"The Conflict Over Religious Liberty"

Monday, February 18, 2013
Max L. Rowe Auditorium, College of Law Building
12:00 PM–1:00 PM

The University of Illinois College of Law presents the David C. Baum Memorial Lecture on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights.

Douglas Laycock
Robert E. Scott Distinguished Professor of Law 
Horace W. Goldsmith Research Professor of Law 
Professor of Religious Studies
University of Virginia

Talk Description

Religious liberty is a fundamental constitutional right, but it has become a battle ground in the culture wars. Nonbelievers sometimes attack religious liberty as special privilege for believers, and supporters of the pro-choice and gay rights movements often see religious liberty as empowering their enemies. The solution to many culture war battles is mutual tolerance modeled on religious liberty, but too many activists are uninterested in mutual tolerance. Both sides want a total win.

An academic version of the special privilege argument denies that there is anything distinctive about religion that would justify distinct legal protection for religious liberty. The argument generally proceeds by comparing religion to its closest analog, non-theistic claims of conscience, and finding no difference that would justify a difference in treatment. Religious liberty is constitutionally protected because religion is now, and was historically, different from the great bulk of human behavior. Openly professed nonbelief is an important new set of beliefs about religion, and this new set of beliefs must be incorporated into the regime of religious liberty. But this development does not reduce the need for religious liberty or change the ways in which religion is constitutionally distinctive. Comparing religion only to what it is most like, and ignoring all the things from which it is different, is like looking through the wrong end of the telescope.


Douglas Laycock is one of the nation's leading authorities on the law of remedies and also on the law of religious liberty.

Before joining Virginia Law's faculty in 2010, Laycock served as the Yale Kamisar Collegiate Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School. Prior to that he taught for 25 years at the University of Texas and for five years at the University of Chicago.

Laycock has testified frequently before Congress and has argued many cases in the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. He is the author of the leading casebook, Modern American Remedies; the award-winning monograph, The Death of the Irreparable Injury Rule; and many articles in the leading law reviews. He has co-edited a collection of essays, Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty, and he recently published Religious Liberty, Volume I: Overviews and History, and Volume II: The Free Exercise Clause. These two volumes are the first half of a four-volume collection of his many writings on religious liberty. 

Laycock is vice president of the American Law Institute, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the 2009 winner of the National First Freedom Award from the Council on America's First Freedom.

He earned his B.A. from Michigan State University and his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School.


Free Admission
Public Welcome
Box lunches provided to attendees