Publication Date

4-15-2016

Advisor(s)

John Finn, Sonali Chakravarti

Major

Government

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

A man walks into the DMV with a colander on his head. No, this isn’t the beginning of a joke—one of the tenets of Pastafarianism, a recognized religion, is that members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster wear this unique form of headwear for their driver’s license photographs. The conflict between members of this religion and state laws that ban headgear in identification photos is just one of the many instances (and admittedly one of the more amusing examples) of tension in the United States between religious liberty and government interests. This paper explores this tension from a historical and legal perspective, highlighting the inconsistencies in and inadequacies of the treatment of religious claims to exemptions. After noting the way state and federal law provides preferential treatment to religion, a practice derived primarily from the Free Exercise Clause, this paper rejects the value of this system of preferential treatment, proposing instead to extend heightened protection to deeply held “claims of conscience,” rather than singling out religion per se. The paper concludes with a model for exemptions that is derived from, but significantly reconstructs, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993; this model proposes to protect deeply held claims of conscience while strictly evaluating any action taken in the name of such a claim of conscience that could harm others in society.

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