Implied Consent: A Primer and a Defense

51 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2017  

Michael A. Helfand

Pepperdine University School of Law

Date Written: 2017


One of the recent fault lines over religious liberty is the scope of protections afforded institutions and corporations that have religiously-motivated leadership. Courts and scholars all seem to agree that such religious institutions deserve some degree of protection. But the remains significant debate over the principles that should guide judicial decisions addressing in what circumstances religiously-motivated institutions should — and in what circumstances they should not — receive the law’s protection.

In this chapter, I argue for an “implied consent” framework to address religious institutional claims. Such a framework grounds the authority of religious institutions not in a degree of inherent religiosity, but in the presumed consent of their members. On such an account, consent can be assumed so long as members understood the unique religious objectives of the institution when they joined, thereby implicitly authorizing the institution to make rules and resolve disputes related to accomplishing these uniquely religious objectives. In this way, an implied consent framework focuses less on the objective religious quality and nature of religious institutions and religious institutional claims, but on the contextual indications of an implicitly consensual relationship between religious institutions and their members. In turn, an implied consent framework not only supports some of the religious liberty claims advanced by religious institutions, but it also uses the implied consent framework to establish important limits on religious institutional authority and autonomy.

Keywords: Religious Liberty, Religious Institutions, Religious Institutionalism, Implied Consent, Voluntarism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Establishment Clause, Adjudicative Disability

Suggested Citation

Helfand, Michael A., Implied Consent: A Primer and a Defense (2017). Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 50, Forthcoming; Pepperdine University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2017/13. Available at SSRN:

Michael A. Helfand (Contact Author)

Pepperdine University School of Law ( email )

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States

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