First Amendment Center Year in Review (2020-2021)

With generous donations from Texas Law alumni Doug Bech and Sam Loughlin, The University of Texas School of Law opened the Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center in the Fall of 2020. The First Amendment Center is dedicated to advancing dialogue and scholarship about the First Amendment and fostering appreciation of its place in our legal system. Professor Steven T. Collis is the founding faculty director of the Center and its related Law & Religion Clinic. This newsletter will give you an update about the Center’s first year and a glimpse into our plans for the future!

The Bech-Loughlin Center is a non-partisan entity and is founded on the premise that robust discussion of contested legal questions is essential to a well-functioning democratic culture and to the preservation of the rule of law. In this spirit, the Center was proud to host and co-sponsor a number of events that highlighted the Center’s mission and purpose. We were thrilled to have prominent First Amendment scholars participate in lively discussions about various topics, ranging from free speech & economic justice, religious freedom, equality, and freedom of the press. Click the links below to watch or learn about these conversations:

Free Speech and Economic Justice
Nelson Tebbe (Cornell Law) and Eugene Volokh (UCLA Law)

View full conversation here.

Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore our Nation
David A. French (author and Senior Editor, The Dispatch)

Cosponsored “Free Speech Week” event with The Clements Center for National Security

The President, the People, and the Freedom of the Press
RonNell Andersen Jones (Utah Law) and Lyrissa Lidsky (Missouri Law)

View full conversation here.

Religious Freedom: Economics and Equality
Stephanie Barclay (Notre Dame Law) and Elizabeth Sepper (Texas Law)

View full conversation here.

Successful Launch: Law and Religion Clinic

Spring 2021 Clinic Students on Zoom

Despite the unprecedented circumstances we found ourselves in this past semester due to the pandemic, we had an incredibly successful launch of our Law and Religion Clinic in Spring 2021. Eight dedicated, capable, hard-working law students made up our inaugural class. These talented students fully embraced virtual learning, remote case planning and management, online collaboration with their team on assigned cases, and client-centered lawyering. Throughout the semester, they stayed committed to professionalism with their clients and colleagues.

Not only did they engage in case work for clients who would otherwise go without representation, they also participated in a robust full seminar exploring religious freedom law in the United States. This included academic workshops with their counterparts in the clinics at Yale, Harvard, and Stanford law schools.

Their case work involved representing a broad range of religious groups and individuals, including:

  • Helping an incarcerated man wear sacred religious garb in prison
  • Advising a man on becoming a chaplain in the US military
  • Filing an amicus brief in the Texas Supreme Court on behalf of various denominations in Texas
  • Advocating for American citizens prevented by federal regulations from receiving religious training in other countries
  • Advising on a potential hostile work environment claim based on religious beliefs
  • Representing a man who was denied access to a spiritual advisor in the execution chamber
  • Advising churches on overcoming zoning restrictions that prevent them from providing help to the homeless
  • Representing a historically Black church in litigation against a municipality attempting to seize the Church’s land

We couldn’t be prouder of them and their accomplishments this past semester. Many are now on their way to clerkships with both federal and state courts, jobs with sophisticated law firms, or positions with federal agencies. We are excited to watch their successes, and we look forward to another wonderful group this fall to keep the Clinic’s work progressing.

Center Co-Sponsorships

The First Amendment Center was a proud co-sponsor of the inaugural Religious Liberty Summit at the University of Notre Dame. This Summit will be an annual gathering for the foremost thought leaders on religious liberty and will stimulate engaging conversations between scholars, advocates, and religious leaders about the future of religious liberty in the United States and around the world. At the Summit, Professor Collis spoke on a panel about the First Amendment Center, the Law & Religion Clinic, the efforts of Texas students on behalf of their clients, and the role of religious liberty clinics in legal education.

The Center is also a proud co-sponsor of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society’s 2021 Religious Freedom Fellowships, where top law school and undergraduate students from across the world will join in D.C. (or virtually if necessary) to learn about the fundamentals of religious liberty law from the nation’s leading academics, judges, and advocates.

Steven Collis, Center and Clinic Director

Headshot of Steven T. Collis

Professor Steven T. Collis joined the Texas Law faculty in 2020 as the founding director of the Center and Clinic. He has not only been busy with research and his role as director but is also a sought-after speaker nationwide to media, academics, lay audiences, government officials, and foreign diplomats.

He spoke at nearly two dozen events during the Center’s first year. Here are just a few highlights:

  • Panelist on a Pantsuit Politics Podcast with Texas Law Dean Ward Farnsworth, Professor Michelle Dickerson, and Texas Law students from the school’s Federalist Society, American Constitution Society, Texas Law Democrats, and Law Students 4 Black Lives
  • Panelist in an online event hosted by The Texas Federalist Society regarding religious exemptions during Covid and the impact of Roman Catholic Diocese v. Cuomo
  • Presented “Avoiding the Puritan Mistake” at an Interfaith Leaders Event hosted by the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, American Jewish Congress, and the Islamic Society of Chicago
  • Presented his article “Closing the Free Exercise Floodgates” at a faculty scholarship workshop at Stanford Law School
  • Discussed the fundamentals of religious freedom at Arizona State University
  • Presented “Pandemics, Presidential Change & Reconstituted Supreme Court – What does 2021 portend for religious liberty?” at the J. Reuben Clark Law Society’s Annual Orange County Religion & Law Symposium, cohosted by Chapman University, among others
  • Guest lecturer for a UT undergraduate Philosophy course to discuss the philosophy of the First Amendment
  • In an event hosted by the Virginia and UT Federalist Societies, joined UT Law Professor Elizabeth Sepper and Virginia Law Professor Douglas Laycock for a discussion of the implications of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

Professor Collis is the author of two books related to religious liberty. His most recent, The Immortals, was released this last academic year in May 2021. His next book will launch in spring 2022.

On the horizon…

Our first year as a Center and Clinic was a great success! As we look forward to the 2021–22 academic year, we are ready to, once again, engage with our students, host guest speakers and events with energy and excitement, and participate in the vital exchange and discourse regarding the freedoms found in the First Amendment.

Event planning for 2021–22 is well underway. This fall 2021, the Law and Religion Clinic is ready to welcome a new cohort, who will continue the important work we are doing for our clients. Professor Collis has several speaking engagements scheduled and more will be added as the academic year gets underway. The Center is cosponsoring several other events, fellowships, and internships. It’s an exciting time for us here at the First Amendment Center!

We invite you and others to join our community! Your participation and support make our work more meaningful. If you (or someone you know) would like to be added to the Center’s email list, where we share details on all events and Center news, please email Sandra Garcia, Center and Clinic administrator, at You can also follow the Center on Twitter @UTLaw_1stAmCtr and Professor Collis @religionlawprof.

We hope to see you soon!