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COURSE NAME: "Religious Freedom in a Comparative Perspective"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2019

INSTRUCTOR: Pamela Harris
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 10:00-11:15 AM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: Junior Standing; Recommended: PL 210

This course explores the major questions posed by religious freedom rights. Students will enter into the debate over what is religious freedom in general and what is the proper place of religion in democratic societies, and then focus on conflicts over the formal relationship between religious and state authorities, the allocation of public wealth to religious communities, the place of religious symbols in the public sphere, religious education in public and private schools, exemptions from general legal requirements for religious claims, tensions between religious communities’ identity and expressive rights and liberal views of sexual morality and gender equality. 
1.   What is religious freedom? philosophical foundations and contemporary debates
2.   Constitutional configurations of religious freedom: different modes of state support for, and control of, religious groups and individuals
3.   Religious accommodations: holidays, rituals, conscientious objection, polygamy    
4.   Religious symbols and expression in the public sphere: private and state-sponsored, in parliaments, courtrooms, parks and schools
5.   Public support for religious education: religious instruction and prayer in public schools, state support for private religious education
6.   Religious identity, sexual morality and gender equality: women's autonomy and religious group rights 
7.   Religion in the politics of democratic societies
1.     Understanding of the basic political and philosophical issues arising from claim of religious freedom rights in multiple political and legal cultures.
2.     Understanding of constitutional context of religious freedom in different liberal, “secular” or nominally tolerant states.
3.     Familiarity with the law framing the rights of religious believers, strivers, doubters, dissidents and atheists in many different jurisdictions.
4.     Enriched understanding of current events.
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Liberty of ConscienceMartha NussbaumBasic Books978-0465018536  

Mock TrialStudents will act as lawyers and judges in a hypothetical religious freedom dispute.30%
Research Paper12-page paper on an individual topic.30%
Class ParticipationClass participation, attendance and contribution to class discussion, minor research questions, and review sessions.10%
Final Examination2:30 hour exam consisting of multiple essay questions covering the whole semester.30%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


Attendance is required. You may miss up to three regular class meetings before this starts to affect your class participation grade.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. 
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


I. What is Religious Freedom? Philosophical Foundations and Contemporary Debates

1. Foundations of Religious Toleration 

Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689) 

2. Religious Liberty in the Founding of the United States

Jefferson, The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom (1786); Letter to Danbury 
Baptists (1802); Madison, Madison, Memorial  and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785)

II. Constitutional Configurations of Religious Freedom and Religious Faith: separation, laicité, secularism, concord, theological state, identity-based/balance-focused

3. Models of Religion-State Relationships 

Mancini and Rosenfeld, Unveiling the Limits of Tolerance

4. Comparative Conceptions of Religious Liberty 

Individual mini-research projects

III. Public Accommodations for Religious Claims  

5.  History of Religious Accommodations in the United States 

Nussbaum, Liberty of Conscience, pp. 115-20, 135-74

6.  United States: Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Hobby Lobby

Hobby Lobby v. Burwell (U.S.S.C. 2014)

7.  Italy 

 Faraguna, Regulating Religion in Italy; Anello, The “Anti-Mosques” Law of Lombardy and  

     Religious Freedom in Italy

8.  Family Law

Nussbaum, pp. 175-198; Sarla Mugdal v. India

9.  Conscientious Objection from Military Service 

Su, Judging Religious Sincerity

Mock Trial : Religious liberty vs. children’s rights: can a European state categorically ban non-therapeutic circumcision?

10 – 11.  Reading specified in handout

12 – 13. Oral argument

IV. Religious Symbols and Expression in the Public Sphere

14. Public Displays of Religion in the U.S. 

Nussbaum, pp. 252- 272

15. The Crucifix in Public Schools: Germany, Italy, European Court of Human Rights 

Lautsi v. Italy (ECtHR 2011); Kruzifix-decision (BVerfGE 93, 1)

16-17. Religious Dress: “European values” and devout Muslim women 

Leyla Şahin v. Turkey (ECtHR 2005) (cf. Ewaida and Others v. U.K. (ECtHR 2013));

Mancini, Patriarchy as the exclusive domain of the Other

V. Religion in Public Schools

18. Prayers and Pledges in U.S. Public Schools 

 Nussbaum, pp. 224-252, 306-334

19.  Religious Instruction: U.S. 

McCullum v. Board of Education (1948)

20.  Religious Instruction: Italy

21.  Religious Instruction: France, Spain, UK, Germany, Canada, Bosnia…

 Hunter-Hénin, Law, Religious Freedoms and Education in Europe; Custos, Secularism in French Public Schools

VI. Religious Identity, Family Values, Sexual Morality and Gender Equality

22.  Religion and Reproductive Freedom 

 A.B.C. v. Ireland (ECtHR); Little Sisters v. Burwell

23.  Religion and LGBT rights 

Issacson, Are Same-Sex Marriages a Threat to Religious Liberty?; Case of Ewaida and Others v. UK (ECtHR 2013); Obergefell v. Hodges (U.S.S.C. 2015); Blankenhorn, How My View of  Gay Marriage Changed

24 - 25.  Women’s autonomy and religious group rights 

Shachar, Women, State and the Problem of Gender

VII. Religion and the Politics of Democratic Societies

26.  Religious Claims in Democratic Public Debate I 

Rawls, The Idea of Public Reason Revisited; Habermas, Religion in the Public Sphere; Nussbaum, ch. 9; Urbinati, Laïcité in Reverse: Mono-Religious Democracies and the Issue of Religion in the Public Sphere; Galeotti, Toleration as Recognition

27.  Research Presentations

28.  Final Review