Press Release

Religious homeless shelters head for Supreme Court spotlight Justices to spar over Ninth Circuit ruling that revived discarded “Lemon test"

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court will hear a case next week involving an Oregon city’s laws that penalize sleeping on public property. In City of Grants Pass v. Johnson, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled against Grants Pass, reasoning that the city’s laws imposed “cruel and unusual punishments” because there were not enough shelter beds to house the entire homeless population. The court, however, refused to count religious homeless shelters when it assessed whether there were enough beds available in the city. Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief explaining how the decision to discount religious shelters was based on a wrongheaded legal standard.

Becket’s brief argues that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling relied on a misguided legal standard known as the Lemon test that the Supreme Court set aside in its 2022 decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. Under the test, government was required to treat religion as suspect, rather than as a normal facet of human culture. For decades, the Lemon test caused courts to incorrectly apply the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, driving religious people and religious ideas out of public life. Even though Lemon was overturned, many lower courts continue to rely on it. Becket’s brief urges the Supreme Court to reject the Ninth Circuit’s misguided view of the Establishment Clause and reiterate that courts should apply a historical test based on what was understood as a religious “establishment” at the time of the Founding.

A decision is expected by the end of the Court’s term this June.  

Oral Argument in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson 

Monday, April 22, 2024, at 10 a.m. ET

Supreme Court of the United States
1 First Street NE
Washington, DC 20543 

Listen to the livestream here: 

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby atmedia@becketlaw.orgor 202-349-7219.