The Conscience Wars: Rethinking the Balance between Religion, Identity, and Equality


An Interdisciplinary International Conference
Cardozo School of Law, 55 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003

Co-Organized By:

The Floersheimer Center for Constitutional Democracy and The Program on Global and Comparative Constitutional Theory at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law;
The Judging Faith Project at UC Berkeley;
International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO)

The question to what extent religious beliefs should be accommodated in liberal, secular democratic societies that are increasingly multicultural and multi-religious, has become a paramount one. Traditionally, the practice of conscientious objection arose in the context of individuals refusing to bear arms in a military conflict or to serve in the armed forces, and was rooted in the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as protected by national, international and regional human rights law. Under the current predicament, however, the claimed space for religious exceptions has become much wider and diverse, as the right to religious objection is most frequently invoked in conflicts implicating abortion, assisted reproduction techniques, contraception, LGBT equality, and same-sex marriage. Moreover, while traditional invocations of conscientious objection were aimed at protecting minority views (such as pacifism) and minority religious practices, today religious exceptions are often invoked in the name of traditional religious views to thwart the implementation of laws intended to advance the equality of marginalized groups and of minorities, (e.g. refusals to serve others on the ground of their sexual orientation).

This conference will address the new challenges of conscientious objection from both theoretical and different legal perspectives. Questions to be examined include the following: Liberal philosophers, such as Dworkin and Rawls, have stressed the importance of conscience objection to the point of defending a right to civil disobedience under certain circumstances, in cases in which law impinges on fundamental freedoms. But in a pluralistic polity, where individuals and groups hold irreconcilable convictions, what are the criteria to determine what exemptions from generally applicable law—if any-- should be granted on the basis of a genuine assertion of conscientious objection?  Is a ‘general right to conscientious objection’, which would exempt religious individuals and/or corporate entities under the latter’s control   from all anti-discrimination and other rules interfering with manifestations of their beliefs, consistent with a secular, pluralistic democracy? Does the focus on rights obscure other more desirable pathways to accommodation and resolution of conflicts between the conscientious objector and those adversarely affected by the latter’s action? What is the role of courts in adjudicating religious exception claims by religious majorities? Should claims of religious majorities be treated differently than those of religious minorities and left to the ordinary democratic processs? Is there a difference if such claims are expressed in the language of constitutional law rather than in that of human rights law? To what extent are claims of religious exceptions constitutive of political identities?



I.                  The Changing Discourse of Religious Liberty Claims: Conscientous Objection or Culture Wars?

Reva Siegel (Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Professor of Law at Yale Law School)

Douglas NeJaime(Professor of Law & Faculty Director of the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School)

Susanna Mancini (Professor of Law at University of Bologna School of Law; Adjunct Professor of International Law at Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe)

Shai Lavi (Professor of Law at Tel Aviv University Law School)

Pasquale Annichino (Research Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at European Univeristy Institute)

Renata Uitz (Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law at Central European University)

Judge Nancy Gertner (Former United States Federal Judge for the District of Massachusetts)


   II.            Objecting to Anti-Discrimination Laws in the Name of Religious Majorities: Striking a Balance between Freedom and Equality

Christopher McCrudden (William W. Cook Global Law Profesor at Michigan Law; Professor of Human Rights and Equality Law at Queens Unversity Belfast)

Robert Post (Dean and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law at Yale Law School)

Eva Brems (Professor at the Human Rights Center, Ghent University)

Helen Keller (Judge at the European Court of Human Rights)

Marci Hamilton (Paul R. Verkuil Chair of Public Law at Cardozo Law School)

Michael McConnell (Director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School)

Isabelle Rorive (Professor of Law at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles)

Louise Melling (Deputy Legal Director and Director of Center for Liberty, American Civil Liberties Union)

David Oppenheimer (Clinical Professor of Law of Berkleley Law)


III.            Conscientious Objection in a Constitutional Democracy: Theoretical Perspectives

Michel Rosenfeld (University Professor of Law and Comparative Democracy; Justice Sydney L. Robins Professor of Human Rights; Director, Program on Global and Comparative Constitutional Theory at Cardozo Law School)

Cecile Laborde (Professor of Political Theory at University College London)

Lorenzo Zucca (Dickson Poon School of Law at King's College London)

Bernard Schlink (Professor Emeritus at Humboldt University Berlin)

Micah Swartzman (Edward F. Howrey Professor of Law at University of Virginia School of Law)

Nelson Tebbe (Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School)

Marinos Diamantides (Reader in Law at Birkbeck, University of London)

Christopher Kutz (C. William Maxeiner Distinguished Professor of Law at Berkeley Law)

Eric Beerbohm (Professor of Government at Harvard University; Director of Graduate Fellowships at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics)


IV.            Religion, Identity and Equality: Transnational Perspectives of Civil Liberties Advocates

Dorothy Samuels (Senior Fellow, Brennan Center at NYU School of Law)

Brigitte Amiri (Senior Staff at ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project)

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv (Director, Equality Program at Canadian Civil Liberties Association)

Rosie Brihouse (Legal Officer at Liberty)

Stephen O’Hare (Senior Research and Policy Programme Manager at Irish Council for Civil Liberties)





Tentative Conference Schedule


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Greetings: 10 AM

Panel I (Part 1)   10:10-11:40 AM

  Coffee Break   11:40-12:00 PM

Panel I (Part 2) 12:00-1:15 PM

Lunch 1:15-2:30 PM

Panel II (Part 1): 2:30-4:00 PM

Coffee Break 4:00-4:30 PM

Panel II (Part 2) 4:30-5:45 PM

Conference Dinner 7:30 PM


Monday, September 21, 2015


Panel III (Part 1) 10:30AM-12:00 PM

Lunch 12:15-1:45 PM

Panel III (Part 2) 1:45-3:00PM

Coffee Break/Reception: 3:00 PM

Panel IV 6:00-7:30 PM

Closing Reception 7:30 PM