Villanova professor of law presents religious lecture at BYU


Villanova University’s vice dean and professor of law gave a lecture on freedom of religious institutions and their place in the Constitution as part of BYU’s Religious Liberty Lecture Series March 5.

Villanova University vice dean and professor of law gives lecture on religious freedom. (Photo by Sarah Strobel Hill)
Villanova University vice dean and professor of law Michael Morelan lectures on religious freedom. (Photo by Sarah Strobel Hill)

Michael Moreland presented a paper he wrote discussing several religious freedom  topics that have been widely debated in the past two years.

Moreland said freedom for churches protects liberty. The skeptics of religious freedom laws, according to Moreland, are baffled by the idea of this freedom.

“Freedom of the church, they argue, simply makes no sense,” Moreland said. “This is true; the argument goes in at least two ways. One is that there is no place for the church in the American Constitutional doctrine.”

Moreland said the recent debate branches into three areas of discussion. Within this debate are three aspects discussed by Moreland that explain the issues of whether or not groups, especially religious groups, can receive protection from the government.

Moreland said a theological division separates supporters and doubters of religious freedom claims. The argument is about whether or not religion can be regarded as a special group that has a Constitutional right to government protection.

“Theologically, advocates and skeptics of the freedom of the church, I think, are divided over whether theological claims … are legally cognizable and sensible,” Moreland said.

Skeptics who do not believe churches should receive special protection argue churches are nothing more than accumulations of individual worshipers.

“The religious freedom issue with regards to churches is nothing less and certainly nothing more than the rights of individuals who happen to join the church,” Moreland said.

This topic was covered more thoroughly in the question-and-answer session following the lecture. Madeleine Ary, a senior studying international relations, clarified Moreland’s views on the unique legal nature of churches.

“The most interesting idea to me was the way in which he framed the church as more than simply the amalgamation of individuals, but rather as an entity in itself,” Ary said. “As such, churches may be afforded rights which are usually reserved only to individual behavior.”

Moreland also covered issues including sexual morality and the Christian corporate identity and same-sex marriage rights, and he stressed achieving clarity about such arguments.

“Most religious believers might say it is not the first or even second or third thing to say about their faith, but nonetheless, the church is an authoritative teacher of sexual morality,” Moreland said.

Moreland’s lecture on institutional religious freedom was presented as part of the Wheatley Institution’s Religious Liberty Lecture Series.

According to the Wheatley Institution, the purpose of the Liberty Lecture Series “is to produce consequential scholarship in key topics consistent with its core mission. The Institution will convene leading scholars and experts from BYU and from beyond campus to research and publish collaboratively as well as individually on these topics.”

This lecture, along with others from the series, can be found online at

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