2008 Church Autonomy Conference - "The Things That Are Not Caesar’s: Religious Organizations as a Check on the Authoritarian Pretensions of the State"

Religious Liberties Practice Group

 Church autonomy issues are at the forefront of contemporary debates in church/state law.  Such issues arise whenever the government seeks to impose a regulatory burden on a church or any religious organization.  Often the regulatory burden comes in the form of generally applicable legislation that is facially neutral with respect to religion.  The regulation may also take place through developments in the common law, such as claims sounding in tort, contract, trust, or real property.

Some of the pressing topics in the area of church autonomy include ministerial exceptions to employment discrimination claims, IRS tax exempt status and political speech, unconstitutional conditions on public benefits, and bankruptcy litigation.  An older and still important line of cases deals with intra-church disputes in which two factions litigate ownership of church property.  Finally, there is the matter of tort claims against a church for clergy sexual abuse, a particularly difficult area that has arguably eroded the scope of church autonomy in other contexts.

To explore these issues in detail, the Federalist Society gathered some of the leading law and religion scholars in America.  Among the topics addressed at the conference were the theological and historical roots of church autonomy in both the Catholic and Protestant traditions, the constitutional basis for the church autonomy doctrine in the First Amendment, and particular applications of church autonomy in torts, employment, and other areas of law.

We want to extend a special thanks to our program sponsors:

The Alliance Defense Fund
The Center for Religion and the Constitution
Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young

Friday, March 14, 2008
9:15 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.
Opening Remarks  

  • Dean John H. Garvey, Boston College Law School

Foundational Issues - Catholic Perspectives:

9:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Paper Title: "Differentiating Church and State (Without Losing the Church)" 

  • Prof. Patrick McKinley Brennan, Villanova University School of Law

10:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Paper Title: "Dignitatis Humanae and the Catholic Theory of Religious Liberty" 

  • Prof. Kenneth L. Grasso, Texas State University-San Marcos

Foundational Issues - Protestant Perspectives:

10:45 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.
Paper Title: "Protestant Dissent and the Disestablishment in Virginia, 1776-1786" 

  • Prof. Carl H. Esbeck, University of Missouri School of Law
  • Presented by: Mr. Gregory S. Baylor, Center for Law & Religious Freedom

11:15 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.
Paper Title: "Kuyper's View Concerning the Autonomy of the Church" 

  • Prof. Nicholas P. Wolterstorff, University of Virginia

Statutory and Case Overview:

12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Paper Title: "Courts, Clergy, and Congregations: Disputes between Religious Institutions and their Leaders" 

  • Prof. Ira C. “Chip” Lupu, The George Washington University Law School
  • Prof. Robert W. Tuttle, The George Washington University Law School

1:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Paper Title: Church Autonomy and Conditions on Benefits 

  • Prof. Thomas C. Berg, University of Saint Thomas School of Law

1:45 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.
Paper Title: "Institutional Conscience and the First Amendment"  

  • Prof. Michael P. Moreland, Villanova University School of Law

2:15 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.

  • Prof. John H. Mansfield, Harvard Law School

2:45 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.
Closing Remarks

Paper Title: Church Autonomy Revisited 

  • Prof. Douglas Laycock, University of Michigan Law School


Georgetown University Law Center
Gewirz Student Center
Washington, DC

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