Sacred Ground: African American Slaves, Incidental Burdens, and the US Religious Freedom Paradigm

16 September 2022, Version 1
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


The religious freedom narrative in the United States tells a story that often relies heavily on U.S. civil religion to color the perspectives of religious freedom. Even when taking account for the experience of minority groups, such as African American slaves, these experiences are often framed within a lens the minority group did not choose. This article contributes an account of religious freedom for African American slaves based on a shared crucial component of West African indigenous religion: burial rituals. This analysis highlights the ways that minority groups need not be persecuted or reviled to have their religious freedom removed. Simply failing to understand and accommodate their beliefs ultimately had the same effect. The article then traces this tendency through modern religious freedom case law making the case for proactive protection of religious freedom through focusing on responsibilities before making reactive repairs to rights violations.


law and religion
African burial
incidental burden
US religious freedom


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