Author Archives: Marc O. DeGirolami

DeGirolami, “Virtue, Freedom, and the First Amendment”

I’ve recently posted this paper, Virtue, Freedom, and the First Amendment. Here is the abstract.

The modern First Amendment embodies the idea of freedom as a fundamental good of contemporary American society. The First Amendment protects and promotes everybody’s freedom of thought, belief, speech, and religious exercise as basic goods — as given ends of American political and moral life. It does not protect these freedoms for the sake of promoting any particular vision of the virtuous society. It is neutral on that score, setting limits only in those rare cases when the exercise of a First Amendment freedom exacts an intolerable social cost.

Something like this collection of views constitutes the conventional account of the First Amendment. This essay offers it two challenges. First, the development of the First Amendment over the past century suggests that freedom is not an American sociopolitical end. It is a means — a gateway out of one kind of political and legal culture and into another with its own distinctive virtues and vices. Freedom is not a social solution but instead gives rise to a social problem — the problem of how to allocate a resource in civically responsible ways, so as to limit freedom’s hurtful potential and to make citizens worthy of the freedoms they are granted. Only a somewhat virtuous society can sustain a regime of political liberty without collapsing, as a society, altogether. Thus the First Amendment of the conventional account has not maximized freedom for all people and groups. It has promoted a distinctive set of views about the virtuous legal and political society.

Second, the new legal culture promoted and entrenched by the conventional account is increasingly finding that account uncongenial. In fact, the conventional account is positively harmful to its continued flourishing. That is because the new legal culture’s core values are not the First Amendment freedoms themselves but the particular conceptions of political and social equality and individual dignity that the conventional account has facilitated and promoted. Proponents of the new legal culture in consequence now argue for aggressive limits on First Amendment freedoms.

One prominent group has invented a new legal category: “enumerated rights Lochnerism.” These scholars denigrate any First Amendment resistance to multiplying forms of expansive government regulation in the service of egalitarian aims as retrogressively libertarian. Another group argues for novel limits on the First Amendment in the form of balancing tests that would restrict speech that injures the dignity of listeners and religious exercise that results in vaguely defined and vaguely delimited harms to third parties. What unites these critics is the desire to swell features of the Court’s post-New Deal Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence, and particularly the law concerning sex as a civil right, by protecting progressively expansive conceptions of equality and individual dignity. The critics see the conventional account of the First Amendment as an obstacle in the path of progress.

Part I of this essay presents the conventional account of the First Amendment in three theses. It then critiques the conventional account in Part II by offering three revised theses, developed through the somewhat unusual route of exploring the First Amendment thought of the late political theorist and constitutional scholar, Walter Berns. Freedom, for Berns, gave rise to a problem — the problem of making men sufficiently virtuous to merit their freedom. It was a problem that he thought had been ignored or even forgotten by defenders of the conventional account of the First Amendment.

But the problem of virtue and freedom has been remembered. Part III argues that contemporary defenders of the new legal culture have remembered the problem just as their own cultural and legal mores are ascendant. The new civic virtues — exemplified in multiplying anti-discrimination regulations for the protection of thickening conceptions of equality and individual dignity, particularly as those concepts relate to sexual autonomy — are those that were fostered by the conventional account of the First Amendment in tandem with significant components of the Supreme Court’s post-New Deal Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence. And those civic virtues are already informing new criticisms of the conventional account and arguments about new limitations on the scope of religious freedom and freedom of speech. Berns’s arguments about freedom and virtue, it turns out, are highly relevant today since progressive opinion is no longer committed to First Amendment “absolutism.”

The essay concludes with two speculations. First, it seems we are no longer arguing about whether to restrict freedom, but for what ends. If that is true, then those arguments should neither begin nor end with egalitarian and sexual libertarian fervor. Second, there is no account of the First Amendment that maximizes freedom for everyone — for all persons and groups. There is only the society that America was before the rise of the conventional account of the First Amendment and the society that it is becoming after it.

Trollope’s “The Warden”: An Exceptional Law and Religion Novel

A small distraction from various present horrors. I have written about Anthony Trollope before, one of the greatest and most unjustly under-appreciated (at least in the United Trollope, The WardenStates) novelists of the Victorian period. But particularly for those interested in law and religion, may I recommend “The Warden”–the first of Trollope’s Barsetshire Novels–as one of the greatest little novels I’ve read in years. A few notes on the plot:

The story concerns a will by one John Hiram, who establishes in the 15th century a “hospital” (really a kind of sanatorium) for the care of several bedesmen (needy pensioners). An Anglican churchman–the warden–is given the care of this hospital, with an attendant salary. But over the years, as the property increases in value, so does the warden’s income, which by the time of the story sits at a very comfortable 800 pounds. The warden at the time of the telling, Septimus Harding, is a kind, gentle, caring, and honorable man who takes exceptional care of his charges. Nevertheless, a question arises about Mr. Harding’s entitlement under the will to so generous an income. A reform-minded young man named John Bold (who also happens to be the suitor of Mr. Harding’s daughter) begins to make inquiries–with the utmost good faith–about the nature of the original bequest. And this unleashes a bitter contest between the local archdeacon and the reformers (as well as other unscrupulous and nasty types) about the propriety of the income of the wardenship at Hiram’s Hospital.

Part of what makes the novel so good is the delicacy with which the characters are drawn. Unlike in Dickens, where the characters are perhaps a bit too often either the purest angels or the most abject devils, Trollope’s novel is populated with characters who have doubts about what is right. Mr. Harding himself is a deeply good man, but also one with sincere and real qualms about the justice of the matter. As Trollope puts it, Mr. Harding was far less concerned to be proved right at law than to be right.

Though their lives are entirely comfortable, many of the bedesmen are lured into joining a law suit when the promise of 100 pounds a year is dangled in front of them by an exploitative lawyer who strikes the appealing notes of self-righteousness in tandem with legal entitlement. In the end, after his name is repeatedly dragged through the mud by the local press, the warden resigns and the bedesmen don’t see a cent. In a touching scene at the end of the novel, as the warden is leaving the hospital, he says goodbye to a bedridden bedesman who is destined to die within the week, “poor old Bell”:

“I’ve come to say goodbye to you, Bell,” said Mr. Harding, speaking loud, for the old man was deaf.

“Are you going away, then, really?” asked Bell.

“Indeed I am. And I’ve brought you a glass of wine; so that we may part friends, as we lived, you know.”

The old man took the proffered glass in his shaking hands, and drank it eagerly, “God bless you, Bell!” said Mr. Harding; “good bye, my old friend.”

“And so you’re really going?” the man again asked.

“Indeed I am, Bell.”

The poor old bed-ridden creature still kept Mr. Harding’s hand in his own, and the warden thought he had met with something like warmth of feeling in the one of all his subjects from whom it was the least likely to be expected; for poor old Bell had nearly outlived all human feelings. “And your reverence,” said he, and then he paused, while his old palsied head shook horribly, and his shriveled cheeks sank lower within his jaws, and his glazy eye gleamed with a momentary light; “and your reverence, shall we get the hundred a year, then?”

How gently did Mr. Harding try to extinguish the false hope of money which had been so wretchedly raised to disturb the quiet of the dying man! One other week and his mortal coil would be shuffled off; in one short week would God resume his soul, and set it apart for its irrevocable doom; seven more tedious days and nights of senseless inactivity, and all would be over for poor Bell in this world; and yet, with his last audible words, he was demanding his moneyed rights, and asserting himself to be the proper heir of John Hiram’s bounty! Not on him, poor sinner as he was, be the load of such sin!

There is so much more in this superlative story of law, rights, religion, justice, reform, tradition, personal frailty, and the complicated nature of human motivations and character. One of the very best.

Inazu on Falwell, Flynt, and “Confident Pluralism”

John Inazu has an interesting column at The Hedgehog Review concerning his new book, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference. I had not known the denouement of the Flynt/Falwell affair. I am very glad that there are people like John about, pressing these kinds of positions so eloquently, though sometimes, perhaps in my more Rousseauian moods, I just don’t think “Plures Ex Uno” (or perhaps just “Plures” in disaggregation, haphazardly occupying the same geographic spaces) has quite the same civic appeal as “E Pluribus Unum.” I’ll have something longer on this shortly. For now, though, enjoy John’s column. A bit:

“It is impossible,” said the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “to live at peace with those we regard as damned.” Falwell and Flynt certainly seemed to fulfill Rousseau’s dire prediction. Many of the rest of us do, too. From hostility to civil-rights protests in Missouri, to anti-Muslim protests in Oklahoma, to culture wars boycotts, we struggle to live with those whose views we regard as irrational, immoral, or even dangerous….

Even as some of us struggle to coexist, others feign agreement by ignoring or minimizing our stark differences. We hold conferences, attend rallies, and sign statements expressing unity and solidarity. But most of us do not actually think that our differences are so easily overcome. And most of us do not actually want to see a thousand flowers bloom. We can all name things we think the world would be better off without. This is especially true when it comes to questions of morality and ultimate conviction. We might prefer a society in which everyone agreed on what counted as a justifiable homicide, a mean temperament, or a good life, but that is not the kind of society in which we actually live.

There is another possibility that better embraces the reality of our deepest differences: confident pluralism. Confident pluralism insists that Rousseau was wrong: Our shared existence is not only possible, but necessary. Instead of the elusive goal of E pluribus unum (“Out of many, one”), confident pluralism suggests a more modest possibility—that we can live together in our “many-ness.” It does not require Pollyanna-ish illusions that we will resolve our differences and live happily ever after. Instead, it asks us to pursue a common existence in spite of our deeply held differences.

Panel Two: Examining the History of Dignitatis Humanae

The second panel kicks off with Phillip Muñoz, whose talk concerns the limits of state power with respect to religion as a historical matter in the text of state constitutions. Phillip’s key point is that there are some features of religious freedom that are categorically outside state power. There are some interests that the state can never pursue. Sherbert and RFRA are mechanisms through which the government can control religion. Phillip focuses on state constitutions because these documents show that the founders had a natural rights view of religious freedom and the unalienability of certain rights, over which the government has no jurisdiction. These rights were categorical limits on government power. But the rights have natural limits–to wit, the natural rights of others.

Brett Scharffs spoke next. Brett offered an interesting account of the different types of restrictions on religious freedom across the world. 39% of the world’s countries have high or very high government restrictions, and these include countries with high populations. Countries on the Asian continent have particularly high representation. There are also statistics for social hostility with respect to religion, which seem to correlate with countries with a high percentage dominant religious group. Catholic majority countries tend to score low as to both measures. His conclusions: religion is a limitation on religious freedom. Second, it is important therefore to look for justifications for religious freedom within those traditions.

Anna Su spoke last. Her presentation was historical whose points were that the US approach was an important, at first, contrast and then, later, a model for the Catholic Church. She also noted that John Courtney Murray’s contributions were prefigured by the Americanist controversy in the 19th century. Religious freedom may be less threatened in secular countries like the US, but that does not mean that religious freedom is less fragile in secular countries than in those with religious bases.

Panel 1: Religious Freedom, the First Amendment, and U.S. Law

I’m here with Mark at the Notre Dame conference and thought I would live blog some of the panels today.

The first panel deals with the First Amendment proper. After a wonderful introduction by Judge Sullivan, Tom Berg spoke first. His primary theme concerned the role of religious organizations in the broader society, particularly those organizations that span the public and private realms. Critics of exemptions say that once a religious organization enters the public realm (by hiring employees who may not share the faith), no exemptions are permissible. Tom’s focus is on what he calls “partly acculturated” organizations–organizations that are deeply involved in providing social services and in performing civic functions but that do not share all of the culture’s norms. He argued that such organizations should receive exemptions both for religious equality reasons and for reasons of the social capital contributed by such groups. As to the latter, the point is not simply about the benefits to society but about the core reasons for protecting religious freedom at all.

Rick Garnett spoke next. He focused on an under appreciated feature of Dignitatis Humanae, the idea that government has a role in creating, proactively, the conditions necessary for the full exercise of religious freedom. As to the second, is this consistent with American constitutionalism? There is at least some tension. But Rick argued that the American account of religious freedom need not be neutral if neutrality demands that the state not regard religion “as a good thing.” That is, there is an important space between establishment and the state’s proper, secular, care for religion. That understanding is reflected in DH. Care, as Rick understands it, might include the building and maintaining of infrastructural spaces within which religious institutions can thrive.

Paul Horwitz spoke third. His theme was a liberal argument for accommodation as to illiberal groups. He began by surveying the usual accommodationist and anti-accommodationist claims. His own view he described as a liberal pluralist perspective. Accommodation is valuable because the state is obliged to act as if there may be important and valuable ideas inaccessible to liberalism. But it is also valuable because not accommodating illiberal groups will ostracize them entirely from society, isolated entirely. This would be a loss for them and for the liberal society. Accommodation “keeps those groups in and not out.”

Chris Lund spoke last. His talk concerned exemptions as well. He argued that without exemptions, many religions could not survive in the modern age. He addressed the claim that certain sorts of exemptions violate the Establishment Clause, those that impose third party harms. There has to be some principle of third party harms and cost, but the difficult questions concern which sorts of harms count. And they are quite difficult. His current factors include: (1) severity of the harm, the problem of course being describing what this means. (2) likelihood of the harm, which is perhaps a bit easier to understand. (3) the religious interest in obtaining the exemption. (4) the existence of other secular exemptions. All of this will require balancing, something the Court is not especially willing to do.

New Law and Religion Center at Villanova Law School

Hearty congratulations to our friends at Villanova Law School on their new Center for Law and Religion!! Details are here. We look forward to many wonderful collaborations!

Moyn, Christian Human Rights

I want to call special notice to Professor Samuel Moyn’s very interesting and Moyn, Christian Human Rightselegantly executed new book, Christian Human Rights (2015), which traces the specifically 20th century Christian roots of contemporary (secular?) human rights. Moyn begins really in 1937 and devotes special attention to Pope Pius XII’s 1942 Christmas message, “The Internal Order of States and People,” in which Pius announced both the “dignity of the human person” and that man “should uphold respect for and the practical realization of…fundamental personal rights.”

I’ve just started to dig in to the book, but I wanted to highlight a few passages from the introduction to illustrate some of the accents and grace notes of the book. There is, for example, this line: “The trouble, after all, is not so much that Christianity accounts for nothing, as that it accounts for everything.” (6) Part of Moyn’s project is remedial with respect both to those “secular historians” who have “nervously bypassed” “the Christian incarnation of human rights, which interferes with their preferred understandings of today’s highest principles” and those other scholars, “overwhelmingly Christians themselves,” who go about defending the Christian tradition of human rights “in a highly abstract way” and by recourse to “long ago events” stretching to the very beginnings of Christianity.

There is also this, on the idea of tradition (admittedly, a subject of some interest to me):

No one could plausibly claim–and no one ever has–that the history of human rights is one of wholly discontinuous novelty….But radical departures nonetheless occurred very late in Christian history, even if they were unfailingly represented as consistent with what came before: this is how “the invention of tradition” most frequently works. (5)

The citation is to Hobsbawm’s essay (in his collected volume) on The Invention of Tradition (in which Hugh Trevor Roper’s typically and enjoyably acid essay on Scottish tartans is one of my very favorites in the ‘tradition-as-fraud’ genre). Yet I hope it is not too tart of me to wonder whether this might just as easily be called “the invention of novelty,” novelties being, of course, the stuff on which scholars make their living. Perhaps a little of both?

More seriously, perhaps what these lines in Moyn’s fine and insightful book really suggest is that what is really most needful is a true and clear-eyed account of the idea of tradition and its importance for law and legal institutions generally, one that is neither committed to its lionization nor demonization.

Welcome (back) Robert Delahunty!

10-113 robert delahunty law magMark and I are delighted to welcome back Professor Robert Delahunty to the Forum for the next month or so. Robert teaches at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and is an expert in the constitutional law of foreign relations, the law of war, and public international law. He is also the author of a wonderful book on Spinoza and here at CLR Forum he has written a brilliant series on Tocqueville and religion, among others. It’s a pleasure to have him again with us.

Justice Story (and Montesquieu) on “The People of the North and the People of the South”

On another errand, I came across this wonderful tract from Justice Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution  (section 1867) concerning religion and the First Amendment, and in particular religion’s relationship to republican government. I wonder (as, of course, a person of the south ostensibly living among people of the north): are we, as a nation today, more like the people of the north or of the south?

Indeed, in a republic, there would seem to be a peculiar propriety in viewing the Christian religion, as the great basis, on which it must rest for its support and permanence, if it be, what it has ever been deemed by its truest friends to be, the religion of liberty. Montesquieu has remarked, that the Christian religion is a stranger to mere despotic power. The mildness so frequently recommended in the gospel is incompatible with the despotic rage, with which a prince punishes his subjects, and exercises himself in cruelty. He has gone even further, and affirmed, that the Protestant religion is far more congenial with the spirit of political freedom, than the Catholic. “When,” says he, “the Christian religion, two centuries ago, became unhappily, divided into Catholic and Protestant, the people of the north embraced the Protestant, and those of the south still adhered to the Catholic. The reason is plain. The people of the north have, and will ever have, a spirit of liberty and independence, which the people of the south have not. And, therefore, a religion, which has no visible head, is more agreeable to the independency of climate, than that, which has one.” Without stopping to inquire, whether this remark be well founded, it is certainly true, that the parent country has acted upon it with a severe and vigilant zeal; and in most of the colonies the same rigid jealousy has been maintained almost down to our own times.

In the mail: Witte’s “Western Case for Monogamy Over Polygamy”

I was pleased to receive Professor John Witte’s new volume, released earlier this year, The Western Case for Monogamy Over PolygamyWitte, Monogamy and Polygamy, in which, with at least half an eye cocked at the coming legal contests over polygamous marriage, John explores the following questions:

What is the Western tradition’s case for monogamy over polygamy, and is that case still convincing in a post-modern and globalized world? Are there sufficiently compelling reasons to relax Western laws against polygamy, and is this a desirable policy given the global trends away from polygamy and given the social, economic, and psychological conditions that often attend its practice? Or, are there sufficiently compelling reasons, reconstructed in part from the tradition, to maintain and even strengthen these anti-polygamy measures, in part as an effort to hasten the global demise of this practice?

I’ve only had a chance to glance at the book but from that quick scan, it appears that the primary justifications advanced in the book as a historical matter for monogamy over polygamy relate to “joint parental investment in children” and ensuring “that men and women are treated with equal dignity and respect within the domestic sphere,” the latter logic of which, the book claims, “applies to dyadic same-sex couples, who have gained increasing rights in the West in recent years, including the right to marry and to parent in some places.”

The book is immensely and richly detailed and comprehensive, with chapters including “From Polygamy to Monogamy in Judaism,” “The Case for Monogamy Over Polygamy in the Church Fathers,” “Polygamy in the Laws of State and Church in the First Millennium,” “Polygamous Experiments in Early Protestantism,” and “The Liberal Enlightenment Case Against Polygamy.”