Accommodating 'Religion'

46 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2015 Last revised: 8 Jun 2016

See all articles by Aaron R. Petty

Aaron R. Petty

U.S. Department of Justice; Leiden University

Date Written: February 5, 2015


For better or worse, the religion clauses are a part of the American jurisprudential legacy. We must be able to address the religion clauses in some measure if for no other reason than "because the Constitution says so." And to address the religion clauses, we must at least engage with the term "religion." In this Article, I hope to illuminate some of the problems in defining religion for legal purposes by taking a step back and examining the problems with defining religion more generally and, indeed, with definitions in general. I aim to begin a discussion of how the word "religion" in the First Amendment is best understood, given the understanding, still relatively new to the legal world, that "religion" is not a neutral category.

Keywords: religion, definition, multifactor, polythetic, essentialist, belief, family resemblance, prototype, sincerity, extra temporal consequnces, free speech

Suggested Citation

Petty, Aaron R., Accommodating 'Religion' (February 5, 2015). 83 Tennessee Law Review 529 (2016), Available at SSRN:

Aaron R. Petty (Contact Author)

U.S. Department of Justice ( email )

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
United States

Leiden University ( email )

Postbus 9500
Leiden, Zuid Holland 2300 RA

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