Rethinking U.S. Domestic Religious Freedom

December 7, 2020

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U.S. religious freedom is an increasingly polarized issue, overlaying its longer history as a contested ideal in American public life. The Trump administration placed particular emphasis on religious freedom, resonating with the concerns of its white, evangelical base. Debate on religious freedom policies often plays out at the Supreme Court, where the president appointed three justices. Over the past four years, the Court heard a number of major cases involving the balance between religious freedom and discrimination. Some commentators see decisions in these cases as not adequately protecting the rights of minorities, such as the LGBTQ and Native American communities. Finding a more balanced approach to domestic religious freedom is a critical priority for the Biden administration, especially as the president-elect aims to heal an increasingly divided country.

A June 2020 essay on “The Ironies of the New Religious Liberty Litigation,” authored by M. Cathleen Kaveny and published in Dædalus, explores why recent years have seen the polarization of religious freedom. Kaveny, the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor at Boston College, ultimately argues that applying the notion of civic friendship or the Golden Rule can serve as a corrective course of action. The Berkley Forum welcomes scholars of law and religion, as well as domestic policymakers, to continue the conversation on rethinking U.S. religious freedom in advance of the new administration. 

This week the Berkley Forum asks: What were some of the major advances or drawbacks related to domestic religious freedom under the Trump administration? What policy areas should take precedence as the Biden administration approaches church-state relations? More broadly, why has religious freedom become a polarized and polarizing issue? Is it possible to (re)create a bipartisan coalition on religious freedom? If so, what ethical, legal, or religious principles could inform consensus-building on domestic religious liberty?

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