"Religious Freedom in America, 1813 to 2013: Bicentennial Reflections on People v. Philips" was a weekend of events to commemorate the landmark 1813 case that is the earliest known constitutional test of freedom of religion and the priest-penitent evidentiary privilege in American law. A dynamic line-up of events demonstrated how a trial for a petty jewelry theft escalated into an argument for religious freedom when the local priest was subpoenaed to testify what he had heard in confession.
In People v. Philips, William Sampson — a banished political exile from Ireland and a Protestant — argued on behalf of the Trustees of St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church on Barclay Street before the presiding judge, Mayor DeWitt Clinton. William Sampson's experience of religious-based intolerance in Ireland propelled him to persuade the court that America should not look to British common law for legal precedent when dealing with Catholics, then a small but growing minority in New York City.
William Sampson's own published account of the case, The Catholic Question in America, was presented in a staged reading adapted by Steve DiUbaldo of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts on Friday evening, 12 April 2013. A full-day symposium followed on Saturday, 13 April 2013, where scholars from a wide variety of disciplines — especially law, religion, history, and politics — commented on Sampson's 1813 record of the trial and considered it in relation to their own understanding of contemporary issues. On Sunday morning 14 April 2013, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, the final resting place of lawyer William Sampson and DeWitt Clinton, marked the 200th anniversary of the case with an encore reading of The Catholic Question.
Support for these events was provided, in part, by Arts & Science and the Humanities Initiative at New York University.
Click here to view the interactive program.
The Catholic Question:
How a jewelry theft in 1813 New York City became a legal argument about religious freedom in America
Friday, 12 April, 2013
Tishman Auditorium, New York University School of Law
Based on William Sampson's The Catholic Question in America (1813)
Staged reading produced by Glucksman Ireland House, New York University
Adapted by Steve DiUbaldo
Directed by Stephen Cedars
Hear the original and historic arguments on the issue of religious freedom adapted from William Sampson's own published account of the case. The Catholic Question has been adapted for a staged reading by Steve DiUbaldo, the recipient of a Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Scholarship and the Rita Goldberg Playwright Foundation Scholarship at New York University.
Please click above to view the performance.
Download a copy of our poster for The Catholic Question.
Religious Freedom in America, 1813-2013:
Bicentennial Reflections on People v Philips
Saturday,13 April 2013
Tishman Auditorium, NewYork University School of Law
Presented in partnership with New York University's Center for Religion and Media, and the Irish American Bar Association of New York.
In the wake of a number of bias incidents, the Catholics of New York City, a small but growing minority, sought a judicial decision in 1813 that would protect their "free exercise and enjoyment of their religious profession and worship." People v. Philips is the earliest known constitutional test of freedom of religion and the priest-penitent evidentiary privilege in American law. Based on the record of the trial by the Irish political exile and radical lawyer William Sampson, scholars from a wide variety of disciplines considered the original arguments in relation to their understanding of religious freedom today.
Download a copy of our poster for Religious Freedom in America.
Court's in Session:
America's First Test of Religious Freedom
Sunday, 14 April 2013
Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY
Presented in partnership with the Green-Wood Historic Trust and the New York Irish History Roundtable.
Green-Wood Cemetery is the final resting place of lawyer William Sampson and Judge DeWitt Clinton — the two major players in an 1813 court case that first tested religious freedom in America. In partnership with NYU's Glucksman Ireland House and the New York Irish History Roundtable, Green-Wood honored this event and its major players on its 200th anniversary, with an encore performance of Steve DiUbaldo's play The Catholic Question.
Special 20th Anniversary Events
The 2013-2014 school year marked the 20th year since Glucksman Ireland House was founded and the faculty undertook a series of academic projects and public humanities