Defining Religion in American Law: Psychic Sophie and the Rise of the Nones

26 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2014 Last revised: 13 May 2014

See all articles by Mark Movsesian

Mark Movsesian

St. John's University School of Law

Date Written: February 1, 2014


The most important recent development in American religion is the dramatic increase in the number of people who claim no religious affiliation - the rise of the Nones. In this Working Paper, I discuss the social factors that explain the rise of the Nones - demography, politics, family, technology, a distrust of institutions generally - and explain what this development might mean for the definition of religion in American law. I focus on a recent federal appeals court case involving a self-styled spiritual adviser, “Psychic Sophie,” who claimed that following her “inner flow” constituted a religion meriting constitutional and statutory protection. I argue that the case is a close one. Protecting Nones as a religion would promote the important goals of state religious neutrality and personal autonomy. On the other hand, religion has always been understood in terms of community. Indeed, as Tocqueville saw, it is precisely religion’s communal aspect that makes it so important to liberal democracy. Granting Nones the status of a religion would fail to capture this important social benefit.

Keywords: Law and Religion, Sociology of Religion, Religious Liberty, Nones

Suggested Citation

Movsesian, Mark, Defining Religion in American Law: Psychic Sophie and the Rise of the Nones (February 1, 2014). Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Research Paper No. 2014/19, St. John's Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-0001, Available at SSRN: or

Mark Movsesian (Contact Author)

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

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