The Problem of Religious Learning

67 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2008 Last revised: 30 Jul 2008

See all articles by Marc O. DeGirolami

Marc O. DeGirolami

St. John's University - School of Law


The problem of religious learning is that religion - including the teaching about religion - must be separated from liberal public education, and yet that religion cannot be entirely separated if the aims of liberal public education are to be realized. It is a problem that has gone largely unexamined by courts, constitutional scholars and other legal theorists. Though the Supreme Court has offered a few terse statements about the permissibility of teaching about religion in its Establishment Clause jurisprudence and scholars frequently urge favored policies for or against such controversial subjects as Intelligent Design or graduation prayers, insufficient attention has been paid to the nature and depth of the problem itself. As a result, discussion about religion's place in public schools often exhibits a haphazard and under-theorized quality. Yet without a deeper understanding of the relationship between religious learning and liberal public education, no edifying policy solutions are likely in an area so fraught with constitutional complexity and high emotion.

This Article aims to fill that gap by giving the problem of religious learning its due. It offers a detailed theoretical account of the relationship between religious learning and the cultivation of the civic and moral ideals of liberal democracies. It draws on that account to develop a unique model of religious learning within liberal learning that takes its cue from the historic purpose of the public school. Since even today it is widely supposed and insisted that public schools still serve a vital role in developing civic and moral ideals in young people, this Article's comprehensive examination of the problem of religious learning is both timely and necessary if the seemingly intractable skirmishes over religion, education policy, and constitutional law are capable of even a modest reconciliation.

Keywords: Constitutional Law, Education Law, Law and Society, Public Law and Legal Theory, Religion

Suggested Citation

DeGirolami, Marc O., The Problem of Religious Learning. Boston College Law Review, Vol. 49, 2008, Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 08-169 , Available at SSRN:

Marc O. DeGirolami (Contact Author)

St. John's University - School of Law ( email )

8000 Utopia Parkway
Jamaica, NY 11439
United States

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