Religious Accommodations And — And Among — Civil Rights: Separation, Toleration, and Accommodation

Richard W. Garnett, Notre Dame Law School


This paper expands on a presentation at a recent conference, held at Harvard Law School, on the topic of “Religious Accommodations in the Age of Civil Rights.” In it, I emphasize that the right to religious freedom is a basic civil right, the increased appreciation of which is said to characterize our “age.” Accordingly, I push back against scholars’ and commentators’ increasing tendency to regard and present religious accommodations and exemptions as obstacles to the civil-rights enterprise and ask instead if our religious-accommodation practices are all that they should be. Are accommodations and exemptions being extended prudently but generously, in as many cases and to as many persons and entities as possible, in a sincere effort to welcome religious minorities, objectors, and dissenters as fully as we can into what Justice Harlan called “the dignity and glory of American citizenship”? What barriers exist to the promotion and achievement of civil-rights goals through religious accommodations and how might these barriers be overcome? Are civil-rights laws being designed and enforced in ways that guard against unintended or unjustified disregard for or sacrifices of the civil (and human) right to religious liberty?