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In September, 2016, the United States Commission on Civil Rights released a report entitled Peaceful CoexistenceReconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties. In the report, the USCCR concluded that religious exercise is in tension with individual rights of certain subsections of the American population. It then went on to make a number of recommendations that suggest that that religious exercise must give way to civil rights protections when the two come into conflict: 

  • Narrow Tailoring of Religious Exceptions: Federal and state courts, lawmakers, and policy-makers at every level must tailor religious exceptions to civil liberties and civil rights protections as narrowly as applicable law requires.
  • Protections of Beliefs Over Conduct: The recognition of religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws and policies should be made pursuant to the holdings of Employment Division v. Smith, which protect religious beliefs rather than conduct.
  • Amending the Religious Freedoms Restoration Act (“RFRA") (and State equivalents): Federal legislation should be considered to clarify that RFRA creates First Amendment Free Exercise Clause rights only for individuals and religious institutions and only to the extent that they do not unduly burden civil liberties and civil rights protections against status-based discrimination. States with laws similar to RFRA should similarly amend their laws.

This panel will first explore whether the USSCR Report is correct that there is, in fact, an irreconcilable tension between religious liberty and civil liberties. And second, if there is a conflict between religious liberty and civil liberties, the panel will debate whether the recommendation by USCCR to limit religious exemptions is the best way to navigate such conflict.

This panel was presented at the 2017 National Student Symposium on Saturday, March 4, 2017, at Columbia Law School in New York City, New York.

Panel 3: Religious Liberty after the USCCR Report
2:00 p.m. -3:45 p.m.
Jerome Greene Hall 104

  • Prof. Bill Marshall, Kenan Professor of Law, University of North Carolina
  • Prof. Michael Paulsen, Distinguished University Chair and Professor, University of St. Thomas
  • Prof. Marci Hamilton, Fox Family Pavilion Distinguished Scholar, University of Pennsylvania
  • Prof. Douglas Laycock, Robert E. Scott Distinguished Professor of Law; University of Virginia Law School; Professor of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
  • Moderator: Hon. William H. Pryor, Jr. U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit

Columbia Law School
New York, New York