Center for Law and Religion

Established in 2010, the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s School of Law provides a forum for the study of law and religion from domestic, international and comparative perspectives. The Center aims to:

  • Examine the role of law in the relationship between religion and the state
  • Explore the concept of law in different religious traditions
  • Promote 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 here and abroad, the Center coordinates the Law School’s law and religion curriculum and hosts the Law and Religion Forum, a daily blog on recent scholarship, cases, and law and religion news from across the globe.

Contact us to share your thoughts and feedback and to learn more about the Center for Law and Religion. 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.

Message from the Director

Welcome to the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s School of Law                                                                                                                                    
These are exciting times for people who study law and religion. 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. Despite the confident predictions of the last century, religion does not appear to be in terminal, global decline. On the contrary, 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, with three broad goals:

• To examine the role of law in the relationship between religion and the state

• To explore the concept of law in different religious traditions

• To promote St. John’s Vincentian mission by encouraging an open dialogue on law and religion in the local, national and international communities

The Center sponsors academic programs in the United States and abroad. In the past few years, we've hosted international conferences in New York, Paris, and Rome, including a 2014 conference on international religious freedom at which Pope Francis delivered a keynote address. We've also sponsored events for the New York City community on the human rights of Mideast Christians and other current topics. We coordinate St. John’s law and religion curriculum, including a biannual Colloquium in Law and Religion that brings Supreme Court Justices and leading scholars to the law school to teach our students. We host the Law and Religion Forum, an award-winning web resource with commentary on scholarship, cases, and law and religion news from across the globe. Our faculty write and speak frequently at public events and academic workshops in the United States and Europe. Our new Global Legal Fellowsprogram brings foreign graduate students to the Center, and the Tradition Project -- a multi-year research project sponsored by grants from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Achelis and Bodman Foundation, and the Notre Dame Program on Church, State & Society -- focuses on the role of tradition in law, politics, and culture.

This website offers information about the Center for Law and Religion's programs, curriculum, and faculty. The content is regularly updated, so please visit often. Feel free to contact us with any questions or suggestions. We'd love to hear from you and look forward to your participation.

Sincerely,
Mark L. Movsesian

Contacts Us

Mark L. Movsesian
Director, Center for Law and Religion
St. John's School of Law
8000 Utopia Parkway
Queens, NY 11439
718-990-5650
[email protected]

Marc O. DeGirolami
Associate Director and Professor
Center for Law and Religion
St. John's School of Law
8000 Utopia Parkway
Queens, NY 11439
718-990-6760
[email protected]

Our Program

The Center for Law and Religion (CLR) hosts academic conferences, symposia, workshops and other programs on a wide range of subjects related to law and religion. These programs are held at the Law School and at St. John’s foreign campuses in Rome, Italy and Paris, France. Drawing 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.

The Tradition Project
This research initiative explores the value of tradition for contemporary citizens and the relationship of tradition and change in today’s world. Inaugurated in in 2016, the Project brings together leading public figures, scholars, judges, and journalists for lectures, workshops, and sponsored research. Work related to the Project will include book manuscripts, journal articles, and curricular development. The Project has been 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 2017.  The third meeting, on “Tradition in the Global Context,” is planned for Rome in December 2018, with a keynote from Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Rome meeting will take place with the collaboration of Università LUMSA and the McCullen Center for Law, Religion and Public Policy at Villanova Law School. 

Colloquium in Law and Religion
This innovative biannual seminar, taught jointly by CLR Director Mark Movsesian and Associate Director Marc DeGirolami, gives selected St. John’s 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. In 2014, the course was taught jointly with Villanova Law School. Participants in the colloquium have included Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, as well as Professors Donald L. Drakeman (Cambridge), Sarah Barringer Gordon (University of Pennsylvania), Robert P. George (Princeton), Kent Greenawalt (Columbia),Philip Hamburger (Columbia), Kristine Kalanges (Notre Dame), Cathleen Kaveny (Notre Dame), Michael McConnell (Stanford), Elizabeth Prodromou (Tufts), Ayelet Shachar (Toronto), Brett G. Scharffs (BYU) ; Steven D. Smith (University of San Diego), Mark Tushnet (Harvard), Michael Walzer (Institute for Advanced Studies), Joseph Weiler (NYU/EUI), and Robin Fretwell Wilson (Illinois).

Global Law Fellows Program
Inaugurated in 2016, the Global Law Fellows program brings foreign graduate students to the Center for one semester. The students audit courses in law and religion and work on their research. 

International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values
This major conference, which CLR 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)

The Center for Law and Religion (CLR) greatly benefits from the extensive experience and scholarship of these Law School faculty members, who enhance its offerings to scholars, students and the public:

The Center for Law and Religion (CLR) 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