Americans are deeply polarized on a plethora of issues. One of the most prominent areas of polarization is religious liberty, which in recent years has increasingly pitted conservative, white Christians against a range of marginalized minorities, particularly Muslims. The divide threatens Muslims’ rights and the vitality of religious liberty more broadly. This Article assesses the extent to which self-interest— especially the self-interest of the conservative Justices of the Supreme Court—can help depolarize religious liberty.
Professor Derrick Bell’s theory of “interest convergence” helps connect different self-interests that, in turn, enable issue-specific coalitions strong enough to effect serious cultural and legal change. Bell used interest convergence theory to analyze judicial decision-making during the civil rights movement. Other scholars have built upon Bell’s original thesis about Black people’s rights by extending interest convergence to other racial minorities. This Article is the first to consider the implications of interest convergence not just for religious minorities but specifically the status of religious minorities in today’s politicized religious liberty landscape. In so doing, it aims to formulate a theory of “religious liberty interest convergence.”
Specifically, this Article applies Bell’s framework to two recent Supreme Court cases. It uses interest convergence theory to explain the rulings against Muslim claimants in Trump v. Hawaii (2018) and for Muslim claimants in Tanzin v. Tanvir (2020).
The Article concludes by assessing the relevance of religious liberty interest convergence to political coalition-building. In both the judicial and coalition-building contexts, relying on self-interest helps create openings where openings may not otherwise be possible.