Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Stansbury v. Marks case brief summary

Stansbury v. Marks case brief summary (PA 1793):

Jewish citizen subpoenaed to testify on a Saturday. After refusing because it was his Sabbath, he was held in contempt and fined ten pounds. He appeals under the a Pennsylvania Constitution statute which says:
(1) All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences;
(2) That no human authority can in any case whatsoever control or interfere with their rights of conscience;
(3) That no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or modes of worship. 

The Plaintiff argues:
  • Substantive Liberty [cl 1&2]: The PA Const. grants the right to exercise religion according to own conscience, which to him, means that he cannot work on his Saturday Sabbath. Having to testify on Sat interferes w/his right of conscience.
  • Denominational Neutrality [cl 3]: A govt cannot prefer, maintain or support one faith over another. Current law shows a preference to those who worship on Sunday and gives preference to their religious establishment or mode of worship.
  • Neutrality between Religious and Nonreligious reasons: If there are important enough secular reasons to get out of testifying, there should be important enough religious reasons. It is important here to look to the impact of the statute and ask ‘does it generate equality amongst those who are similarly situated?’
The Court relies on different arguments, and rejects Stansbury’s claim for accommodation:
  • Anarchy: If he gets out of this one law under the argument that he obeys his religion, he or others could potentially get out of other laws using the same argument and the result would be anarchy. [God told me to murder my neighbor]
  • Majoritarian Argument [response to d. neutrality]: A unified approach is necessary, b/c it’s impossible to account for all the different Sabbaths and to give everyone that day off; instead, just Sunday off based on majoritarian interest.  Not state’s preference for one religion or another, just following the majority.
  • Formal Neutrality: As long as the law is facially neutral and as long as it treats every citizen solely on virtue of their citizenship, the law is ok (focus: form or intent).
    • C.f. substantive neutrality/equality: calls for govt action that has equal impact, even if this requires the govt to take religion into account
  • Entanglement concerns: What counts as religious observance for accommodation?  Inappropriate for government to try to figure that out.

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