At 9:00 a.m. on June 16, 2022, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in Redlich v. City of St. Louis, a case that challenges the City’s interference with a pastor’s efforts to share food with homeless people on the City’s streets. This appeal follows a federal magistrate judge’s opinion that affirmed the City’s requirement for Pastor Ray Redlich and his colleague, Chris Ohnimus, to comply with the same regulations that apply to restaurants and grocery stores before they may fulfill their religious obligation to provide wholesome food to those who are hungry.
This case is at the very cutting edge of the law when it comes to religious liberty and the freedom of expression. Prior to the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith, governments were required to make reasonable accommodations when laws interfered with religious practices, but the opinion in that case concluded that as long as a law applied generally to everyone and did not specifically target a particular religious group or religious act, the First Amendment did not prevent the enforcement of that law. This decision effectively eliminated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of citizens’ right to freely exercise their religion–and for the past three decades public interest groups have been trying to persuade the Supreme Court to return to the vigorous protection of religious liberty the nation enjoyed prior to Employment Division. Indeed, we have raised in this case the question of whether Employment Division should be overturned.
But even if Employment Division remains in place, we have argued that Pastor Ray’s and Chris’s ministry should still get the highest degree of constitutional protection because sharing food with the homeless is both an act of religious worship and an act intended to communicate a message. For those who receive the food, it communicates that God loves all of us and provides for us no matter what our circumstances. For the surrounding community, it communicates that this is the way God has called us to serve each other, to go out of our way to meet the needs of our neighbors who are hungry and hurting. Consequently, this act of sharing food with the hungry is what the majority opinion in Employment Division called a “hybrid right” that requires courts to strictly scrutinize any government regulations that would interfere with or prevent the exercise of that right.
For anyone interested in attending the oral arguments, they will take place in the courtroom on the 28th Floor of the Eagleton Courthouse in downtown St. Louis. The public is welcome to attend, although masks are currently required for anyone entering the courthouse and seating may be limited. For anyone interested in reading the arguments on both sides, the briefs the parties submitted are attached below:Redlich-Initial-Brief_MAILED