The McElroy Lecture on Law and Religion

In February 1998, Detroit Mercy Law began the McElroy Lecture Series to address prominent issues of religion, law and society. The McElroy Lecture is sponsored by Detroit Mercy Law through a bequest from alumnus Philip J. McElroy for the establishment of the Center of Law and Religion at Detroit Mercy Law. The McElroy Lecture on Law and Religion provides a forum for prominent thinkers and leaders to address fundamental issues of law, religion and society.

It seeks to educate students, legal professionals, and the wider public on a variety of questions related to moral philosophy, freedom of conscience, the interaction of legal and religious institutions, and the role of religion in public life. Its goal is to encourage discussion of these issues in our community and deepen our understanding of them.

Prior lecturers have been U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Stephen L. Carter, Adam Cardinal Maida, Hon. John T. Noonan, Jr., Michael John Perry, Jaroslav Pelikan, Dennis W. Archer, Geoffrey C. Hazard, Jr., Cass R. Sunstein, Noah Feldman, Leslie Griffin, Roger Cardinal Mahony, John Witte, Jr., Douglas M. Laycock, Marci A. Hamilton, and Sarah Barringer Gordon.

These lectures have had a profound impact on the nation’s understanding of  law and religion. For example, Professor Laycock’s 2011 lecture was cited to in briefs submitted to the United States Supreme Court in Obergefell v. HodgesSebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., and Hollingsworth v. Perry.

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    2022 Lecture

    Watch the 2022 McElroy Lecture

    The 2022 lecture took place on October 25 in-person and virtual. The McElroy Lecture on Law and Religion provides a forum for prominent thinkers to address fundamental issues of law and religion. This year’s lecture, titled “Global Migration, Citizenship and Catholic Social Teaching,” will be presented by Vincent D. Rougeau, President of College of the Holy Cross. Rougeau will present the role of Catholic social teaching based on the questions of global migration and citizenship. He will declare that Catholic social teachings with an emphasis on the dignity of the human person maintain values essential to democratic societies like the United States.


    About Vincent D. Rougeau:

    Vincent D. Rougeau, a nationally respected expert in legal education and Catholic social thought, became the 33rd president of the College of the Holy Cross in July 2021. Rougeau previously served as dean of the Boston College Law School and the inaugural director of the Boston College Forum on Racial Justice in America. Prior to his role at Boston College, Rougeau was a tenured professor of law at Notre Dame Law School, and served as their associate dean for Academic Affairs from 1999-2002.

    Vince’s early focus at Holy Cross has been on preparing for campus capital improvements; supporting the College’s workforce and strengthening its organizational structure; and launching, in collaboration with the Board of Trustees and the Speaker of the Faculty, a review of shared governance. In addition, the College is continuing strategic planning efforts that began with the identification of strategic themes and are now taking shape in future-focused strategies.

    Vince has written extensively on law and religion with a particular focus on Catholic social teaching and the law. His book “Christians in the American Empire: Faith and Citizenship in the New World Order” was released by Oxford University Press in 2008. His research considers the relationships among religious identity, citizenship, and membership in highly mobile and increasingly multicultural democratic societies. He served as senior fellow at the Centre for Theology and Community (CTC) in London, where he researched broad-based community organizing, immigration, and citizenship in the UK as part of the Just Communities Project. He is past president of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), and previously served on the Council of the Boston Bar Association. He currently serves on the boards of Newton-Wellesley Hospital and the Boston Lyric Opera.

    Vince received his A.B. magna cum laude from Brown University in 1985, and his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1988, where he served as articles editor of the Harvard Human Rights Journal. He and his wife, Robin Kornegay-Rougeau, M.D., have three sons, Christian, Alexander and Vincent (V.J.).


    2020 Lecture

    The McElroy Lecture provides a forum for prominent thinkers to address fundamental issues of law and religion. Professor Cathleen Kaveny of Boston College Law School presented the lecture titled “The Ironies of the New Religious Liberties Litigation.” Kaveny examined the legal victories of religious believers and how they are premised on legal rights instead of what we owe others of different beliefs. This was the first McElroy Lecture to take place virtually.

    Watch the 2020 Lecture here


    2019 Lecture

    This year's McElroy Lecture, “Why Buddhism and Law Has Been Excluded from the Canon,” explored why the discipline of Buddhism and law has never been accepted in the West, despite the fact that the Buddha inspired a law code that has been called the founding charter of Buddhism. Rebecca French, professor of Law at the University at Buffalo School of Law, part of the State University of New York system, discussed this phenomenon against the background of Buddhist history, early Christianity and the dominance of the Holy Roman Empire as a model of state and religious law. She explored the role of colonialism in excluding Buddhism and Law from the canon of comparative religious law.  

    Rebecca French

    French received her B.A. from the University of Michigan, her J.D. from the University of Washington, and an LL.M. and Ph.D. in legal anthropology from Yale University. Her scholarship is situated at the intersections of law, anthropology, legal theory, religious studies and Buddhist legal systems. She conducted four years of field research in Tibet and India that resulted in a study of the Dalai Lama’s pre-1960 legal system, titled “The Golden Yoke.” Her other publications include “Buddhism and Law: An Introduction” and the academic journal, “Buddhism, Law & Society.”


    2018 Lecture

    Detroit Mercy School of Law hosted the 20th annual McElroy Lecture on March 28, 2018.  This year’s lecturer was University of Victoria Law School Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law John Borrows.  Borrows’ speech was titled “The Revitalization of Indigenous Spirituality: Court and Community Conflicts.”

    Over the past few decades in Canada, there has been a resurgence of respect for and knowledge about Indigenous people (the first peoples of Canada).  Spirituality plays a key role in Indigenous legal traditions in Canada, rooted as they are in principles such as the Seven Grandmother teachings of love, truth, bravery, humility, wisdom, honesty, and respect. In the past, Indigenous legal traditions, much like Native American traditions in the United States, have been misunderstood as primitive, broken, disappearing, irrelevant, or even nonexistent.  That is changing in Canada.  Borrows discussed how Indigenous spirituality and legal traditions provide new resources for legal reasoning and thinking in areas such as child welfare, education, health, housing, and natural resource development.


    2017 Lecture

    University of Detroit Mercy School of Law hosted its 19th McElroy Lecture on Law and Religion on Thursday, March 2, 2017.  This year’s lecturer was Intisar A. Rabb, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and Director of its Islamic Legal Studies Program. Rabb holds an appointment as a Professor of History at Harvard University and as the Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The title of her lecture is, “Qāḍī Justice: Islamic Law as Procedure.” 

Publication of Past McElroy Lectures

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    Past McElroy Lectures

    Since 1998, the University of Detroit Mercy Law Review has been honored to publish the lectures and essays that have come out of the event. Below is the publication information.

    2016 – Kent Greenawalt, Granting Exemptions from Legal Duties: When are They Warranted and What is the Place of Religion? 93 U. Det. Mercy. L. Rev. 89 (2016).

    2012 – Marci A. Hamilton, Child Sex Abuse in Institutional Settings: What Is Next, 89 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 421 (2012).

    2011 – Douglas Laycock, Sex, Atheism, and the Free Exercise of Religion, 88 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 407 (2011).

    2010 – John Witte, Jr., “Rights, Resistance, and Revolution: The Historical Christian Foundations of Human Rights” Natural Rights, Popular Sovereignty, and Covenant Politics: Johannes Althusius and the Dutch Revolt and Republic, 87 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 565 (2010).

    2009 – Cardinal Roger Mahony, Immigration, the Rule of Law, and the Common Good, 86 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 603 (2009).

    2008 – Leslie C. Griffin, No Law Respecting the Practice of Religion, 85 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 475 (2008).

    2007 – Noah Feldman, Law, Islam, and the Future of the Middle East, 84 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 617 (2007).

    2006 – Cass R. Sunstein, “Ceremonial Deism” Celebrating God, Constitutionally, 83 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 567 (2006).

    2005 – Geoffrey C. Hazard, Jr.

    2004 – Dennis W. Archer

    2003 – Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan “The Quest for Original Intent in an Interdisciplinary Context”

    2001 – Michael J. Perry, “One Nation Under God” Liberal Democracy and Religious Morality” Religion, Politics, and Abortion, 79 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 1 (2001).

    2000 – Honorable John T. Noonan Jr. “The Lustre of Our Country: The American Experience of Religious Freedom”

    1999 – Adam Cardinal Maida “The Voice of Religion in Civil Discourse” The Voice of Religion in Shaping Culture and Law 78 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 17 (2000).

    1998 – Stephen Carter “The culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion”

    1995 – Justice Antonin Scalia


    Chad Baruch, In the Name of the Father: A Critique of Reliance Upon Jewish Law to Support Capital Punishment in the United States, 78 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 41 (2000).

    Stephen L. Carter, Religious Freedom As If Family Matters, 78 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 1 (2000)

    Joseph P. Daoust, S.J., Legal Education in A Catholic University Mission and Possibilities, 78 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 27 (2000).

    Marsha B. Freeman, Divorce Mediation: Sweeping Conflicts Under the Rug, Time to Clean House, 78 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 67 (2000).