On April 25, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Trump v. Hawaii, a case challenging President Trump’s third and latest ban on travel for nationals of several predominantly Muslim countries. The Court’s decision will most immediately impact the individuals who are barred indefinitely from coming to the United States, as well as their family members and extended communities here in the United States. But more broadly, the outcome in this case will have important repercussions for the ongoing meaningfulness of the First Amendment’s most basic protection against religious discrimination.
Much of the briefing and oral argument before the Supreme Court revolved around statutory questions about the President’s authority to suspend entry into the United States and the Immigration and Nationality Act’s prohibition on nationality-based discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas. But at its core, this case is really about whether the Supreme Court will hold the President accountable for demonizing and vilifying Muslims and Islam, or whether the justices will turn a blind eye to his blatantly discriminatory rhetoric and policies. Regardless of the grounds for the decision, a ruling in favor of the government would send the distinct message that political leaders can gleefully denigrate a religion and its adherents—and then proceed to implement unjustified policies that target and disfavor that religion—without consequence. Such an outcome would have the practical impact of gutting the core of the Establishment Clause. It would send the message to plaintiffs in this litigation, and to religious minorities across the country, that the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom has lost its practical significance.