The current Supreme Court term began on October 1, 2018, and will continue through Spring 2019. Most matters that come before the court fall under its appellate jurisdiction, meaning a party has appealed to the Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision. The court only agrees to review, or grants certification, when a case is particularly timely, it involves a state supreme court decision, or lower federal courts have issued conflicting decisions (known as a “circuit split.”)

Explore our glossary of Supreme Court terminology, adapted for the Leadership Education Advancing Democracy & Diversity Program (LEADD.)

Maryland-National Capital Park v. American Humanist Association 

Status: Granted certification

On November 2, 2018, the Supreme Court agreed to review a decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding a 40-foot granite cross in a Bladensburg, Maryland, park. Originally build in 1925 as a World War I memorial, the land where the cross is located has been owned by the state since 1961. American Humanist Association alleges that the presence of the cross on public grounds violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The 4th Circuit agreed, rejecting arguments that a cross can be seen as a secular rather than religious symbol. Learn more. 

Patterson v. Walgreen Co. 

Status: Certification pending

A Walgreens employee has asked the Supreme Court to clarify an employer’s obligation to make a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s religious practice. Darrell Patterson, alleges employment discrimination on the basis of his religious beliefs as a 7th Day Adventist. Patterson was fired by Walgreens after he refused to lead an emergency training session on a Saturday. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Walgreens, on the grounds that the company had provided reasonable accommodation by offering him other positions within the company. Learn more. 

R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC

Status: Certification pending

Aimee Stephens was fired from her job at a funeral home after she told her boss that she is a transgender woman and planned to wear women’s business attire to work. Stephens alleges that firing an employee because of her gender identity is a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex. In the lower courts, her former boss argued that he was protected by RFRA because requiring him to employ transgender staff would substantially burden his religious exercise. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his argument and sided with Stephens and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC.) The Supreme Court will focus exclusively on Stephens’ interpretation of the Civil Rights Act.  Learn more. 

Morris County Board v. Freedom From Religion Foundation

Status: Certification pending

This case will build on and clarify the Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer. In Trinity Lutheran, the court struck down Missouri’s practice of excluding religious institutions from state grants after a church was denied funds to resurface their playground. In Morris County Board, a church in New Jersey received a government-funded historic preservation grant. Freedom From Religion Foundation alleges that the grant violates the state constitution’s ban on aid to religion. The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed, but the county has appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. Learn more.

Kennedy v. Bremerton School District

Status: Certification pending

A high school football coach in Washington state was placed on leave after refusing to end his practice of praying with his team after games. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the coach’s request for an injunction that would reinstate him, finding that he was a public employee and not a private citizen while still on the field after games and thus the prayers violate the Establishment Clause. Interfaith Alliance joined an amicus brief in support of the school district when the case was before the 9th Circuit. Learn more.