November 17, 2011 | Religious freedom has been called America's "first freedom." But does it warrant such a special status? What, if anything, distinguishes religious freedom from other protected rights like the freedom of speech or assembly? Is religious freedom a right that stands on its own, or is it a subset of a broader freedom of conscience?
How such questions are answered carries profound consequences for the treatment of religion in American public life and in American foreign policy. On Thursday, November 17, 2011, the Religious Freedom Project hosted a keynote debate at Georgetown University on the question of the uniqueness of religious freedom. Debating this critical issue were Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman and Stanford Law Professor Michael McConnell.
Noah Feldman is Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He specializes in constitutional studies, with an emphasis on the relationship between law and religion, constitutional design, and the history of legal theory. Feldman is the author of three books: Divided By God: America's Church-State Problem and What We Should Do About It (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005); What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building (Princeton University Press, 2004); and After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003). Feldman has also been on faculty at the New York University School of Law. In 2003, he served as a senior constitutional advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and advised members of the Iraqi Governing Council on the drafting of the Transitional Administrative Law. He is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. Feldman holds degrees from Harvard University, Oxford and Yale Law School.
Michael McConnell is Richard and Frances Mallery Professor of Law at Stanford University Law School. Educated at Michigan State University (BA '76) and the University of Chicago Law School (JD '79), he is an accomplished litigator, judge and professor of law. He has argued a dozen cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, served as a federal appellate judge for the Tenth Circuit and taught law at the University of Utah, the University of Chicago, Harvard and Stanford. Now retired from the bench, he is a professor at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center. His particular areas of interest and expertise in Constitutional law include freedom of speech and religion, the relationship between individuals and government, and originalism.