On November 6, 2014, attorney Lee Boothby died at the age of 81 in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Boothby was known for his relentless advocacy for religious liberty.
Boothby was instrumental in bringing about much-needed clarification of religious accommodation laws throughout the Ninth Circuit when he argued on behalf of Seventh-day Adventist Church member Kwasi Opoku-Boateng. Opoku-Boateng been hired but denied employment by the State of California in 1982 when he refused to work on Saturdays in violation of his faith. The state made no genuine attempt to accommodate his schedule. In 1997, 14 years after litigation commenced, the Ninth Circuit ruled in his favor, finding that an employer must make a genuine effort to accommodate. (Read Céleste Perrino-Walker’s article on the case in the March/April 2014 issue of Liberty Magazine, “Back to the Future” for more information about the case.)
He also argued two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1999, he argued before the Court on behalf of taxpayers who questioned whether it was proper for public school systems to lend computers to and equipment to church-run schools. Boothby argued that “sectarian schools do not compartmentalize the teaching of religion” so it was impossible to know whether the government-funded computers would be used for religious purposes. The Supreme Court found after much deliberation that the aid was permissible. (Case materials and audio from the oral argument in Mitchell v. Helms (2000) are available here. )
In 1981, Boothby argued before the Court that a plan of the U.S. Secretary of Defense to close a military hospital and donate part of the hospital’s land free-of-charge to a Christian college violated separation of church and state. The Court found that Americans United lacked standing to sue because the transaction involved a government agency’s decision to dispose of a parcel of property and did not involve the taxing and spending power. (Cases materials and audio from the oral argument in Valley Forge CC v. Americans United (1981) are available here.)
He fought to preserve the wall of separation of church and state, not because he was against religion, but because he wanted to preserve religion. In 1991, Nancy Gibbs of Time magazine interviewed Boothby and summarized his position as follows. “‘Many of the supporters of the church-state wall fear that politicians, bent on compromise more than conversion, would try to invent some inoffensive brand of faith — the creche encircled by reindeer hauling Santa’s sleigh. ‘What you are tending to see is a new secular state religion,’ says Lee Boothby, a Seventh-day Adventist who is general counsel with Americans United for Separation of Church and State. ‘It’s not really religion.'”
Boothby participated in many cases involving church and state, religious freedom, property, business, and employment law throughout his career in a variety of forums at both the state and federal level. A partial listing of cases is available at Justia.com.
Boothby was a prolific writer on church-state issues and served as vice president and fellow of the International Academy for Freedom of Religion and Belief, vice president of the Council for Religious Freedom and served on the National Council of Churches’ Committee on Religious Freedom as a counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. In addition to representing members of his religious denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Boothby also represented Christians Scientists and the Church of Scientology.
A memorial service will be at 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 10, at the Village Seventh-day Adventist Church in Berrien Springs, where friends may visit with the family beginning at 3 p.m. Online messages may be left at www.allredfuneralhome.com.