Osgoode Colloquium on Law, Religion & Social Thought


Institutional or Individual-What is Religious Freedom in the U.S. Today


Leslie C. Griffin

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Professor Leslie C. Griffin, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, will argue that the U.S. government has usually interpreted religious freedom to protect institutions and frequently ignored the interests of religious individuals. Interpreting the Free Exercise Clause to protect religious institutions’ rights against their members ignores the experience of the earliest Americans. Allowing the courts to enforce a rule that automatically favors religious institutions over their members is at odds with the early history of liberty of conscience.

This talk will look at two examples of the courts privileging institutions over individuals. First, the ministerial exception allows church employees’ claims against their employers to be dismissed without lawsuit. Second, RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) permits religious employers to deny full health insurance coverage to their employees. The talk then explores the alternative, individual approach to law and religion, which the courts should favor in the future.

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