Religion as a Legal Proxy

20 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2014 Last revised: 31 Jan 2015

See all articles by Micah Schwartzman

Micah Schwartzman

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: March 26, 2014


The idea that religion warrants special treatment has been criticized as violating norms of equality and fairness. In response, Andrew Koppelman has argued recently that the American legal tradition of treating religion as a “good thing” is justified on the grounds that when interpreted at a sufficiently high level of abstraction, religion serves as an indispensable legal proxy for a plurality of important goods. In this essay, I argue that using religion as a legal proxy remains vulnerable to charges of unfairness toward those with secular ethical and moral convictions. The case for adopting religion as a proxy turns on arguments against potential substitutes. Even if no category can serve as a complete substitute for religion, however, its use as a proxy can be complemented by protections for the freedom of conscience. The law need not choose between protecting religious and secular convictions. It can and should provide significant protections for both.

Keywords: Religion, Conscience, Religion Clauses, First Amendment, Andrew Koppelman

Suggested Citation

Schwartzman, Micah, Religion as a Legal Proxy (March 26, 2014). 51 San Diego L. Rev. 1085 (2014), Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2014-26, Available at SSRN:

Micah Schwartzman (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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