Should Religion Keep Its Privileged Status in American Law?

Should Religion Keep Its Privileged Status in American Law?
November 6, 2013
12:10 - 1:30 pm
Room 127, Yale Law School


Marci Hamilton
Paul R. Verkuil Chair of Public Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
Author of God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (2005)
Lead counsel for Boerne, Texas, before the United States Supreme Court in the landmark case of Boerne v. Flores

Alan Sokal
Professor of Mathematics, University College London
Professor of Physics, New York University
Author of Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (1999) and Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy, and Culture (2008)

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?

For instance, do religious organizations merit tax exemptions for property and income, beyond what they would deserve by virtue of their secular charitable or educational activities? Should parents be permitted to refuse vaccinations for their children, or be exempt from child medical neglect laws, on religious grounds? Should corporations be permitted to avoid paying for contraception for their employees based on the religious beliefs of the owners? Proponents of the Free Exercise Clause defend it as a cornerstone of American history and liberty, while critics argue that it grants a privileged and undeserved legal status to increasingly irrelevant religious communities.