The Rights and Humanities Annual Series is jointly sponsored by the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI) and the Duke Human Rights Center @ FHI. The series was launched in 2019 to address the links between ideas of rights and the humanities - and to more fully explore the intellectual possibilities of housing a human rights center within a humanities institute. Previous lectures have focused on neoliberalism and the language of human rights (Joseph Slaughter), on water and rights (Sharmila Murthy), and on academic freedom (Joan Scott).

The Rise of Religious Liberty: Made Possible by the Decline of A Public Morality

Thursday, January 18, 2024


Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall, Smith Warehouse, Bay 4

In June 2022, in a 24 hour period, the US Supreme Court issued two very significant decisions: one that read the text of the constitution to provide extremely strong rights to carry guns in public, and the other declaring that the constitution provides no protection for the right to an abortion.  Professor Katherine Franke will discuss how these two cases stand for a larger trend in the conception of rights in the US at this time in which the right has successfully captured a classically liberal conception of "rights as trumps”. In cases involving gun rights, religious liberty, and the right to resist public health measures during the COVID pandemic, fundamental constitutional rights have been successfully deployed to deconstitutionalize the state’s power to regulate in the name of public welfare.  

Katherine Franke is the James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University, and Director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law. She is also on the Executive Committees of Columbia’s Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality, and the Center for Palestine Studies. 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 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. In 2021, Professor Franke launched the ERA Project, a law and policy think tank to develop academically rigorous research, policy papers, expert guidance, and strategic leadership on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution, and on the role of the ERA in advancing the larger cause of gender-based justice. Professor Franke is currently leading a team that is researching Columbia Law School’s relationship to slavery and its legacies.

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 undertake 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 slavery when many formerly enslaved people were provided land explicitly as a form of reparation, yet after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated the land was stolen back from freed people and given to former slave owners.

Past Lectures

March 22, 2022

Joan Scott | Critique, Scholarly Authority, and Academic Freedom

February 23, 2021

H. Timothy Lovelace, Jr. | Martin, the Movement, and the World of Comparative Law


February 20, 2020

Joseph Slaughter | Naming the Crisis: The Language of Human Rights and the Neoliberal Turn

February 25, 2019

Sharmila L. Murthy | Access to Safe Water & Sanitation: A Human and Civil Rights Perspective