Even as controversies continue to rage over preferential treatment for racial and ethnic minorities, many religious conservatives are contending with mounting intensity that their religious liberty is endangered if they are not exempted from a wide range of statutory and even constitutional requirements, including duties to provide medical insurance coverage for contraceptives; to refuse to serve LGBTQ customers; to refrain from endorsing political candidates if they wish to retain tax exemptions; and others. This paper argues that public policymakers, including courts, should subject all denials of such accommodations to strict scrutiny, granting exemptions unless their denial is necessary for compelling state interests. Religious accommodations, like other forms of differential treatment, often can advance goals of egalitarian civic inclusion and reduce resentments that contribute to conservative populist movements– so long as the exemptions do not go so far as to represent acquiescence in denials of basic rights of persons.
A note from Jean Cohen, project organizer:
Everyone seems to be writing on populism these days, which is unsurprising given the global rise of populist movements, parties, and leaders. But the relationship of populism to religion remains understudied. In response, IRCPL has organized a three-part speaker series on Populism and Religion. With this series, we aim to illuminate the broad yet distinctive nature of populism(s) by analyzing their region-specific histories, the religious posturing of populist groups on both sides of the political spectrum, and the unique rhetorics used by populist movements to appeal to the general public.
Rogers M. Smith is the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Associate Dean for the Social Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, and Chair of the Penn Program on Democracy, Citizenship, and Constitutionalism. He is the author or co-author of many articles and seven books, including Political Peoplehood (2015), Still a House Divided: Race and Politics in Obama’s America with Desmond S. King (2011), Stories of Peoplehood: The Politics and Morals of Political Membership (2003), and Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History (1997). Civic Ideals received six best book prizes from four professional associations and was a finalist for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in History. Smith was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004, the American Academy of Political and Social Science in 2011, and the American Philosophical Society in 2016. The American Political Science Association’s Nominating Committee has nominated him to serve as the Association’s President in 2018-2019.