Symposium Spotlights the Rise of the Nones and American Law


At a recent symposium co-hosted by the Law School’s Center for Law and Religion and Journal of Catholic Legal Studies (JCLS), leading legal scholars convened with an 80-person audience at Manhattan’s New York Athletic Club to discuss The Rise of the Nones and American Law.

The panelists included Professor Steven Collis of the Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center at the University of Texas Law School, Professor Gregory Sisk of the University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota), and Center Co-Director Mark Movsesian. They offered diverse perspectives on the explosion in the percentage of Americans—now perhaps as high as 30% of adults—that tell pollsters they have no religious affiliation. While most of these “Nones” reject traditional religious organizations, they have personal spiritual commitments that draw on many sources.

Professor Movsesian opened the conversation with his forthcoming article, “The New Thoreaus,” which argues that the Nones are starting to put pressure on the Supreme Court’s definition of “religion” for First Amendment purposes. Professor Sisk followed with a discussion of his forthcoming article, “Where to Place the ‘Nones’ in the Church and State Debate? Empirical Evidence from Establishment Clause Cases in Federal Court,” which will appear in the St. John’s Law Review. Sisk’s article details the impact that Nones are having as federal judges in deciding Establishment Clause claims. Finally, Professor Collis argued that Nones might have less impact on American law than either Movsesian or Sisk anticipate.

“The symposium’s engaging and informative presentations inspired conversations that lasted well after the event concluded,” says Kassandra Pugliese ‘23, who helped organize the event as JCLS’ Symposium Editor. “We’re extremely grateful to have gathered scholars, alumni, students, and faculty to discuss the increasingly important phenomenon of the Nones,” adds JCLS Editor-in-Chief Julia Shea ‘23. “Thank you to our panelists and everyone who helped facilitate this insightful and productive exchange of ideas at the intersection of law and religion. We hope this continues to spark conversation and grow the relationship between JCLS and the Center.”

About the Center for Law and Religion
Established in 2010, the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s Law provides a forum for studying law and religion from domestic, international, and comparative perspectives with the aim of:

  • Examining the role of law in the relationship between religion and the state
  • Exploring the concept of law in different religious traditions
  • Promoting St. John’s Vincentian mission by encouraging an open dialogue on law and religion in the local, national, and international communities

In addition to hosting academic programs locally and around the world, the Center coordinates the Law School’s law and religion curriculum. It also hosts the Law and Religion Forum, a blog about recent law and religion scholarship and news, and Legal Spirits, a podcast series on law and religion issues in the courts.

About the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies
Run by students in affiliation with the St. John’s Law Review, and known for its first 50 years as The Catholic LawyerJCLS is a scholarly journal devoted to the study of law and religion in general, and law and Catholicism in particular.