Debating Law and 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 (

Student Organizers
Gilad Abiri
Matt Butler
Adeel Mohammadi
Christine Smith
Georgia Travers

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Workshop Events

Friday, November 6, 2015

Law, Religion, and Politics: Challenges to Traditional Borders in Global and Comparative Perspectives

This conference marks the fourth anniversary of the Debating Law & Religion Series at Yale Law School. It will draw together leading scholars of religion from across traditional academic disciplines to reassess the place of religion in our contemporary societies. Panels will investigate the diversification of Church-State arrangements across the world as well as the emergence of counter-narratives that challenge the traditional arc of modern secularization. Watch videos from the event.

Tuesday, 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.

Tuesday, 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?

Wednesday, 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”? 

Monday, 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.

Wednesday, 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?

Wednesday, 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.

Tuesday, 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.
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Wednesday, 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?

Tuesday, 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)
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