The Yale Law Journal

November 2018

A Legal Sanctuary: How the Religious Freedom Restoration Act Could Protect Sanctuary Churches

Constitutional LawImmigration LawFirst Amendment

abstract. The last three decades have witnessed tectonic shifts in the doctrine and political valence of laws protecting religious exercise. In this Note, I analyze how this change has created the potential for sanctuary churches to receive greater legal protections today than during the 1980s sanctuary movement. This case study illustrates significant shifts in religious accommodation doctrine and helps to illuminate the transsubstantive nature of religious exercise protections. By drawing attention to sanctuary claims, this Note also helps to disrupt the existing partisan divide over religious freedom by reminding progressives of the potential value of RFRA claims for marginalized individuals, while highlighting to conservatives the importance of placing limits on religious accommodation claims. My hope is that this will motivate a return to an earlier consensus around accommodation as a means to protect systemically vulnerable groups and individuals in our society.

author. Yale Law School, J.D. 2018. I am exceptionally grateful to Douglas NeJaime, Nelson Tebbe, Rebecca Scott, and Reva Siegel for their insight and patience in reviewing drafts of this Note. I would also like to thank Adam Bradlow, Amit Jain, Brian Soucek, Daniel Mach, Douglas Laycock, John Fabian Witt, Joseph Meyers, Kate Redburn, Katherine Franke, Lucas Guttentag, Marisol Orihuela, Mark Rienzi, Muneer Ahmad, and Rose Cuison Villazor for their feedback as I worked through the ideas in this Note. And a special thank you to Daniel Strunk for his excellent work as editor for this piece.