The Equal Protection of Free Exercise: Two Approaches and Their History

64 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2005

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 2005


Contrary to critics of the Supreme Court's current equal protection approach to religious liberty, this Article contends that, from the very first federal free exercise cases, the Equal Protection and Free Exercise Clauses have been mutually imbricated. The seeds of an equal protection analysis of free exercise were, indeed, planted even before the Fourteenth Amendment within the constitutional jurisprudence of the several states. Nor, this Article argues, should equal protection approaches be uniformly disparaged. Rather, the drawbacks that commentators have observed result largely from the Supreme Court's application of an inadequate version of equal protection that ignores the lessons that the Fourteenth Amendment taught about the nature of group classification and instead, by emphasizing the individual in isolation, downplays her free exercise claims. Considering this tendency within the context of current theories of group rights and antidiscrimination law, the Article concludes that we should resuscitate the now neglected, alternative strand of an equal protection approach to free exercise.

Keywords: equal protection, free exercise, group rights

Suggested Citation

Meyler, Bernadette A., The Equal Protection of Free Exercise: Two Approaches and Their History (September 2005). Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-031. Available at SSRN: or

Bernadette A. Meyler (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

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