Michael Helfand's article, Litigating Religion, was selected for presentation at the Junior Faculty Forum (formerly the Stanford/Yale Junior Faculty Forum), an event sponsored by the Yale, Harvard and Stanford Law Schools. The Junior Faculty Forum has been convened for the past 13 years and each year, papers selected for the Junior Faculty Forum are reviewed and evaluated by a committee of scholars. This year only 17 papers were selected for presentation at the two-day event held June 2-3.
The Forum's objective is to encourage the work of junior scholars by providing experience in the pursuit of scholarship and the nature of the scholarly exchange. "As a junior scholar, it was a great opportunity to present my work at the Junior Faculty Forum and highlight what I take to be some of the most pressing challenges for 21st century church-state relations," Helfand said. "The participants and commentators at the Forum provided thoughtful and challenging feedback, which I look forward to incorporating into my project and into my long term research on these issues."
According to Helfand, Litigating Religion, which is set for publication in Boston University Law Review in January 2013, "considers how parties should resolve disputes that turn on religious doctrine and practice – that is, how people should litigate religion." He continued, "Under current constitutional doctrine, litigating religion is generally the task of two types of religious institutions: first, religious arbitration tribunals, whose decisions are protected by arbitration doctrine, and religious courts, whose decision are protected by the religion clauses. Such institutions have been thrust into playing this role largely because the religion clauses are currently understood to prohibit courts from resolving religious questions – that is, the 'religious question' doctrine is currently understood to prohibit courts from litigating religion. Considering what options parties have when litigating religion highlights a gap in the current framework."
Helfand noted that, "Where no other religious institutions wait in the wings to resolve religious disputes – both as a matter of constitutional doctrine and sound policy – courts should play a more active role in litigating religion."
The inspiration for the article, Helfand said, came from a call he received on behalf of a plaintiff who had his claim of religious defamation dismissed.
"The reputation of his business had been significantly harmed by religious defamation; many of his clients stop using his services as a result of the defamation," Helfand said. "The plaintiff was frustrated by the fact that the court had concluded it could not adjudicate his claim because it would require investigation of religious doctrine and practices – and he wanted to know where he could get justice for the damage done to his business. This got me thinking about the problem – where can parties go when they need to litigate religious claims. As it turns out, there sometimes aren't any options, which is something I wanted to explore in an article."
In addition to the Junior Faculty Forum, Helfand was invited to speak for a second time at Harvard at the "Annual Law & Religion Roundtable" on June 21. He will also be presenting his paper "Church Auntonomy vs. Religious Arbitration: Two Models of Legal Pluralism" at Yale University on August 1 as part of the 17th Annual International Conference of the Jewish Law Association's and his paper "Constitutionalizing Arbitration: Re-Imagining the Church Autonomy Doctrine" at the Quinnipiac-Yale Dispute Resolution Workshop on November 12.
"I'm extremely grateful for the tremendous resources Pepperdine provides for academic research and for the comments and encouragement of my colleagues," Helfand said. "And in particular I am deeply indebted to Dean Deanell Tacha, outgoing Associate Dean for Research Maureen Weston, and current Associate Dean for Research Robert Pushaw for their constant support of my work."