Law School Hosts Debate to Mark Constitution Day 2012

CLR’s Associate Director, Marc O. DeGirolami
October 4, 2012

On Thursday, September 27, 2012, the Center for Law and Religion (CLR) sponsored "Religious Liberty in the 2012 Election: A Constitution Day Debate" at the Law School’s Belson Moot Court Room. The debaters were Michael Paulsen, Distinguished University Chair and Professor of Law at University of St. Thomas School of Law and co-author of The Constitution of the United States: Text, Structure, History, and Precedent (2010), and Andrew M. Koppelman, the John Paul Stevens Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law and author of the forthcoming Defending American Religious Neutrality (2013). The debate was moderated by CLR’s Associate Director, Marc O. DeGirolami.

Paulsen began by reviewing recent United States Supreme Court cases on religious freedom, in particular, last term’s Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, in which the Court announced its support for the so-called “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws. He argued that the Obama Administration had taken a very narrow view of religious freedom in that case and predicted that a second Obama Administration would have less concern for the rights of believers than a Romney Administration.

Koppelman, for his part, identified what he sees as troubling trends in recent Supreme Court decisions and urged greater neutrality on the part of the state in religious matters. Like Paulsen, Koppelman made predictions for the future of religious freedom under either a second Obama or a Romney Administration. He dismissed Paulsen’s worries about the future of religious liberty in a second Obama term. For Koppelman, the key difference related to the sorts of judges these two administrations might put on the courts and the consequences for Establishment Clause doctrine.

The debate concluded with a lively question-and-answer period, in which members of the audience discussed the need for special protection for religious associations, the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, and other issues.

The debate was “a wonderful way for the Law School to commemorate Constitution Day,” said CLR’s Director, Mark L. Movsesian. “I’m delighted CLR was able to host such eminent scholars and present such different perspectives.” The debate was co-sponsored by the St. John’s chapters of the American Constitution Society, the Catholic Law Students Association and The Federalist Society.