Denise ‘90 and Michael ‘91 Mattone Center for Law and Religion

What We Do

The Denise ‘90 and Michael ‘91 Mattone Center for Law and Religion (the Mattone CLR) provides a forum for the study of law and religion from domestic, international, and comparative perspectives.

Established in 2010 as the Center for Law and Religion and renamed in 2023, the Denise ‘90 and Michael ‘91 Mattone Center for Law and Religion provides a forum for studying law and religion from domestic, international, and comparative perspectives with the aim of:

  • Examining the role of law in the relationship between religion and the state
  • Exploring the concept of law in different religious traditions
  • Promoting St. John’s Vincentian mission by encouraging an open dialogue on law and religion in the local, national, and international communities

In addition to hosting academic programs locally and around the world, the Center coordinates the Law School’s law and religion curriculum. It also hosts the Law and Religion Forum, a blog about recent law and religion scholarship and news, and Legal Spirits, a podcast series on law and religion issues in the courts.

To support the Center and its initiatives, please visit the Law School's online giving page or contact the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at [email protected] or 718-990-5792.

Our Program

The Mattone Center for Law and Religion hosts academic conferences, colloquiums, workshops and other programs on a wide range of subjects related to law and religion. These programs are held in New York and at St. John’s foreign campuses in Rome, Italy and Paris, France. Drawing judges and scholars from around the world, our programs promote an important open dialogue on the relationship between religion and the state and the role of law in various religious traditions.

Welcome to the Mattone Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s Law                                                                                                                                    
As two of the most important institutions in society, law and religion have always been linked. Law traditionally has looked to religion for fundamental concepts like justice and equality, and religion often has made law central to believers’ daily lives. For centuries, constitutional government has tried to accommodate religion in a system of ordered liberty, maintaining the separation of church and state while respecting the deepest commitments of many citizens.

While the nexus between law and religion is familiar to law students and lawyers, the relationship is raising new, and urgent, issues today. Religious commitments remain vitally important for millions of people everywhere. And, as a result of globalization, people of different faiths, and no faith, are encountering each other more and more frequently, not only in settings like intergovernmental organizations and human-rights tribunals, but in local communities as well –- in schools, city halls, courthouses and neighborhoods throughout the world.

Thus, it is now essential for law students and lawyers –- and citizens generally –- to understand more about the complicated ways in which law and religion relate to one another. To that end, we have established the Center for Law and Religion.

The Center sponsors academic programs in the United States and abroad:

  • We host academic conferences in New York, Paris, and Rome.
  • We sponsor events for the New York City community on church and state cases at the Supreme Court and an annual symposium on church and state issues with the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies.
  • We coordinate St. John’s law and religion curriculum, including a biennial Colloquium in Law and Religion that brings Supreme Court Justices, judges, and leading scholars to the law school to teach our students.
  • We host Legal Spirits, a podcast series on law and religion issues in the courts, and the Law and Religion Forum, an award-winning blog on law-and-religion scholarship and news. 
  • We hosted the Tradition Project, a multi-year research initiative focusing on the role of tradition in law, politics, and culture.
  • Our faculty write and speak frequently at public events and academic workshops in the United States and Europe.
  • We select Student Fellows to help us with the Center's work, especially producing our Legal Spirits podcast series and keeping our blog current.

Mark L. Movsesian 

Colloquium in Law and Religion

This innovative biennial seminar gives selected St. John’s Law students an opportunity to study with some of the most prominent thinkers in law and religion. Participants present draft papers to the class and students write short, critical papers in response. Participants in the colloquium have included Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito and Circuit Court Judges Steven Menashi, Richard Sullivan, and Diane Sykes, and as well as Professors Joel Alicea (Catholic University), Jed Atkins (Duke), Stephanie Barclay (Notre Dame), Nathan Chapman (University of Georgia), Donald L. Drakeman (Cambridge), Nicole Garnett (Notre Dame), Sarah Barringer Gordon (University of Pennsylvania), Robert P. George (Princeton), Kent Greenawalt (Columbia), Philip Hamburger (Columbia), Paul Horwitz (Alabama), John Inazu (Washington University-St. Louis), Kristine Kalanges (Notre Dame), Cathleen Kaveny (Notre Dame), Michael McConnell (Stanford), Fr. Pat Reidy (Yale), Ayelet Shachar (Toronto), Brett G. Scharffs (BYU), Steven D. Smith (University of San Diego), Micah Schwartzman (University of Virginia), Amy Sepinwall (Penn), Carter Snead (Notre Dame), Anna Su (University of Toronto), Nelson Tebbe (Cornell), Mark Tushnet (Harvard), Michael Walzer (Institute for Advanced Studies), Joseph Weiler (NYU/EUI), Robert Louis Wilken (University of Virginia), and Robin Fretwell Wilson (Illinois)

Symposium on Kennedy v. Bremerton School District

Along with the St. John's Journal of Catholic Legal Studies, the Mattone CLR co-sponsored a symposium on Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the Supreme Court's recent school prayer decision. Speakers included Professors Stephanie Barlcay (Notre Dame), Marc DeGirolami (Catholic University) and Center Director Mark Movsesian. 

Reading Society

The Mattone CLR Reading Society is an opportunity for law students and alumni to read and discuss together classic works of fiction and non-fiction related to law and religion. Recent discussions have focused on Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, and Tara Burton’s Strange Rites.


Symposium on the Rise of the Nones

Along with the St. John’s Law Review, the Center sponsored a symposium on the rise of the religiously unaffiliated and its potential effect on American law. The symposium featured Professors Steven Collis (University of Texas) and Gregory Sisk (University of St. Thomas—Minnesota) and Professor Movsesian.

A Conversation on the Supreme Court's Religion Cases

The Center hosted a panel discussion on recent church-and-state cases at the Supreme Court with Judges Richard Sullivan (CA2) and Rachel Kovner (EDNY).

Liberalism's Limits

Along with frequent partner, LUMSA University, the Mattone CLR sponsored an academic conference on the outer boundaries of liberal democracy's commitment to autonomy and freedom, including freedom of religion and speech. The conference, which took place at LUMSA's campus in Rome, featured scholars from the United States and Europe. 

The Tradition Project

This three-year research initiative explored the value of tradition for contemporary citizens and the relationship of tradition and change in today’s world. Inaugurated in 2016, the Project brought together leading public figures, scholars, judges, and journalists for lectures, workshops, and sponsored research, which included book chapters, journal articles, and curricular development. The Project was supported by grants from the Lynne and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Achelis and Bodman Foundation, and the Notre Dame Program on Church, State, and Society.

The Project’s first meeting, on “Tradition in Law and Politics,” highlighted by a keynote address from Stanford Law Professor Michael McConnell, took place in New York in October 2016. The second session, on “Tradition, Culture, and Citizenship,” with a keynote from Sir Roger Scruton, took place in New York in November 2017The third meeting, on “The Value of Tradition in the Global Context,” took place in Rome in December 2018, with a keynote from Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Rome meeting took place with the collaboration of Università LUMSA and Villanova University’s Eleanor M. McCullen Center for Law, Religion and Public Policy.

International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values

This major conference, which the Center co-sponsored with the Department of Law at the Libera Università Maria SS. Assunta (LUMSA), took place in Rome in June 2014. Pope Francis provided a keynote address. The conference brought together scholars and public figures from Europe and the United States to address the place of religious freedom in international politics and human rights law. The proceedings were published, in Italian and English, in La Libertà Religiosa Secondo Il Diritto Internazionale e Il Conflitto Globale dei Valori (2015).

Religious Liberty in the 2012 Election: A Constitution Day Debate (September 27, 2012) 

To mark Constitution Day 2012, the Center hosted this engaging panel program that brought two leading law and religion scholars together to discuss topics ranging from the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act to the so-called “ministerial exception” to the civil rights laws -- religious liberty issues that figured prominently in the 2012 presidential campaign.

State-Sponsored Religious Symbols in the U.S. and Europe (June 22, 2012)

Co-sponsored in Rome with the Department of Law at Libera Università Maria SS. Assunta (LUMSA), this event brought together leading American and European scholars, judges, and politicians to address the legality of public religious displays in different nations. The conference took place at LUMSA's main campus in the Borgo district, near the Vatican. Proceedings were in English and Italian with simultaneous translation. Papers will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies. View full program (PDF).

Careers in Law and Religion (October 23, 2012)

Law and religion is a growing practice area. Lawyers in this field represent religious institutions, private clients, and all levels of government. They litigate cases, assist with regulatory matters, advocate for religious liberty and human rights and arbitrate before religious tribunals. At this panel program co-hosted by the Center and the Law School's Career Development Office, practitioners in this vital practice area discussed their work, their career paths and their predictions for the future.

Religion and Bankruptcy: Perspectives Thereon and Treatment Therein (September 16, 2011)

Co-hosted by the Center for Bankruptcy Studies, this conference addressed the Bankruptcy Code’s treatment of religious organizations and religious understandings of commercial insolvency. Geoffrey Miller of NYU provided the conference keynote. Papers are published in the American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review.

Religious Legal Theory Conference (November 5, 2010)

This conference offered a range of perspectives on traditional religion/state questions and the concept of law in different religious traditions. Plenary speakers included Professor Steven H. Shiffrin of Cornell Law School and Professor Steven D. Smith of the University of San Diego School of Law. Papers appear in the St. John’s Law Review. View full program (PDF)

Christians in the Middle East: Contemporary Human Rights Issues (October 21, 2010)

This robust panel discussion sponsored by the Center addressed the human rights concerns of Christian communities in the Middle East. Panelists spoke about the daily problems these communities face and the potential for addressing them through the international human rights regime. View full program (PDF)

Laïcité in Comparative Perspective (June 10-11, 2010)

The Center held its inaugural conference, Laïcité in Comparative Perspective, at St. John’s Paris campus. Scholars from the United States and Europe presented papers and particpated in robust roundtable discussions that compared the French model of church-state relations, laïcité, with models that exist in other countries, including the United States, Italy and Spain. The conference proceedings are published in the St. John’s Journal of Catholic Legal Studies. View full program (PDF)

Professor Mark L. Movsesian, Frederick A. Whitney Professor of Contract Law and Co-Director, Center for Law and Religion 


The Mattone Center for Law and Religion offers students a unique opportunity to examine the interplay between law and religion in our society and in the wider global community. Second- and third-year students can choose from a variety of courses offered by St. John's distinguished legal scholars as well as visiting scholars:

  • Canon Law
  • Catholic Social Thought and the Law
  • Colloquium in Law and Religion
  • Jewish Law
  • Joint Colloquium in Law and Religion
  • Law and Religion
  • Law and Religion: International and Comparative Perspectives


Mark L. Movsesian
Frederick A. Whitney Professor of Contract Law and Director, Mattone Center for Law and Religion
St. John's School of Law
8000 Utopia Parkway
Queens, NY 11439
[email protected]