Perspectives on Academic Freedom: Views From the Top

Thursday, January 15 6pm

Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

55 5th Avenue

New York, NY 10003

Academic freedom is a value universally celebrated in the abstract, but highly contested in its application.  Recent controversies have highlight these different conceptions of academic freedom.  Stanly Fish finds just about all of them wrongheaded.

Join us as Cardozo Law Dean Matthew Diller moderates a conversation on academic freedom between Professor Stanley Fish; Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University; and John Sexton, President of New York Univeristy.



Events Later in 2015

The Conscience Wars: Rethinking the Balance between Religion, Identity, and Equality

September 20-21, 2015

Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law


The question to what extent religious beliefs should be accommodated in liberal, secular democratic societies that are increasingly multicultural and multi-religious, has become a paramount one. Traditionally, the practice of conscientious objection arose in the context of individuals refusing to bear arms in a military conflict or to serve in the armed forces, and was rooted in the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as protected by national, international and regional human rights law. Under the current predicament, however, the claimed space for religious exceptions has become much wider and diverse, as the right to religious objection is most frequently invoked in conflicts implicating abortion, assisted reproduction techniques, contraception, LGBT equality, and same-sex marriage. Moreover, while traditional invocations of conscientious objection were aimed at protecting minority views (such as pacifism) and minority religious practices, today religious exceptions are often invoked in the name of traditional religious views to thwart the implementation of laws intended to advance the equality of marginalized minorities, (e.g. refusals to serve others on the ground of their sexual orientation).
This conference will address the new challenges of conscientious objection from both theoretical and legal different perspectives. Questions to be examined include the following: Liberal philosophers, such as Dworkin and Rawls, have stressed the importance of conscience objection to the point of defending a right to civil disobedience under certain circumstances, in cases in which law impinges on fundamental freedoms. But in a pluralistic polity, where individuals and groups hold irreconcilable convictions, what are the criteria to determine what exemptions from generally applicable law should be granted on the basis of a genuine assertion of conscientious objection?  Is a “general right to conscientious objection”, which would exempt religious individuals from all anti-discrimination and other rules interfering with manifestations of their beliefs, consistent with a secular, pluralistic democracy? What is the role of courts in adjudicating religious exception claims by religious majorities? Is there a difference if such claims are expressed in the language of constitutional law rather than in that of human rights law? To what extent are claims of religious exceptions constitutive of political identities?