L. Martin Nussbaum

For over 35 years, Martin Nussbaum has advised and advocated for dioceses, churches, denominations, religious hospitals, schools, monasteries, Chabad houses, ashrams, and other ministries. He is a nationally recognized expert on religious institution law and religious freedom. His advocacy and advice has been welcomed by religious leaders across the country. 

Over his career, Martin has earned a national reputation for his expertise on the First Amendment and various other religious freedom protections. He employs strategic litigation that seeks to protect those rights. He has advocated for religious institutions in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and in state and federal courts across the country. He also advocates for religious institutions before legislatures and in administrative proceedings, and serves as outside general counsel to numerous national and regional ministries.

Martin has served as a trial, appellate, and amicus counsel in landmark First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and in state and federal courts.

Representative Matters
  • Religious Sisters of Mercy v. Becerra, 55 F. 4th 583 (8th Circ. 2022). Permanent injunction against HHS and EEOC with regard to gender transition health plan coverage and performance mandates; collection of $800,000 in legal fees and costs from the government.
  • Catholic Benefits Ass’n v. Azar (HHS) and Dhillo (EEOC) (D.N.D. 2021). Permanent injunction relief for 74 dioceses and archdioceses and over 1,100 other Catholic employers from HHS gender transition services coverage and performance mandates and from EEOC’s application of Title VII to enforce gender transition services coverage mandates and declaratory relief.
  • List Interactive v. Knights of Columbus (D. Colo. 2019). Successful defense of Knights of Columbus in three week jury trial in which plaintiff sought $108 million in damages and received less than 0.5% of this amount. Successes include: dismissal of claim challenging federal tax exempt status; dismissal of RICO claims; jury verdict against claims of promissory estoppel, misappropriation of trade secrets, tortious interference, and fraud; court’s rejection of plaintiff’s effort to discover names of 1.9 million members; court’s rejection of proposed jury instruction seeking to identify Catholic members of jury panel along with information related to the intensity of their faith.
  • Christian Employers Alliance v. Azar (D. N.D. 2019). Permanent injunction against federal contraceptive mandate for Protestant evangelical employers, eliminating $6.2 billion in accumulated excise taxes, ending IRS excise tax collection effort against a Christian-owned business, and recovering attorney’s fees and costs.
  • Catholic Benefits Ass’n v. Sebelius (W.D. Okla. 2018). Permanent injunction against federal contraceptive mandate for 1,000 Catholic employers and their affiliates, eliminating $5.9 billion in accumulated excise taxes, and collecting $720,000 in attorney’s fees and costs from the government.
  • “Genocide Against Christians in the Middle East” (March 2016). Comprehensive report and atrocities database submitted on behalf of the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians to Secretary of State John Kerry in advance of United States historic declaration of genocide.
  • Chabad-Lubavitch of Michigan v. Schuchman, 853 N.W.2d 390 (Mich. App. 2014). First Amendment required tolling statute of limitations pending ecclesiastical dispute resolution before rabbinic tribunals, summarily rev’d, 862 N.W.2d 648 (Mich. 2015), cert. denied (U.S. 2016).
  • Lindeman v. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 43 F. Supp. 2d 1197 (D. Colo. 2014). Church not liable for volunteer’s after-hours, off-premises sexual misconduct.
  • Dobson v. Sebelius, 38 F. Supp. 3d 1245 (D. Colo. 2014). Preliminary injunction against federal abortifacient mandate for Dr. James Dobson Family Institute.
  • Purdum v. Purdum, 301 P.3d 718 (Kan. App. 2013). First Amendment deprives court of subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate defamatory statement made in the course of ecclesiastical tribunal proceedings.
  • Spencer v. World Vision, 633 F.3d 723 (9th Cir. 2010). Amicus advocacy for Christian and Jewish organizations in case establishing Title VII religious exemption for international Christian aid organization.
  • Grace Church & St. Stephen’s v. Bishop & Diocese of Colorado, No. 07CV1971 (Colo. Dist. Ct., El Paso Cnty. 2009). Lead counsel for Episcopal Diocese of Colorado in successful five-week trial in secessionist congregation dispute; longest church trial in Colorado history.
  • Colorado Christian University v. Weaver, 534 F.3d 1245 (10th Cir. 2008). Successful First Amendment challenge to state statute that denied public financial assistance to students who attended a “pervasively sectarian” institution.
  • Window legislation: Led lobbying efforts in Colorado, Connecticut, and North Dakota to defeat window bills that would retroactively revive time-barred claims of childhood sexual abuse.
  • In re Roman Catholic Archbishop of Portland in Oregon (Bankr. D. Or.). First Amendment and charitable trust counsel for Archdiocese of Portland in the first bankruptcy of Catholic diocese in American history.
  • Hiles v. Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, 773 N.E.2d 929 (Mass. 2002). First Amendment bars civil court jurisdiction over defamation, civil rights, and other claims brought by Episcopal priest and his wife and arising from a church disciplinary process.
  • Steele v. Industrial Development Board, 301 F.3d 401 (6th Cir. 2002). Amicus advocacy for Christian and Jewish organizations in case holding that Establishment Clause does not preclude local government from providing tax-exempt bond financing for Lipscomb University, a Church of Christ college.
  • Bryce v. Episcopal Church in Diocese of Colorado, 289 F.3d 648 (10th Cir. 2002). First Amendment deprives civil courts of jurisdiction over Title VII and § 1983 claims brought by youth minister and her partner.
  • Williams v. Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, 766 N.E.2d 820 (Mass. 2002). First Amendment deprives civil courts of jurisdiction over priest’s civil rights claims alleging gender discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
  • Moses v. Diocese of Colorado, 863 P.2d 310 (Colo. 1993), cert. denied (U.S. 1993). Amicus advocacy on behalf of coalition of churches and denominations in support of cert petition on whether First Amendment bars judicial consideration of negligent supervision claim involving denomination and its minister.
  • Destefano v. Grabrian, 763 P.2d 275 (Colo. 1988). Rejecting minister misconduct claims of clergy malpractice and vicarious liability on common law and First Amendment grounds.

J.D., University of Texas at Austin School of Law
B.A. Theology, University of Notre Dame, summa cum laude

Bar and Court Admissions

U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit
U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit
U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit 
U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit
U.S. District Court, District of Colorado
Many other Federal and State Courts

Professional and Community Involvement 
  • U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Consultant to Committee for Religious Liberty
  • National Diocesan Attorneys Association, Executive Committee
  • Christian Legal Society, Center Committee, 1999–2011
Activities and Honors
  • Chambers USA–Nationwide–First Amendment Litigation
  • Best Lawyers in America
  • Non-Profit and Charities Law Colorado Lawyer of the Year 2014, 2021 (Best Lawyers of America)
  • Colorado Super Lawyer
  • Weaver Fellowship, Intercollegiate Studies Institute
  • Baker and Botts Prize, University of Texas School of Law, Outstanding Second Year Student
  • Notre Dame Scholar, University of Notre Dame
  • Cavanaugh Award, University of Notre Dame, Outstanding Theology Student
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