AboutCongress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
- First Amendment to the United States Constitution (ratified December, 15, 1791)
What is this website?This website is an online supplement to Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment (5th ed). It is a database with information about the U.S. Supreme Court’s religion jurisprudence from 1815 through the present. Users can easily download court rulings and browse, search, or sort SCOTUS cases by date, keyword, issue, and more.
This database includes the following information or metadata (when available) about each case:
- Case name
- Case issue
- Case citation and date
- Text of the Supreme Court’s opinion(s) from U.S. Reports
- Holding or ruling
- Author(s) of court rulings
- Ratio of justices supporting/dissenting from ruling
- Religious tradition involved
- State or territory of origin
- Is the legal question(s) related to the free exercise and/or establishment clause?
- Is the law in question a local, state, or federal law?
- Penultimate court of appeal
- Penultimate court ruling(s)
Who is it for?This website is free and accessible to the public. Anyone around the world – from scholars and specialists to students and citizens – can use this tool to learn more about the Supreme Court’s religion jurisprudence.
How to use this websiteThis website is best used as a supplement to the Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment book. That book tells the story of American religious liberty from its colonial beginnings to the latest Supreme Court cases. It provides context and analysis of the cases that are included in this database, and helps readers to understand the history, trends, and significance of the Supreme Court’s religion jurisprudence.
There are several ways to find, search, and sort Supreme Court cases using the tools listed on the left side of the screen:
Search Full-Text Cases: This tool at the top of the left-side menu searches the PDF text of Supreme Court opinions. Due to variations in PDF quality — especially those in the 1800s — this tool is only as accurate as the optical character recognition for each PDF document.
Browse Cases: This tab is a good way to find and sort cases using a variety of filters, such as the legal issue, year, or author of a Supreme Court opinion. For example, if you want to find religion-related cases that were decided in certain year, simply select that year from the drop-down menu in the “Refine Sort” box and the search engine will display a list of cases corresponding to that year.
Search Metadata: This tab is an easy way to find cases using keyword searches. This tool searches the corresponding metadata that our research team has collected for each case. More information on the data collection process can be found here. This tool is very useful but has some limits. For example, it is best to search for one keyword at a time rather than searching for phrases, multiple terms, or full case names or citations. Again, searching for a single term or keyword at one time – rather than searching for a full case name, phrase, or series of words – is the most effective and efficient way to use this tool.
What are the limits of this database?Ambiguous metadata: Our team of legal researchers has collected and analyzed a variety of data points for each case in this database, identifying key categories or “metadata” that are relevant to researchers. Some of these categories are inevitably imprecise. For example, we list information about the religious affiliation or membership of the parties involved in each case. However, some litigants do not fit neatly into predefined religious categories, and some of the Court’s opinions do not explicitly identify litigants’ religious affiliation at all. Thus, some of the information listed under each case is incomplete or vague.
Incomplete records: Our research team aspires to create a comprehensive, open access database that includes the full range of documents and other information about the case from beginning to end – from state and local courts all the way through the Supreme Court – along with expert commentary related to each case. In its current form, this database includes and prioritizes Supreme Court opinions and court rulings in each case’s penultimate court of review.
Search Metadata: The search engine and sorting tools in this website are powerful but not perfect. Searching for a single term or keyword at one time – rather than searching for a full case name, phrase, or series of words – is the most effective and efficient way to use this tool. Searching for multiple keywords or phrases at one time will reduce the number of results for any given search.
Full-Text Search: The search engine works by scanning PDF copies of U.S. Reports documents for instances in which search terms appear. The earliest documents are formatted differently and are of lower quality than the most recent images. This makes it harder for the search engine to return complete and accurate results.