Faith-Based Emergency Powers

47 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2017  

Noa Ben-Asher

Pace University - School of Law

Date Written: September 21, 2017


This Article explores an expanding phenomenon that it calls Faith-Based Emergency Powers. In the twenty-first century, conservatives have come to rely heavily on Faith-Based Emergency Powers as a legal strategy in the culture wars. This typically involves carving faith-based exceptions to rights of women and LGBT people. The novel concept of Faith-Based Emergency Powers is developed in this Article through an analogy to “traditional” emergency powers. In the war-on-terror, conservatives have argued that judges, legislators and the public must defer to the President and the executive branch in matters involving national security. As scholars have shown, this position has three key components: (1) a rhetoric of war, emergency or catastrophe; (2) a legal argument for suspension of existing human rights; and (3) a designation of decision-makers in real or perceived emergencies who are allegedly more qualified than courts or legislatures to address the national-security emergency. The consequence is temporary suspension of human rights in real or perceived national-security emergencies.

The principal claim of this Article is that in contemporary culture wars, conservative politicians, lawmakers, and litigants have imported these emergency powers rationales to a range of legal contexts including marriage-equality, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and general antidiscrimination laws. For example, the Supreme Court has recently granted certiorari in the case of a Denver baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. In its 2017-2018 session the Court will decide whether an individual’s religious or moral objection to same-sex marriage trumps state public accommodations laws. In this case and in many others, the conservative position typically follows the rationales of traditional emergency powers in (1) applying rhetoric of war and emergency; (2) arguing for suspension of legal rights of women and sexual minorities and; (3) claiming deference to religious or moral dissenters. The end goal, as in the war-on-terror, is to suspend or diminish legally recognized individual rights. The Article concludes that lawmakers ought to defend the rule-of-law and individual rights by rejecting Faith-Based Emergency Powers.

Suggested Citation

Ben-Asher, Noa, Faith-Based Emergency Powers (September 21, 2017). Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Noa Ben-Asher (Contact Author)

Pace University - School of Law ( email )

78 North Broadway
White Plains, NY 10603
United States

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