Berg, Thomas

Thomas C. Berg

James L. Oberstar Professor of Law and Public Policy

(651) 962-4918
(800) 328-6819, Ext. 2-4918

MSL 400
1000 LaSalle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55403-2015     

J.D., University of Chicago Law School

M.A., Religion, University of Chicago

M.A., Philosophy and Politics, Oxford University (Rhodes Scholar)

B.S., Northwestern University

Thomas Berg grew up in Chicago and received a B.S. in journalism from Northwestern University, an M.A. in philosophy and politics from Oxford University, and both an M.A. in religious studies and a J.D. from the University of Chicago, all with honors. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. While in law school, Berg served as executive editor of the University of Chicago Law Review and won the Beale and Bustin prizes for legal writing and student scholarship. He also served as musical director for three law-student musical comedy shows.

After clerking for Judge Alvin Rubin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Berg practiced law in Chicago with Mayer, Brown and Platt. In addition to handling general commercial litigation, Berg specialized in writing briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court and federal courts of appeals, and also handled a range of legal matters for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and other religious institutions.

Before joining the St. Thomas faculty, Berg taught for 10 years at Samford University’s Cumberland Law School. In addition to teaching constitutional law, law and religion, intellectual property, civil procedure, and federal courts, Berg is one of the leading scholars of law and religion in the United States. He has written approximately 50 book chapters and journal articles, and dozens of op-eds and shorter pieces, on religious freedom, constitutional law, and the role of religion in law, politics and society. Berg is the author of The State and Religion in a Nutshell (now in a second edition), part of West Publishing Company's leading series of law books; and he is co-author with Michael McConnell and John Garvey of Religion and the Constitution, a casebook published by Aspen Publishing (third edition).

At St. Thomas, Berg has served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and as co-director of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy.  He has written more than 30 briefs on issues of religious liberty and free speech in cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts and has often testified to Congress in support of legislation protecting religious freedom. For this work, he received the Religious Liberty Defender of the Year Award from the Christian Legal Society in 1996. He has also received the Alpha Sigma Nu Book Award (2004) from the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, for the Religion and the Constitution casebook, and the John Courtney Murray Award from DePaul University College of Law for scholarly and other contributions to church-state studies. 

Berg has also been a visiting professor at the University of Aix-Marseille (Aix-en-Provence, France) and the University of Siena (Italy).  He has made numerous presentations to academic, professional, religious, and community groups, including the annual conventions of the American Bar Association and the Association of American Law Schools. He is a regular contributor to Mirror of Justice, a weblog on Catholic legal theory. He is past chair of the Law and Religion Section of the Association of American Law Schools; a member of the European-American Consortium on Church-State Relations; and a member of national boards or advisory committees for the National Council of Churches, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the DePaul University Center for Church-State Studies, and the Democrats for Life of America.  He continues to collaborate on musical comedy shows with his wife Maureen, a playwrigtht, and to act in the Twin Cities Gilbert & Sullivan company.

Courses Taught

Number Title Credits
605 Constitutional Law 4
794 Topics 0
797 Topics 0
843 1st Amendment: Relig Libert 3
950 Supervised Resrch & Writing .5

Areas of Academic Expertise:

Constitutional Law
First Amendment: Religious Liberties 
Law and ReligionIntellectual Property

From the article "Grand Ideas: Faculty members describe the best ideas from their scholarship" St. Thomas Lawyer Magazine Fall 2011

My most frequent scholarly theme is that we can best handle modern church-state problems in America by adapting our historic system of “voluntarism” in religion: rules and principles that minimize government’s involvement in religious matters and that respect how private individuals and groups voluntarily choose to pursue religion. In various articles I have outlined the historic meaning of voluntarism and how to apply it to today’s challenges of religious pluralism and large, welfare-state government; argued that properly designed government funding programs can promote religious choice; and argued that voluntarism can best protect minority rights. One of my recent articles described how states could recognize civil marriage for same-sex couples and also protect religious liberty for traditional believers who object to facilitating or recognizing such marriages – enabling both sides in the culture wars to live out their deep commitments without government discouragement or interference.

Upcoming: Projects on “Christian Realism and Public Life”; religious liberty and political allegiance; intellectual property and religious thought.

Contributions and mentions in the media

Minnesota Public Radio - "Minnesota groups watch and wait on Obama's health policy compromise"

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National Review - "The Church and the RFRA"

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MinnPost - "Handicapping the High Court on health care"

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Minneapolis Star Tribune - "Back religious liberty, and we all will benefit"

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St. Thomas Lawyer Magazine - "Point/Counterpoint: Constraining IP Rights Advances the Common Good"

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National Constitution Center - "The debate over public prayer hits the Supreme Court"

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Legislative testimony - "Hawaii gay-marriage bill should be passed after more religious liberty protections are added"

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The Executioner's Return - A Review of 'A Wild Justice'

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Christianity Today - "Evangelicals' Favorite Same-Sex Marriage Law?"

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Conference on Christian Legal Thought - "Getting the Basics Right"

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Association of American Law Schools Annual Meeting - "Cooperating with Evil, Complicity with Sin”

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WCCO - "Hobby Lobby contraceptive case goes before Supreme Court"

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Harvard Law School - "Religious Accommodation in the Age of Civil Rights"

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Michael W. McConnell, John H. Garvey & Thomas C. Berg, Religion and the Constitution (3d ed. Aspen Publishers 2011).

The Free Exercise of Religion Clause: Its Constitutional History and the Contemporary Debate (Thomas C. Berg ed., Prometheus Books 2008).

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Michael W. McConnell, John H. Garvey & Thomas C. Berg, Religion and the Constitution (2d ed. Aspen Publishers 2006) (with Teacher’s Manual).

Religious Organizations in the United States: A Study of Identity, Liberty, and Law (James Serritella, Thomas C. Berg, Cole Durham, Edward Gaffney, & Craig Mousin eds., Carolina Academic Press 2006).


Thomas C. Berg, The Story of the School Prayer Cases, in First Amendment Stories (Richard Garnett & Andrew Koppelman eds., Foundation Press 2011).

Thomas C. Berg, Lemon v. Kurtzman: The Parochial School Crisis and the Establishment Clause, in Law and Religion Cases in Context (Leslie Griffin ed., Aspen Publishers 2010).

Thomas C. Berg, Religious Structures Under the Federal Constitution, in Religious Organizations in the United States (James A. Serritella et al. eds., Carolina Academic Press 2006).

Thomas C. Berg, Religiously Affiliated Education, in Religious Organizations in the United States (James A. Serritella et al. eds., Carolina Academic Press 2006).


Thomas C. Berg, Can State-Sponsored Religious Symbols Promote Religious Liberty?, J. Cath. Leg. Stud. (forthcoming 2013).

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Thomas C. Berg, Kimberlee Wood Colby, Carl H. Esbeck, & Richard W. Garnett, Religious Freedom, Church-State Separation, and the Ministerial Exception, Notre Dame Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-38 (2011).

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Thomas C. Berg, Julie A. Oseid, & Joseph A. Orrino, The Power of Rigor: James Madison as a Persuasive Writer, 8 J. Legal Comm. & Rhetoric: JALWD 37 (2011).

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Thomas C. Berg, The Story of the School Prayer Decisions: Civil Religion Under Assault, U. St. Thomas Legal Stud. Res. Paper No. 11-18 (2011).

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Thomas C. Berg, Religious Displays and the Voluntary Approach to Church and State, 63 Okla. L. Rev. 47 (2010).

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Thomas C. Berg, What Same-Sex Marriage and Religious-Liberty Claims Have in Common, 5 Nw. J.L. & Soc. Pol’y 206 (2010).

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Thomas C. Berg, Religious-School Financing and Educational Pluralism in the American Tradition, 84 Antonianum Periodicum Trimestre (2009).

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Thomas C. Berg, Religious Organizational Freedom and Conditions on Government Benefits, Geo. J. L. & Pub. Pol’y 165 (2009).

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Thomas C. Berg, Intellectual Property and the Preferential Option for the Poor, 5 J. Cath. Soc. Thought 193 (2008).

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Thomas C. Berg, Religious Choice and Exclusions of Religion, 157 U. Pa. L. Rev. PENNumbra 100 (2008).

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Thomas C. Berg, John Courtney Murray and Reinhold Niebuhr: Natural Law and Christian Realism, 4 J. Cath. Soc. Thought 3 (2007).

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Thomas C. Berg, Can Religious Liberty Be Protected As Equality?, 85 Tex. L. Rev. 1185 (2007).

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Thomas C. Berg, The Rehnquist Court and the First Amendment: What’s Right and Wrong with "No Endorsement", 21 Wash. U. J.L. & Pol’y 307 (2006). 

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Thomas C. Berg, Christianity and the Secular in Modern Public Life, 2 U. St. Thomas L.J. 425 (2005).

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Thomas C. Berg, Pro-Life Progressivism and the Fourth Option in American Public Life, 2 U. St. Thomas L.J. 235 (2005).

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Thomas C. Berg, The Permissible Scope of Legal Limitations on the Freedom of Religion or Belief in the United States, 19 Emory Int’l L. Rev. 1277 (2005).

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Thomas C. Berg, The Voluntary Principle and Church Autonomy, Then and Now, 2004 B.Y.U. L. Rev. 1593 (2004).

Thomas C. Berg, Minority Religions and the Religion Clauses, 82 Wash. U. L.Q. 919 (2004).

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Thomas C. Berg & Douglas Laycock, The Mistakes in Locke v. Davey and the Future of State Payments for Services Provided by Religious Institutions, 40 Tulsa L. Rev. 227 (2004).

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Thomas C. Berg, Copying for Religious Reasons: A Comment on Principles of Copyright and Religious Freedom21 Cardozo Arts & Ent. L.J.  287 (2003).

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Thomas C. Berg, Vouchers and Religious Schools: The New Constitutional Questions, 72 U. Cin. L. Rev. 151 (2003).

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Thomas C. Berg, The Pledge of Allegiance and the Limited State, 8 Tex. Rev. L. & Pol. 41 (2003).

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Thomas C. Berg, The Protestant Experience in America, 1 Geo. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 293 (2003). 

Thomas C. Berg, Race Relations and Modern Church-State Relations, 43 B.C. L. Rev. 1009 (2002).

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Thomas C. Berg, Religious Liberty in America at the End of the Century, 16 J.L. & Religion  187 (2001).

Thomas C. Berg, Anti-Catholicism and Modern Church-State Relations, 33 Loy. U. Chi. L.J. 121 (2001).

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Thomas C. Berg, Religious Conservatives and the Death Penalty, 9 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 31 (2000).

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Thomas C. Berg & Frank Myers, The Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment: An Interpretive Guide, 31 Cumb. L. Rev. 47 (2000).

Thomas C. Berg, State Religious Freedom Statutes in Private and Public Education, 32 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 531 (1999).

Thomas C. Berg, Religious Speech in the Workplace: Harassment or Protected Speech?, 22 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 959 (1999).

Thomas C. Berg & Frank Myers, The Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment: A Lawyer’s Guide, 60 Ala. Law. 396 (1999).

Thomas C. Berg, The New Attacks on Religious Freedom Legislation, and Why They Are Wrong, 21 Cardozo L. Rev. 415 (1999).

Thomas C. Berg & William G. Ross, Some Religiously Devout Justices: Historical Notes and Comments, 81 Marq. L. Rev.  383 (1998).

Thomas C. Berg, The Constitutional Future of Religious Freedom Legislation, 20 U. Ark. Little Rock L.J. 715 (1998).

Thomas C. Berg, Religion Clause Anti-Theories, 72 Notre Dame L. Rev.  693 (1997).

Thomas C. Berg, Religion, Race, Segregation, and Districting: Comparing Kiryas Joel with Shaw, 26 Cumb. L. Rev. 365 (1995-1996).

Thomas C. Berg, Church-State Relations and the Social Ethics of Reinhold Niebuhr, 73 N.C. L. Rev. 1567 (1995).

Thomas C. Berg, Slouching Towards Secularism: A Comment on Kiryas Joel School District v. Grumet, 44 Emory L.J. 433 (1995).

Thomas C. Berg, What Hath Congress Wrought? An Interpretive Guide to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 39 Vill. L. Rev. 1 (1994).

Thomas C. Berg, The Guarantee of Republican Government: Proposals for Judicial Review, 54 Chi. L. Rev.  208 (1987).

Short Pieces

Thomas C. Berg, Reinhold Neibuhr on Human Nature, Sin, and Justice, 1 J. Christian Legal Thought 9 (2011).

Thomas C. Berg, Taking Exception: Gay Marriage Legislation, 26 The Christian Century 12 (2009).

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Thomas C. Berg, Ministers, Minimum Wages, and Church Autonomy, 9 Engage 135 (2008).

Thomas C. Berg, Diversity and Devotion, 1 St. Thomas Law. 20 (2008).

Thomas C. Berg, Testimony on H.R.2015, The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007, House Education and Labor Committee, Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, Sept. 5, 2007.

Thomas C. Berg, Religious Freedom After Boerne, 2 Nexus 91 (1997).

Thomas C. Berg, Civility, Politics, and Civil Society: Response to Anthony Kronman, 26 Cumb. L. Rev. 871 (1996).

Encyclopedia Entries

Thomas C. Berg, Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hileahin 1 Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court of the United States 303 (David S. Tanenhaus ed., Gale Publishing 2008).

Thomas C. Berg, State Religious Freedom Statutes, in The Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties 1548 (Paul Finkelman ed., Routledge Press 2006).

Thomas C. Berg, No Coercion Test, in The Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties 1101 (Paul Finkelman ed., Routledge Press 2006).

Thomas C. Berg, Establishment Clause Doctrine, in The Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties 533 (Paul Finkelman ed., Routledge Press 2006).

Thomas C. Berg, Bd. of Ed., Kiryas Joel School Dist. v. Grumet, in The Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties 157 (Paul Finkelman ed., Routledge Press 2006).

Book Reviews

Thomas C. Berg, Laycock’s Legacy, 89 Tex. L. Rev. 901 (2011) (reviewing Douglas Laycock, Religious Liberty, Volume One: Overviews & History (2010)).

Thomas C. Berg, Christian Politics, Old and New, 135 Commonweal 22 (2008) (reviewing E.J. Dionne, Souled Out; Mark Toulouse, God in Public; and Gary Wills, Head and Heart: American Christianities).

Thomas C. Berg, Is “Integrity” Empty, or Worse?, 27 Cumb. L. Rev. 653 (1997) (reviewing Stephen L. Carter, Integrity (1996)).