POL S 402 A: Advanced Seminar In Human Rights

Freedom of Religion and Speech

Meeting Time: 
MW 1:30pm - 3:20pm
PAR 120
Joint Sections: 
LSJ 491 B
Jamie Mayerfeld

Syllabus Description:

"Freedom of Religion and Speech"

Like other constitutional democracies, the United States is pledged to respect freedom of religion and freedom of speech. However, the meaning, justification, and legal application of these rights is a subject of perennial controversy – controversy that has sometimes developed into political antagonism. In this course, we study how political philosophers and judges have grappled with questions regarding church-state relations, religious toleration, censorship, religious and anti-religious bigotry, religiously offensive speech, and hate speech. Our aim is to understand the disagreements that divide people on these questions and to develop reasoned positions in response to them.

Among the questions we consider:  What is the proper relation between religion and the state?  Should religious values be allowed to influence public policy?  Should individuals sometimes be granted exemption from certain laws on grounds of religious conscience? What legal limits, if any, may governments legitimately place on offensive speech and hate speech?  How, if at all, can we draw a line between morally permissible criticism and self-expression on the one hand and morally impermissible hate speech on the other?

Written Assignments:

Students will complete two essays, 5-7 pages long, and will prepare a class presentation, to be accompanied by a short essay.


Participation: 10%
Presentation:    20%
First essay:      35%
Second essay:  35%

Tentative reading list. (Many of the following will be excerpted.)

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
Martha Nussbaum, Liberty of Conscience 
Abdullahi An-Na'im, "The Interdependence of Religion, Secularism, and Human Rights – Prospects for Islamic Societies”
Ryan T. Anderson, John Corvino, and Sherif Girgis, Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination 
Sherbert v. Verner
Wisconsin v. Yoder 
Employment Division v. Smith
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby 
Mari Matsuda, Charles Lawrence, Richard Delgado, and Kimberlè Crenshaw, Words That Wound
Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman, Free Speech on Campus 
George Kateb, "The Freedom of Worthless and Harmful Speech"
Mary Kate McGowan, “On ‘Whites Only’ Signs and Racist Hate Speech: Verbal Acts of Racial Discrimination”
R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul
Virginia v. Black
Snyder v. Phelps


Additional Details:

W course.

Catalog Description: 
Examines selected human rights topics including questions relating to the meaning, justification, promotion, implementation, suppression, or denial of human rights.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
November 14, 2017 - 9:26pm