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Non-Financial Constitutional Issues Concerning Religion: Trump v. Hawaii

In Trump v. Hawaii, the Supreme Court had to decide whether President Donald Trump's ban on the entry of immigrants from certain countries amounted to a ban based on religion. Many noted that the policy intended to limit the number of Muslims entering the United States, but the Trump administration claimed the countries were identified as high terrorism risks. This is a unique issue when it comes to religious freedom, as it does not deal with government funds being either given to or withheld from religious institutions. 

The Trump Administration's "Muslim Ban"

United States Library of Congress, The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation

An entirely different standard governs the constitutionality of a President's national security directive regulating the entry of aliens abroad that is facially neutral toward religion, as the Court held in Trump v. Hawaii.1

The plaintiffs in that case sought a preliminary injunction against a presidential proclamation that suspended or restricted the entry of foreign nationals from specified countries, arguing, in relevant part, that the proclamation was issued for the unconstitutional purpose of excluding Muslims.2

While the text of the document was facially neutral, restricting entry on the basis of national origin, the plaintiffs highlighted a series of statements by the President and his advisors suggesting that the President had intended to target immigration of Muslims.3 The Court held that the proper standard to evaluate this Establishment Clause claim was the circumscribed judicial inquiry prescribed when the denial of a visa allegedly burdens the constitutional rights of a U. S. citizen.4

Under this standard, the Court would consider whether the entry policy [was] plausibly related to the Government's stated objective to protect the country and improve vetting processes, and the plaintiffs' extrinsic evidence would not render the policy unconstitutional so long as [the policy could] reasonably be understood to result from a justification independent of unconstitutional grounds.5 Under this lenient standard, the Court upheld the proclamation, concluding that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their constitutional claim.6


1.    585 U.S. No. 17-965, slip op. at 29 (2018).

2.    Id. at 24.

3.    Id. at 26.

4.    Id. at 30. The Court cited Kleindienst v. Mandel, a case in which American citizens who wished to receive the speech of a foreign national challenged the denial of the speaker's visa under the First Amendment. 408 U.S. 753, 756–57 (1972).

5.    Hawaii, slip op. at 32.

6.    Id. at 38.


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