Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

Three Conceptions of Religious Freedom

20 Pages Posted: 5 May 2012  

Kenneth L. Marcus

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law

Date Written: May 4, 2012


This essay explores three strands of thought that intertwine in the American legal literature of religious freedom, which can roughly be characterized as individualist, institutionalist and peoplehood. These conceptions correspond roughly to the three historically prominent American religious groups, respectively, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish. The three conceptions, viewed together, provide a pluralist approach to religious freedom which may be stronger than any of the three alone could provide. This has important implications for how courts and agencies should respect the fundamentally different claims which religious groups make upon the concept of freedom. This paper was prepared for the Israel Democracy Institute’s International Conference on the Role of Religion in Human Rights Discourse in Jerusalem.

Keywords: Religion, institutions, individualism, religious, freedom, equality, First Amendment, Freedom of Religion, Fourteenth Amendment, Equal Protection, minorities, Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Sikhism

JEL Classification: J70

Suggested Citation

Marcus, Kenneth L., Three Conceptions of Religious Freedom (May 4, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Kenneth Marcus (Contact Author)

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law ( email )

1776 I Street, N.W., Suite 900
Washington, DC 20006
United States

Paper statistics

Abstract Views