POL 475: Religion and the Law

The evolving relationship between law and religion has had a profound influence on American political life and discourse since the country's founding. This course is designed to develop familiarity with that history and the resulting major tenets of the First Amendment's religion clauses. Taking as our starting point the concept of the separation of church and state, we examine what this idea has meant in U.S. Constitutional law. Class time will be structured around in-depth study of the Constitution and of Supreme Court precedents, and will integrate these formative Supreme Court decisions and decisions from state and lower federal courts into the social and historical contexts from which they derive meaning. In addition, the course will survey the scholarly treatment of such threshold questions as the meaning of "religion" in society, and will evaluate the evolving notion of religious liberty in a pluralistic society. We conclude with an examination of current legal debates and cases and of the prominent role of religious discourse about law, social change, politics and culture in today's society.