Skip to main content
Supreme Court of the United States

Accommodation of Conscience: An American Tradition

By Gregory S. Baylor posted on:
October 17, 2017

I was privileged to speak at Duke Law School yesterday about Ward v. Wilbanks, an Alliance Defense Fund case in which Eastern Michigan University expelled a counseling graduate student for her religious beliefs and her unwillingness to perform counseling that violated her conscience.  I am grateful to the Federalist Society -- both the national organization and the Duke chapter -- for hosting the event.

In my presentation, I recounted some manifestations of the long American tradition of accommodating conscience.  Colonies and young states disestablished their churches (and the federal government never established a national church) in part on the ground that compelling direct support of the inherently religious activities of a particular house of worship or denomination can violate the consciences of those who dissent from some or all of that church's beliefs.  Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution permits the incoming (or re-elected) President to "affirm" rather than "swear" to "faithfully execute the Office . . . ," an accommodation of those that believe that Christians ought not to swear oaths.  The United States has long accommodated many of those who have a conscientious objection to military service.  Federal and state laws protect at least some of those who conscientiously object to participation in or payment for abortion, sterilization, or contraception.

The point, of course, is that what Ms. Ward seeks in her lawsuit is not particularly unusual in American law and history.  Contrary to this long tradition, EMU failed to accommodate her conscience, expelling her for declining to participate in activities that would have violated her religious convictions -- and for refusing to change her religious beliefs.  Harm to third parties from her exercise of conscience was minimal to non-existent.  I am hopeful that the U.S. Court of  Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which recently heard oral argument on Ms. Ward's appeal of a district court ruling against her, will issue a ruling consistent with the American tradition of accommodating conscience.

 Join the conversation Facebook.com/SpeakUpU
Sound off below – Leave a comment!


Gregory S. Baylor

Gregory S. Baylor

Senior Counsel

Gregory S. Baylor serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is the director of the Center for Religious Schools and Senior Counsel for Government Affairs.


Capitol building
Attorney General Garland Stands By Use of Federal Law Enforcement to Investigate Parents

Attorney General Garland’s memo is a severe government overreach that chills the constitutionally protected speech of those who rightly object to ill-considered policies that harm our nation’s school children.

Resolution 1
Senate Resolution Reminds Us Why Religious Education Should Be Celebrated

Earlier this week, Senator Lindsay Graham introduced Senate Resolution 407, legislation that celebrates religious schools and their contributions to our country by designating the first week of October as “Religious Education Week.”

Child and parents
ADF to AG Garland: Concerned Parents Aren’t “Domestic Terrorists”

Parents expressing concern over CRT, gender theory, and COVID-related mandates in public schools do not qualify as “domestic terrorists.”