By M.A. Student Erica Lizza
Students in this year’s M.A. in Human Rights cohort met last week with Professor Mark Rienzi of the Columbus School of Law, who also serves as president of Becket Law, a public-interest law firm that specializes in religious liberty litigation. Professor Rienzi spoke about his trajectory in the legal profession and the importance of protecting religious liberty for all.
Professor Rienzi began his legal career practicing patent law for eight years. He began doing pro bono work related to pro-life issues in connection with the First Amendment. The case that began his transition into religious liberty work was Morr-Fitz v. Blagojevich, in which Professor Rienzi represented pharmacists who had religious objections to dispensing emergency contraception, which a new Illinois policy had mandated. This passion for legal work infused with Catholic values led Professor Rienzi to CUA’s Columbus School of Law, where he has taught constitutional law, religious liberty, torts, and evidence. In addition to teaching, Professor Rienzi also serves as the president of Becket Law and has successfully litigated on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor and others at the Supreme Court.
During the meeting, students asked Professor Rienzi about his experience as a litigator and professor, as well as about the recent history of religious liberty at the Supreme Court. He shared his perspective on the evolution of religious liberty from the nearly unanimous passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to contentious court battles only a decade or two later. Professor Rienzi also explained the evolution of Supreme Court religious liberty jurisprudence from Employment Division v. Smith (1990) to Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (2021) and answered questions about various legislation and administrative rules that may affect religious liberty. He noted challenges to religious liberty increasingly come from federal agency regulations, not from legislation. Professor Rienzi also emphasized how the Catholic faith promotes the importance of protecting religious liberty for all, as detailed in Dignitatis Humanae, the Catholic Church’s declaration on religious freedom drafted by the Second Vatican Council.