L57 RelPol 320

Religious Freedom in America

Fall 2022, M/W/F 9:00–9:50AM

This course investigates the intersections of the law and the social history of religious freedom in America. It examines issues such as constitutional principles of religious freedom and the rights of religious groups to dissent, from America’s founding to the present.

line drawing of three people teaching superimposed on each other

The intersection of religion and law in American society has sparked some of the fiercest cultural engagements in recent memory: Should a for-profit religious corporation have a right not to fund birth control for its employees? Can a public college expel campus religious groups whose membership is not open to all students? May a Muslim grow a beard for religious reasons in prison? Should a cake baker or a florist be permitted to refuse services for a gay wedding? Can a church hire and fire its ministers for any reason? These current debates and the issues that frame them are interwoven in the American story. This course introduces students to the major texts and historical arguments underlying that story. Drawing from the respective expertise of the instructors, it exposes students to a variety of scholarly methods related to the issue: legal history and case law, intellectual history and canonical texts, social history and narrative accounts, and political philosophy and contemporary analyses. This course is for first-year (non-transfer) students only.

Course History:

  • Fall 2016: Taught by Profs. John Inazu and Mark Valeri
  • Fall 2018: Taught by Profs. John Inazu and Mark Valeri
  • Fall 2020: Taught by Profs. John Inazu and Mark Valeri
  • The unique structure of having both a law professor and a religious history professor teaching you provides a lot of insight into religious freedom in America.

    — Fall 2016

  • This course was intellectually stimulating in so many ways and I definitely came out of it with both new perspectives and information on a variety of subjects, most notably the role of religion in American history and politics.

    — Fall 2016