and it still plays a huge role in the lives of many people today,” he said.

Second place went to Courtney Miller, a recent graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, and third place went to Lisa Mathews, a current student at the George Mason School of Law.

The winners received cash prizes funded by the Jack P. Peterson and Maude Birkin Peterson Foundation and a grant connected with the competition, and they were honored in Washington, D.C. on October 6th at the annual Religious Liberty Award Dinner and Reception sponsored by the Law Society.

Elizabeth Clark, Associate Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, said that the record number of submissions this year was very exciting. “One way we can make a difference in legal culture is providing the opportunity for law students to think seriously about these kinds of issues,” she said. “Issues of law and religion are both deeply felt and core to how society is organized. It is important to have people who can be thoughtful and not just polemical.”

By Brooke Nelson Edwards, Member of District of Columbia Mid-Atlantic Chapter

Posted: November 17, 2016