First Amendment Center Year in Review (2022-2023)

As we move into a new academic year, the Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center proudly concludes another successful campaign of inspiring events, meaningful dialogue around First Amendment issues, and exceptional achievements by our liaisons and Law and Religion Clinic students. Professor Steven T. Collis continues to lead the Center and Clinic in realizing its core mission of understanding, exploring, and defending the rights secured by the First Amendment. Here is a summary of the great things we accomplished over the past twelve months.

Introducing our Board of Advisors

We are thrilled to present the Center’s Board of Advisors. These outstanding thought and business leaders have generously agreed to advise and support the Center in its mission. We are honored to share their affiliation with us.

Events and Programming

The Center was honored to host many events at the University of Texas. Recognized First Amendment scholars and thought leaders led our community in critical discussions about topics ranging from the rise of the religious “Nones,” China’s genocide of the Uyghurs, the right to assembly, Islam and religious freedom, and the free exercise of religion. These conversations are available to view at the links below:

Professor Mark Movsesian (St. John’s University School of Law)
A discussion on his recent essay “The New Thoreaus” and how the law should treat religious “Nones.”

View conversation here.

Nury Turkel, Chair of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom and
author of No Escape: The True Story of China’s Genocide of the Uyghurs
USCIRF Chair Nury Turkel discusses his memoir and the questions it raises regarding the US and global response to the Chinese Communist Party.

View conversation here.

Professor John Inazu and Revisiting the Right to Assembly
A conversation with Professor John Inazu (Washington University in St. Louis School of Law) and Dean Bobby Chesney (Texas Law).

View conversation here.

Islam and Religious Freedom in a Post-Christian America
Professor Asma Uddin (Catholic University Columbus School of Law) and Emma Green (The New Yorker)

View conversation here.

Second-Best Free Exercise with Professor Christopher Lund
UT Law Alum, Professor Christopher Lund (Wayne State University School of Law)

View conversation here.

Upcoming Events (with more in the works):

  • September 20, 2023: Professors Michael McConnell (Stanford Law) and Nathan Chapman (University of Georgia Law) discuss their new book Agreeing to Disagree: How the Establishment Clause Protects Religious Diversity and Freedom of Conscience (Inalienable Rights), with responses from Professors Chris Lund (Wayne State Law) and Elizabeth Sepper (Texas Law).
  • October 16, 2023: Jacob Mchangama (Director of Justitia and author of Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media) on the History of Free Speech.
  • October 18, 2023 (Free Speech Week): Co-sponsored with the Civitas Institute and the Strauss Center, Judge Kyle Duncan (Judge—Fifth Circuit), Ilana Redstone (Illinois), and Vincent Lloyd (Villanova) on freedom of speech on campus and in learning.
  • October 27, 2023: Judge Ryan Nelson (U.S. Court of Appeals Judge for the Ninth Circuit) on Judicial Perspective on the First Amendment.
  • February 7, 2024: Professor Franciska Coleman (Wisconsin) on the anatomy of a cancel culture crisis and how college administrators should respond.
  • February 27, 2024: Professor Jonathan Haidt (NYU) and Jonathan Rauch (Brookings) discuss the formation of knowledge and the role of the university and heterodox ideas in that process.

The Law and Religion Clinic Continues Important Work

Fall 2022 Clinic Students                                             Spring 2023 Clinic Students                 

The fall 2022 and spring 2023 Law and Religion Clinic cohorts fully engaged in exploring religious freedom law in the United States, grew in their lawyering skills, and helped protect the rights of a number of vulnerable clients. Key cases included contributing to a significant victory for Amish clients in Minnesota, filing amicus briefs in the United States Supreme Court, and representing Native American citizens whose sacred religious site is facing destruction. The spring 2023 class, once again, participated in Yale’s Religious Liberty Speaker Series with their counterparts in the clinics at the Notre Dame, Yale, St. Thomas, Pepperdine, Harvard, and Stanford law schools in exploring the latest and most foundational legal scholarship in the field.

Our casework continues to involve representing a broad range of religious groups and individuals, including (but not limited to):

  • Filed multiple amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Representing Amish families being forced to use technology against their will.
  • Helping several churches with employment manuals.
  • Representing a Hindu client arrested in a public park for exercising his religion by protesting cruelty to animals in a respectful way.
  • Helping a Native American group whose sacred site is being destroyed by a city government.
  • Advising several religious groups on how to strengthen the clergy-penitent privilege.
  • Representing a Christian ministry being kicked off their community college campus.
  • Advising Muslim halfway houses on a variety of matters.

Our students accomplished so much this past year, and those who graduated are now on their way to jobs with sophisticated law firms across the country, positions with federal agencies or nonprofits, or clerkships in the United States Supreme Court and the Ninth, Fifth, Sixth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits, as well as a number of federal district courts or state supreme courts. For Fall 2024, we are excited to welcome the largest group of students we have ever had and look forward to seeing the amazing things they do.

Center Community Update

Welcome Professor John Greil

Professor John Greil

After a nationwide search, Texas Law welcomed Professor John Greil in January 2023 to help teach the Law & Religion Clinic. Professor Greil graduated cum laude from both Harvard Law School and the University of Notre Dame. Prior to transitioning into academia, he clerked for federal district judges Nathaniel M. Gorton (D. Mass.) and Paul Barbadoro (D. N. H.), as well as Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Previously, Professor Greil worked at Vinson & Elkins LLP, where he gained extensive litigation experience and represented clients in foreign jurisdictions, the U.S. Supreme Court, and at every level of the Texas legal system. His scholarly work has appeared in the The Villanova Law Review and The Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

Professor Greil researches and teaches on religion and law and serves as a Clinical Professor in the Law & Religion Clinic. He has been an invaluable addition to the Center and our purpose. We are very fortunate to have him!

Welcome Distinguished Fellow Samy Ayoub

Professor Samy Ayoub

The Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center is thrilled that Professor Samy Ayoub joined us as a Distinguished Fellow. Professor Ayoub is one of the leading scholars in the world in Islamic law, modern Middle East law, and law and religion in contemporary Muslim societies. He focuses on issues concerning the interaction between religion and law, and the role of religion in contemporary legal and socio-political systems within a global comparative perspective. He has pursued training in both law and Islamic Studies in Egypt, Scotland, and in the United States. Dr. Ayoub teaches Comparative Middle East Law and Law and Religion in the Modern Middle East at Texas Law and is widely published.

The Center is delighted to welcome Dr. Ayoub, and we look forward to working with him and benefitting from his exceptional knowledge and insight.

Professor Steven T. Collis Progresses the Work and Reach of the Center

Professor Steven T. Collis

This past year was another busy one for Professor Steven T. Collis. He continues to speak at conferences and to media across the United States and is preparing to launch his next book Habits of Peacemakers in 2024.

Community Engagement

Professor Collis spoke at nearly two dozen events this past year. Here are just a few highlights:

  • Spoke at Texas Law’s admitted students’ day about the First Amendment Center.
  • Spoke on a panel to new Texas Law students about religious freedom and the First Amendment Center.
  • Spoke at the Dallas-Fort Worth Religious Freedom Alliance annual summit.
  • Keynote speaker to an interfaith group in Minneapolis.
  • Keynote speaker at Marquette University regarding The Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.
  • Spoke at the National Archives in the historic McGowan Theater on his book The Immortals
  • Received the Distinguished Service Award from the Four Chaplains Foundation and offered the keynote address at their 80th Anniversary Banquet in Philadelphia.
  • Published a related op-ed about the need for America to have a cultural shift.
  • Spoke at an event hosted by The American Jewish Archives and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
  • Offered the Alan S. Brown Scholar Series Lecture at the National Museum of American Jewish Military History.
  • Spoke at Stanford Law School about the efforts of our Law & Religion Clinic and the First Amendment Center.
  • Was interviewed by or otherwise appeared in the news on NPR, the Washington Post, NBC, and many other news and television outlets.
  • Was appointed as chair of the Law & Religion Section of the American Association of Law Schools.
  • Spoke at the National Federalist Society Student Symposium about how to become an academic.
  • The American Library Association selected his book Praying with the Enemy as one of the best books of 2022.
  • Spoke at St. John’s University Law School on the “Constitutional (In)significance of the Rise of the Religious Nones.”
  • In an event organized by UT Law Professor Richard Albert, spoke to high-level appellate judges from Brazil regarding United States First Amendment Principles.
  • Offered one of the keynote addresses at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates regarding his paper “The Forgotten Dignity of the First Amendment.”

Center Co-Sponsorships

Once again, the Center was honored to support events that allowed for the exploration of the First Amendment across the nation.

The Center was a proud co-sponsor of the following programs:

  • J. Reuben Clark Law Society’s Religious Freedom Fellowships, where top law school and undergraduate students from across the world join in D.C. to learn about the fundamentals of religious liberty law from the nation’s leading academics, judges, and advocates.
  • International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit in D.C. The IRF Summit is a bipartisan conference that invites government leaders, academics, ambassadors, and people from industry from around the world to address and explore the pressing international religious freedom issues across the globe. This co-sponsorship included a scholarship that was awarded to an impressive doctoral student from the UT Middle Eastern Studies department, whose focus is on Islamic Studies. The scholarship afforded an all-expenses paid opportunity to attend the Summit.
  • The Global Summit on Constitutionalism, hosted by the Constitutional Studies Program at UT led by Professor Richard Albert. This Summit offers the opportunity to showcase ideas in all areas of constitutionalism, highlight publications in the field, and engage in rewarding and collaborative intellectual exchange. The Summit is co-convened by law professors from all over the globe and participants include scholars, jurists, practitioners, and laypersons of all ranks around the world.
  • Iowa Religious Freedom Day, a celebration of all the good that faith communities do in Iowa and an opportunity for higher-level discourse on the importance of respecting all faith backgrounds. Professor Steven Collis was also a keynote speaker at this event.

On the horizon…

 We conclude the 2022-23 academic year in great appreciation for our impressive and capable Law and Religion Clinic students, the clients we serve, our board of advisors, donors, thought-provoking guest speakers who continue to elevate the conversation around First Amendment issues, and you, our supportive community. We have so much planned for the upcoming year, and we hope you continue to be a part of our journey.

We will continue updating our calendar of events on the First Amendment Center website with information on the upcoming year, but the best way to receive information is to join our email list.

If you (or someone you know) would like to be added to the Center’s email list, please email Sandra Garcia, Center and Clinic program coordinator, at You can also follow the Center and Professor Collis at the following social media outlets:

Twitter: @UTexas1ACenter; @steventcollis
LinkedIn: The Center; Professor Collis

We wish you a great start to the 2023-24 academic year and look forward to seeing you soon!