Update: Law Student Writing Competition

The subject of the current Law Student Writing Competition is a case actively before the U.S. Supreme Court. Formerly known as Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley, the case is now known as Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, and there’s a question before the Court as to whether or not the case is still active since the state of Missouri has agreed to allow the church to participate in the funding scheme.  You do not need to change the name of the case in your paper, and either caption will work.

For purposes of this competition, you may, but are not required, to consider portions of the oral arguments that took place on April 19, 2017, but we are asking that you set aside the issue of whether or not the case is moot and render your “decision” based on the underlying merits of the case.

In the event that the ruling comes out before the June 23, 2017 competition deadline, it will not affect the results of this contest.

News – SCOTUS schedules Trinity Lutheran, 7th Circuit Rules on Title VII, and more

Religious Liberty Newsbriefs

The U.S. Supreme Court will finally be hearing oral arguments inTrinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley on April 19, 2017. The Court granted certiorari in January 2016 just before the death of Justice Scalia, and the case has been delayed more than a year. It’s anticipated but uncertain whether Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch will have replaced Scalia by that date on the bench. This case matters because a church is suing the state of Missouri for the ability to participate in a playground replacement program available to other non-profits but not churches under the state constitution. If the Court finds for the church, it could strike a blow to “Blaine Amendments” present in many cases that prohibit state funding of religion.

Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley is also the subject of Founders First Freedoms’ first law student writing competition where law students are being asked to write a model Supreme Court majority opinion in the case. First prize is $1500 and second prize is $750. The entry deadline is 5:00 p.m. on June 23 with judging to be completed in August.  More info is available online at http://foundersfirstfreedom.org/

United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced plans to combat religious hate crimes. In a Memo(https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/955476/download) released April 5,  Sessions states, “We will not tolerate threats or acts of violence targeting any person or community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs or background.  Accordingly, the Hate Crimes Subcommittee will develop a plan to appropriately address hate crimes to better protect the rights of all Americans.  As with many other areas of the Task Force’s work, we are already making significant progress toward our goal of a safer America.  Recently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with law enforcement partners in Israel and elsewhere, helped secure the arrest of a man believed to be responsible for the recent surge in threats of violence against Jewish community centers and synagogues.  I commend their outstanding efforts.”

The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a landmark en banc decision holding 8-3 that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by sexual orientation as it is a form of prohibited sex discrimination. The primary issue is whether the courts can apply current interpretation to existing statutes. Previous courts had ruled that Title VII did not apply to sexual orientation as it was not specifically identified as a protected class. Judge Posner, in a concurring opinion, wrote that although Congress had not passed legislation to expand Title VII to include sexual orientation, “statutory and constitutional provisions frequently are interpreted on the basis of present need and understanding rather than original meaning.” Dissenting justices wrote that “[t]he majority deploys a judge-empowering, common-law decision method that leaves a great deal of room for judicial discretion…. The result is a statutory amendment courtesy of unelected judges,” and called the decision “the circumvention of the legislative process by which the people govern themselves.”   Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana

On March 27, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in three cases brought by employees against religiously-affiliated hospitals. The employees had sued claiming that the hospitals had underfunded their pensions in violation of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The hospitals argued that they had in fact properly funded the pensions, and even if they had not, that they were actually the same as “churches” and therefore eligible for the exception, regardless of whether they primarily engage in religious activity and regardless of “necessary” involvement with the state in terms of funding and health and safety regulations. Others argued that exempting the large religiously affiliated hospitals and health systems from federal pension protections would violate church-state separation by providing them a financial advantage over secular competitors. l rather than a “religious” issue. A decision is expected later this year. (Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton)

On April 3, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on whether a 2016 injunction should be lifted on a Mississippi law, HB 1523, that allows state employees to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and businesses to deny certain wedding-related services to LGBT individuals. Critics of the law state that it is the most discriminatory legislation against the LGBT community in the nation. A decision is expected shortly. During oral arguments, the attorney for the state argued that the 12 plaintiffs who had filed suit against the law lacked standing because they could not establish ‘an injury in fact.” The judges did not seem to buy this argument, and a decision on the merits is expected shortly.  (Bryan v. Barber – you can hear the arguments here)

Announcing the 2017 Law Student Writing Competition

2017 Founders First Freedom Law Student Writing Competition

Deadline: June 23, 2017


  1. Although there is a potential mootness issue that arose just prior to the April 19, 2017 oral arguments, participants are requested to set that issue aside and write on the merits of the case.
  2. The case has been recaptioned Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer. Either caption (Pauley or Comer) is acceptable for the purposes of this competition.
  3. It is not necessary to address the oral arguments in your paper and doing so will not add to or detract from the total points.


Founders First Freedom is pleased to announce our first annual Law Student Writing Competition.

The competition is open to current J.D. and L.L.M. students who are enrolled in law schools in the United States, including students who graduate in the spring of 2017. The writer of the first place entry will be awarded $1,500 and the writer of the second place entry will be awarded $750. All winning entries and selected runner-ups will be posted on the Founders First Freedom website.


In January 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States granted a writ of certiorari in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Pauley (Docket No. 15-577). Although the parties and numerous amici have submitted briefs, the Court has not yet assigned a date for oral argument. The question for this essay contest is identical to the “Questions Presented Report.”   (See https://www.supremecourt.gov/qp/15-00577qp.pdf )

Question Presented

Trinity Lutheran Church applied for Missouri’s Scrap Tire Grant Program so that it could provide a safer playground for children who attend its daycare and for neighborhood children who use the playground after hours–a purely secular matter. But the state denied Trinity’s application solely because it is a church. The Eighth Circuit affirmed that denial by equating a grant to resurface Trinity’s playground using scrap tire material with funding the devotional training of clergy. The Eighth Circuit’s decision was not faithful to this Court’s ruling in Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004), and deepened an existing circuit conflict. Three lower courts–two courts of appeals and one state supreme court–interpret Locke as justifying the exclusion of religion from a neutral aid program where no valid Establishment Clause concern exists. In contrast, two courts of appeals remain faithful to Locke and the unique historical concerns on which it relied.

The question presented is: Whether the exclusion of churches from an otherwise neutral and secular aid program violates the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses when the state has no valid Establishment Clause concern.

Writing Task

Draft a model “Supreme Court majority opinion” addressing the issue before the Court in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley.  Keep in mind that the “question presented” was drafted by the attorneys for Trinity Lutheran Church in the “Petition for a Writ of Certiorari” and makes legal and factual assumptions that were rebutted by the respondent and addressed by amici. Arguments presented therein should not be considered authoritative.

The document should weigh both sides of the argument and reach a persuasive conclusion. Winners will not be determined based on their conclusions, but rather on the strength of the reasoning. If the Supreme Court issues a ruling in advance of the conclusion of the competition, it will not affect the judging in this competition.


The primary documents in the case are the briefs of the petitioner and respondent.  Secondary documents are the amicus briefs. You may reference any relevant case law.

Many of the briefs are accessible at ScotusBlog.com

Eligibility Rules

Submissions must be original works of publishable quality written by a student currently enrolled full- or part-time in a law school in the United States and those graduating in the spring of 2017.

Entries may be adapted from a student’s coursework, and participants are encouraged to communicate with professors and others for assistance but the work presented must be the student’s original work.

Citations and Footnotes

All submissions must comply with the current Harvard Law Review Association’s Bluebook Uniform of Citation and in conformity with legal briefs and Supreme Court opinions as opposed to research papers, in-text case citations are preferred to footnotes or endnotes. However, footnotes may be used for explanatory asides in the tradition of the Court.


Entries should be submitted electronically in Microsoft Word or a compatible format, double-spaced in 12-point type with a 1 to 1.5″ margin. The first page should be a title page with the name of the law student, and the name of their law school. Students who wish to acknowledge the assistance of a faculty member or other person may identify them on the title page. No personally identifying information should appear on the subsequent pages for purposes of neutrality in judging.

A word count of 2,000 to 3,500 words is suggested although shorter or longer documents may be considered. Word count does not include footnotes.


Articles will be judged by a panel of law professors and attorneys.

Winning essays will be persuasive, adequately researched and properly supported by citations, well organized and articulate, and demonstrate an understanding of both sides of the issues.


Submissions must be received by 5:00 p.m. PST on June 23, 2017. The winner will be announced by August 25, 2017.

Submit documents via email to writingcompetition@foundersfirstfreedom.org

Founders First Freedom is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that exists to promote quality education and scholarship in matters involving the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.