The Future of Religious Liberties

October 5, 2021

In October of 2021, Jewish Currents held the inaugural event of a new series devoted to the future of key concepts in society today: The Futures Forum. This first exciting conversation discussed the growing role of religious liberties discourse and litigation in American legal culture, which appears as a major new front in the cultural and political battles in the U.S. today. Curated by Prof. David Myers, this conversation featured Dahlia Lithwick (moderator), Prof. Nomi Stolzenberg, Prof. Micah Schwartzman, Prof. Michael Avi Helfand, and Prof. Katherine Franke.

Katherine Franke is the James L. Dohr Professor of Law, and Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia University. She is among the nation’s leading scholars writing on law, sexuality, race, and religion drawing from feminist, queer, and critical race theory. Professor Franke is also the founder and faculty director of the Law, Rights, and Religion Project, a think tank based at Columbia Law School that develops policy and thought leadership on the complex ways in which religious liberty rights interact with other fundamental rights. Franke has taken a leading role in crafting the use of religious liberty claims used by progressive social movements, particularly in cases involving immigrants and environmental rights, gun control, and the anti-nuclear activism.

Her first book, Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality (NYU Press 2015), considers the costs of winning marriage rights for same sex couples today and for African Americans at the end of the Civil War. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2011 to support research for Wedlocked. Her second book, Repair: Redeeming the Promise of Slavery’s Abolition (Haymarket Press 2019), makes the case for racial reparations in the United States by returning to a time at the end of the Civil War when many formerly enslaved people were provided land explicitly as a form of reparation.

Michael (Avi) Helfand is Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Faculty and Research at Pepperdine Caruso School of Law as well as Co-Director of Pepperdine Law’s Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion and Ethics. In addition, Professor Helfand also serves as Visiting Professor and Oscar M. Ruebhausen Distinguished Fellow at Yale Law School and a Senior Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. He received his J.D. from Yale Law School and his Ph.D. in Political Science from Yale University.

His academic articles have appeared in numerous law journals, including the Yale Law Journal and the New York University Law Review. Professor Helfand also often provides commentary on clashes between law and religion, writing for various general audience publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Tablet Magazine and the Forward.

In addition to his academic work, Professor Helfand is an executive board member of the Beth Din of America, where he also serves as a consultant on the enforceability of rabbinical arbitration agreements and awards in U.S. courts.

Dahlia Lithwick is a Senior Editor at, where she has been covering the Supreme Court and Jurisprudence since 1999. She was Newsweek’s legal columnist from 2008 until 2011. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, New York Magazine, The Washington Post, Elle, Glamour, and Commentary, among other places. She is a regular guest on MSNBC, CNN, ABC and Dan Rather Reports and is a regular legal expert for The Rachel Maddow Show.

Lithwick was the first online journalist invited to serve on the Steering Committee for the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press. She also serves on the board of the Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Speech. She has testified before the United States Congress about access to justice in the era of the Roberts Court and briefed Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee before the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings. Lithwick has held visiting faculty positions at the University of Georgia Law School, The University of Virginia School of Law, and The Hebrew University Law School in Jerusalem. Lithwick earned her BA from Yale University and her JD degree from Stanford University. She clerked for the Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Lithwick is co-author of Me Versus Everybody (Workman Press, 2006) and of I Will Sing Life (Little, Brown 1992). Her work has been featured in numerous anthologies including Jewish Jocks (2012), What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-one Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most (forthcoming), About What was Lost (2006); A Good Quarrel (2009); Going Rouge: Sarah Palin, An American Nightmare (2009); and Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary (2008).

Micah Schwartzman is the Hardy Cross Dillard Professor of Law and director of the Karsh Center for Law and Democracy at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Nomi M. Stolzenberg is a legal scholar whose research spans a range of interdisciplinary interests, including law and religion, law and liberalism, law and feminism, law and psychoanalysis, and law and literature. She occupies the Nathan and Lilly Shapell Chair at the USC Gould School of Law and is a codirector of USC’s Center for Law, History and Culture. Her works on law and religion include “The Return of Religion: The Rise, Decline, and Possible Resurrection of Legal Secularism,” “It’s About Money: The Fundamental Contradiction of Hobby Lobby,” and “Righting the Relationship Between Race and Religion in Law.” Her forthcoming book, American Shtetl: The Making of Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic Village in Upstate New York, co-authored with David N. Myers, will be published by Princeton University Press this December.

David N. Myers is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA, where he serves as the director of the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy. He is the author or editor of more than fifteen books in the field of Jewish history, including the forthcoming American Shtetl: The Making of Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic Village in Upstate New York (Princeton) with Nomi Stolzenberg. Myers also serves as President of the New Israel Fund.