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Debating Law & Religion Series

“Debating Law & Religion” is a monthly series aimed at creating a formal forum for invited speakers to discuss topical issues concerning law, its interaction with religion, and the role of religion in contemporary legal and socio-political systems. We do not shy away from contentious issues, and while our conversations are always respectful, we seek to encourage debate between speakers who genuinely disagree as to how we should answer the important questions of our day. Since the series began in 2011, we have conducted lunchtime discussions on such topics as the Islamic community center at Ground Zero in New York City, the legal bans on headscarves and burqas in France, the role of religion in public reason, the place of religion in ancient Roman and Hindu civilizations, and protections for hate speech directed at religious groups. We hope you will join us for our next debate!

Faculty Organizer
Patrick Weil (patrick.weil@yale.edu)

Student Organizers
M. Mohsin Bhat
Matt Butler
Michael Clemente
Farshad Ghodoosi
Matthew Halgren
Nicholas Handler
William Sadock
Roman Zinigrad

Subscribe to the Debating Law & Religion mailing list at http://tinyurl.com/law-religion

Call for Papers

Submit a Paper to the Graduate Student Workshop at Our Conference, "Law, Religion, and Politics: Challenges to Traditional Borders in Global and Comparative Perspectives"

SERIES Schedule

April 21, 2015

Cake Wars, Hobby Lobby, and Complicity-Based Religious Freedom Claims

We will discuss the ways in which complicity-based conscience claims differ in form and in social logic from the claims featured in the free exercise cases that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) invokes. We will also explore whether the distinctive features of complicity-based conscience claims affect the urgency of demands for religious exemption and how accommodating claims of this kind may inflict material and dignitary harms on other citizens.
March 3, 2015

Two Concepts of Religious Liberty: Their History and Practice in U.S. Foreign and Domestic Policy

Among competing legal conceptions of religious liberty, two are particularly prominent: (1) religious liberty as freedom from discrimination against religious belief and worship; and (2) religious liberty as exemption from non-discriminatory laws that burden religiously motivated conduct. This debate will explore the history and practice of these distinct yet overlapping concepts in U.S. foreign and domestic policy.
February 12, 2015

Religion in the Public Service: A Conversation with Justice Clarence Thomas ’74 and Ambassador John Danforth ’63

Our speakers will discuss their personal faith journeys and the ways in which religion does and does not influence them as public figures. They will also reflect broadly on the proper role of religion in public life.
October 22, 2014

Should Marriage Be Privatized?

Please join Mary Anne Case and Nancy Cott as they lead us in discussing whether marriage should be privatized.
September 23, 2014

Law and Religion in the Rainbow Nation: Judging South Africa’s Diversity of Beliefs

Since the end of the apartheid regime and the adoption in 1996 of a new constitution, the South African Constitutional Court has addressed many issues related to diversity of religious beliefs that resonate in American jurisprudence. Please join us for a conversation on adjudicating these difficult matters.
September 16, 2014

Islam, Politics, and the Constitution: Is Tunisia an Exception in the Arab Spring?

Join us for our first event of the fall as we examine the case of Tunisia and assess its new constitution. How does it balance Islamic and secular demands? What were the roles of Islamists and secular actors in its design? What consequences will it have for the rest of the Arab world?
April 9, 2014

Can a Corporation Exercise Religion?

Corporations can’t be baptized. They can’t attain Nirvana. They can’t complete the Hajj. Corporations can, however, proselytize, prepare food products according to religious dietary laws, and let religious commitments inform which benefits they will provide to employees. But what happens when a generally applicable law requires a corporation to act in a way that is opposed to some religious norms or beliefs? Can corporations take advantage of protections under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act? Does the answer to this question turn on whether the corporation is non-profit or whether it has a religious mission? If the company’s mission is relevant, just how religious must it be, and who is in a position to make such a determination? Can corporations claim the free exercise rights of their owners, i.e., as one judge put it, can owners “have their corporate veil and pierce it too”? 
March 4, 2014

Secular Judges and the Rise of Religious Diversity in Europe: Balancing Between Recognition of Group Identity and Respect of the State Traditions?

In contemporary liberal societies, effective governance requires balancing individuals’ concerns with the state’s need to maintain general rules and standards. Disputes over religious liberty set these competing interests into stark relief and pose complex questions to secular judges. The rise of religious diversity in Europe poses new questions to the governments and to the courts at both the national and European levels. Can a democratic state ban the wearing of religious clothes or the practice of some religious rituals? Ought prison staff be required to prepare vegetarian meals for a Buddhist inmate? Should a court postpone its meeting set on Yom Kippur because a Jewish lawyer requests it? Answering these questions demands a consideration not only of how to weigh these competing interests, but also of the extent to which secular authorities should assess religious obligations.
February 4, 2014

Can Turkey or Lebanon be Models for a New Arab Political Order?

Little did Bouaziz know that setting himself on fire would spark an uprising that would spread across the Arab World. Like the Phoenix, a new political order is arising from ashes of this fire. Faced with unprecedented challenges, these new governments look to present models in the region to determine what status religion ought to have in their constitutions. Two prominent models, legacies of the Ottoman Empire, are Turkey and Lebanon. Will the Turkish top-down approach of state control shape the new political order, or will the multi-confessional system of Lebanon prevail?
December 2, 2013

Subsidizing Religion? Are School Vouchers for Religious Schools Constitutional?

Assuming the prudence of a voucher program, to what extent ought parents’ choice to enroll their children in religious schools be protected under the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection? Join us for our final event of the first semester as we consider the current debate surrounding vouchers, school choice, and the First Amendment.
November 6, 2013

Should Religion Keep Its Privileged Status in American Law?

The First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom is one of the most celebrated aspects of the American liberal tradition. But what is the proper approach to religion in a democratic polity? Do religious beliefs and religious organizations merit special protections, over and above those given to secular speeches, beliefs or organizations?
October 2, 2013

Secular Courts and Religious Claims

In contemporary liberal societies, effective governance requires balancing individuals’ concerns with the state’s need to maintain general rules and standards. Disputes over religious liberty set these competing interests into stark relief and pose complex questions to secular judges. Ought prison staff be required to prepare vegetarian meals for a Buddhist inmate? Should the Amish be allowed to bypass laws requiring photo identification? Should a court postpone its meeting set on Yom Kippur because a Jewish lawyer requests it? Answering these questions demands a consideration not only of how to weigh these competing interests, but also of the extent to which secular authorities should assess religious obligations.
April 2, 2013

The Harm in Hate Speech: Free Speech, Religion, and Group Dignity

In his new book The Harm in Hate Speech, Professor Jeremy Waldron urges Americans to reconsider the First Amendment tradition of absolute protection of speech and to reconceive hate speech as an intolerable form of group defamation. Individuals, he suggests, should be protected when they are targeted because of their religious affiliation, or other group characteristics. Dean Robert Post, an ardent supporter of free speech, has questions.
Video |
March 27, 2013

Religion in Uniform: The Contested Place of Observance and Belief in the Armed Forces

A discussion between Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap, Jr. and Eugene Fidell.

In 2010, controversy erupted when 41% of non-Christian cadets at the Air Force Academy reported being subjected to unwanted proselytizing. This past year, Senator Todd Akin’s amendment to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act drew criticism for its potential to protect bigotry under the guise of religious speech. Established by the Continental Congress in 1775, the military chaplaincy is as old as this country, but how does a country whose Constitution forbids laws respecting the establishment of religion employ thousands of religious leaders? Should the military permit religious speech in its ranks that might conflict with its own official policies and positions? How should the military even define religious expression?  

February 5, 2013

Religion and American Politics: How Religious are American Voters?

Alan Cooperman, Associate Director for Research (Pew Center Forum on Religion and Public Life)
Steven B. Smith, Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science (Yale)
| Video |
November 28, 2012

Constitution Making in the Arab Spring: Have Islamists Stolen the Revolution?

Mass movements make good revolutions but do they also make ‘good’ constitutions? In our modern rule-of-law world, constitution-making has become a battleground for the unfolding of the revolution. As the euphoria of revolution in the Middle East and North Africa transitions into the painstaking work of constitution drafting, the political debate is rife with disagreements among people with varying views about the role of Islam in government.
|  Video |
October 31, 2012

The Rule of Law in South Asia: Is ‘Secular’ India lagging behind ‘Religious’ Pakistan?

In 1947, India and Pakistan embarked on separate constitutional journeys. While India adopted a constitution which it called ‘secular’, Islam was given a central role in Pakistan. Nevertheless, Indian state continued to be interventionist in religious affairs. Religious groups have continued to be governed by separate religious family laws, and ‘secular’ courts are asked upon to adjudicate on these religious laws. It has partly succeeded to reform Hindu law, but failed to touch minority Muslim law. Controversially, religion and politics are more intertwined than ever before, and in some cases courts have given this their stamp of approval. On the other hand, in Pakistan, religious and secular courts have remained separate, and codification and reform of sharia law has been undertaken. Has the ‘secular’ Indian system succeeded to maintain an adequate separation of religion and state? Has the ‘religious’ system of Pakistan allowed for a more dynamic reform of religious law? Has the Indian model provided better protection of minority rights and preservation of the rule of law? How different or similar are the paths charted by the two countries, and are their fates diverging or converging?
Video  |
October 9, 2012

Movie Screening and Discussion of "A Separation"

Set in contemporary Iran, A SEPARATION is a story of a pending divorce, which unfolds into a series of events posing unnerving ethical as well as existential challenges for the characters. The movie is an insightful commentary on contemporary Iranian society, and uses the unfolding family drama to explore the relationship between religious and secular law, as well as ethics and formal law.
April 3, 2012

Crosses in the Classroom: The legality and legitimacy of religious symbols in public spaces

Tuesday, April 3, 2012
12:10–1:45 pm
Room 120, Yale Law School

In March 2011, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italian law requiring the display of crucifixes in classrooms of state schools did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights. In so doing, it overturned an earlier chamber decision that the law violated the ECHR's guarantee of religious freedom. The Grand Chamber decision was hailed by supporters as affirming Italy's history and tradition as a religious country. Detractors argued that the decision effectively eroded the right of citizens not to be coerced by the state, whether directly or indirectly, to affirm one or any religion. The two decisions reflect contrasting positions on the nature and content of religious liberty, as well as the content and requirements of secularism. These reflections are relevant not only to the specific context of Italy and Europe, but also the United States which continues to struggle with the appropriate boundaries of the constitution's non-establishment injunction and its religious history.
|  Video  |

February 16, 2012

Cartoons and Free Speech: At the intersection of Democracy, Multiculturalism, and Individual Rights

The display in a Danish newspaper of cartoon depictions of Mohammed led to rioting around the world. That event shines a light on an enduring and difficult question: In a multi-religious world, what is the appropriate relationship between multicultural ideals and free speech? How should the law mediate between the demands of religious sanctity and freedom of speech? Should lawyers and legislators take ethical as well as legal considerations into account? To what extent is free speech — even offensive or potentially dangerous speech — vital to the functioning of true democracy? And if some deem speech to offend religious sensibilities, whom ought a democracy to take to represent that religion? (Watch the video)
December 6, 2011

Orthodoxy or Orthopraxy: Does the Text of the Constitution Matter?

What is American constitutionalism? Is it an orthodoxy based on the text of a document drafted in 1787, or is it defined by our constitutional practices where the text merely sustains constitutional discourse but does not define it? Should America's quasi-religious relationship to the Constitution be defined exclusively by the text of the Constitution or evolving constitutional practice? (Watch the video)
November 8, 2011

Whither Are We Bound? Church-State Separation and the Theological Roots of Law

Liberal democracies of the Western world emerged from a theological universe. The common law and the American constitution as well as European civil laws and public Institutions developed within or from deeply religious societies. Given this context, even ostensibly secular laws have often been the product of conscious and unconscious theological influences or religious institutions. American separation of church and state, and even French laicite, for example, appear to have been motivated as much by theological concerns to protect religion from the state as by secular interests to protect the state from religious influences.In this debate, we ask: How should a pluralist society composed of the religious, the a-religious, and the anti-religious relate to legal systems whose roots can be traced in large part to theological influences? Do secular Western societies have anything to gain in exploring the theological pedigree of their present values? Why is the United States, formally one of the most secular of democracies, so deeply religious? Is the effort to separate church and state doomed as long as religion remains embedded in the legal and social world? In theoretical contexts, is the exclusion of religious views from the public sphere a complementary effort to excavate the law from its theological heritage? Is such an excavation possible? (Watch the video)
October 13, 2011

The Unity of Law and Religion in Ancient Rome and Classical India: Learning From the ‘Other’

Law and religion are commonly conceived as dualistic antinomies in many modern Western states. The distinction between the mundane and the transcendent, religion and the law is often held up normatively as a fundamental basis for the organization of societies. These assumptions, however, have been and still are being challenged. In this debate, our speakers discuss ancient India and Rome, which seem to stand as genuine "others" to the contemporary West in their acceptance of continuity between religious and mundane life, between gods and politics. In examining the place of law and religion in ancient Rome and India, the debate focuses on the interpenetration of legal and religious discursive and normative systems along three themes: (i) pluralism; (ii) the problem of priority between law and religion (both as regards historical development and as regards the ideologies of modern reception and scholarship); and (iii) the nature of legal and religious argument and innovation. (Watch the video)
September 14, 2011

Democracy, Diversity, and Disagreement: Stanley Fish v. Daniel Markovits

The liberal democratic state contains and confronts diversity in many forms, both liberal and non-liberal. Accommodating religious norms and practices, even those with which the liberal state disagrees, has conventionally been considered a necessary part of religious tolerance. In the face of increasing diversification of society and fear of creeping fragmentation of a common social foundation, the nature and scope of ‘tolerance’ as a political value has become an important point of debate. For many liberals, tolerating – even respecting – difference is a foundational and paradigmatic liberal value. Others claim, however, that tolerating certain non-liberal ways of life undermines the values the liberal state is obliged to protect and promote.
|  Video  |
April 20, 2011

Rational, Reasonable, and Religious? The Role of Religion in Public Reason

In this debate, we ask: What is public reason, and to whom do its obligations apply? Must laws be justified with reasons accessible to all rational persons? Are judges subject to different, and stricter, standards of public reason as compared to legislators or voters? Is it unduly burdensome to require religious citizens to bracket part of themselves when engaging in public reasoning? Can religious perspectives be seen as providing a dimension of depth otherwise missing from democratic deliberation, or are they inherently divisive?  (Watch the video)
March 1, 2011

Headscarves and Burqa Bans: Has France (and Europe) Become Islamophobic?

In recent years, Europe has confronted public anxiety regarding the place of Islam within its borders. With the largest Muslim population in Europe, France has been a focal point of some of the most intense debates – including the 2004 ban on religious symbols in public schools, denials of citizenship to 'traditionalist' Muslims, and the recent burqa ban in public places. These controversies raise questions concerning the character of French identity, the demands of citizenship, and the meaning of France's commitment to liberty and equality. Although framed around the meaning of laïcité and French republicanism, broader issues are implicated as Europe contemplates its historically complex relationship with Islam, in particular, and with religion, in general.
February 15, 2011

Sacred Land: The Functional and Symbolic Dimensions of the Ground Zero "Mosque" Controversy

The proposed construction of Park-51, an Islamic cultural center, near 9/11's Ground Zero ignited immediate controversy and triggered a number of spirited debates. Prominent public figures questioned whether the U.S.'s commitment to religious tolerance and cultural diversity should apply even in such sensitive contexts. In this debate, we ask: Do these disputes signal a so-called "clash of civilizations"? Are there circumstances that justify constitutional guarantees taking a backseat to the will of a given political community? Can the law provide an effective framework for resolving, or at least better understanding, the questions and controversies prompted by the Park-51 proposal?