Conference: “Liberty and Justice for All” (October 2-5)

The Christian Legal Society will be hosting its national conference, “Liberty and Justice for All,” at the Boston Park Plaza on October 2-5:

Lawyers, law students, professors, judges and friends are invited to join us October 2-5 in Boston. We are excited that we will be hearing from great speakers like Professor Robert George, Dr. Russell Moore, Andy Crouch and John Stonestreet, as well as a wonderful religious liberty panel. And of course, we will continue to offer practical workshops and CLEs covering numerous areas of the law: from estate planning to running a Christian law firm to human trafficking to employment law and ethics, just to name a few.

Details are here

Why Did ISIS Destroy the Tomb of Jonah?

On Friday, the media reported that ISIS, the Islamist group that has established a “caliphate” in parts of Syria and Iraq, had destroyed the centuries-old Tomb of Jonah in Mosul, Iraq. Present-day Mosul encompasses the site of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh, where, the Bible teaches, the Prophet Jonah preached. Although this is disputed, a tradition holds that Jonah was buried within the city, on Tell Nebi Yunus, or Hill of the Prophet Jonah.

An Assyrian church stood over the tomb for centuries. After the Muslim conquest, the church became a mosque; the structure that ISIS destroyed last week dated to the 14th century. In addition to the tomb, the mosque once held the supposed remains of the whale that had swallowed Jonah, including one of its teeth. At some point, even the tooth had disappeared. In 2008, the U.S. Army presented the mosque with a replica.

Last week, ISIS closed the mosque and prevented worshipers from entering. Then it wired the structure with explosives and reduced it to rubble (above). You can see a video of the explosion here, taken by a Mosul resident, who mutters, in Arabic, “No, no, no. Prophet Jonah is gone. God, these scoundrels.”

Some commentators have explained the destruction of the tomb as part of ISIS’s anti-Christian campaign. Scholars Joel Baden and Candida Moss point out that, in Christian interpretation, the Old Testament story of Jonah prefigures the death and resurrection of Christ. “The destruction of his tomb in Mosul is therefore a direct assault on Christian faith, and on one of the few physical traces of that faith remaining in Iraq.” Another scholar, Sam Hardy, told the Washington Post that the destruction of the tomb shows that ISIS is willing to destroy “pretty much anything in the Bible.”

On this analysis, ISIS destroyed the tomb because of its Christian associations. But that mistakes ISIS’s motives in this case. True, ISIS has no respect for Christians or their sites of worship and, in fact, has driven Mosul’s Christians from the city. The fact that the tomb was sacred for Christians as well as Muslims—and contained a present from the US Army—cannot have endeared it to ISIS. But something else is going on here. The shrine was, after all, a mosque, and Jonah figures in the Quran as well as the Bible. To understand why ISIS destroyed the tomb, one has to appreciate something about the version of Islam the group espouses.

ISIS is part of the Salafi movement, a branch of Sunni Islam that seeks to return to the practices of the earliest Muslims – the salaf— who lived at the time of the Prophet Mohammed and just after. The movement rejects the centuries of subsequent developments in Islam as unjustified innovations–pagan accretions that adulterated the faith. In particular, the movement opposes the veneration of the graves of Islamic prophets and holy men. Salafis see this practice, which is associated most frequently with Sufi Islam, as a kind of idolatry, or shirk, that detracts from the absolute transcendence of God.

Salafi Islam prevails in Saudi Arabia, where it enjoys the patronage of the royal family. On the Arabian Peninsula, as now in Iraq, Salafis have destroyed the tombs of Islamic holy men. Indeed, when the Saudi royal family captured the city of Medina in the 19th century, Salafis systematically destroyed the tombs of several of the Prophet Mohammed’s companions and family members, leaving only the Prophet’s tomb itself unmolested. There is some thought that the Saudi government plans on dismantling even that tomb, but hesitates to do so because of the uproar that would result in other Muslim communities.

In short, one should see ISIS’s destruction of the tomb of Jonah as an act principally directed at other Muslims, not Christians. That doesn’t make it any better, of course. Will the outside world do anything in response? Unlikely. Besides, as Professor Hardy told the Post, “If we didn’t intervene when they were killing people, it would be kind of grotesque to intervene over a building.”

“Religious Minorities and Cultural Diversity in the Dutch Republic” (den Hollander et al., eds.)

Last month, Brill Publishers released “Religious Minorities and Cultural Diversity in the Dutch Republic,” edited by August den Hollander, Alex Noord, Mirjam van Veen & Anna Voolstra. The publisher’s description follows:

Religious Minorities and Cultural Diversity in the Dutch Republic explores various aspects of the religious and cultural diversity of the early Dutch Republic and analyses how the different confessional groups established their own identity and how their members interacted with one another in a highly hybrid culture.

This volume is to honour Dr. Piet Visser on the occasion of his 65th birthday. Piet Visser has become a leading scholar in the field of the Anabaptist and Mennonite History. Since January 1, 2002, he served as the chair of Anabaptist/Mennonite History and Kindred Spirits at the Doopsgezind Seminarium, VU-University, Amsterdam.

 

Conference: Non-Public School Graduates in Civil Society: Release of Data (September 10)

The CUNY Institute for Education Policy will hold a conference, “Non-Public School Graduates in Civil Society: Release of Data” on September 10 at 5:30pm at the Roosevelt House in New York City:

Do private schools serve the public good, or private interests? Do they train for democratic citizenship, or do they further divide an already plural­istic society? A recent research project by Cardus, a non-aligned Canadian thinktank, surveyed a nationally representative sample of 23-39 year-old Americans from across major school sectors and sought to analyze school sector impact upon adult behavior in civic engagement, academic achievement, and religious formation. Join us for a critical examination of just-released data on non-public and public school graduates from the Cardus Religious Schools Initiative at Notre Dame University.

Details are here.

Around the Web This Week

Some interesting law and religion stories from this week:

“Family, Religion and Law” (Shah, Foblets & Rohe, eds.)

This past June Ashgate publishing released Family, Religion and Law: Cultural Encounters in Europe, edited by Prakash Shah (Queen Mary University of London), Marie-Claire Foblets (Max Plank Institute for Social Anthropology) and Mathias Rohe (Erlangen-Nurnburg University).  The publisher’s description follows:

PPCspine22mmThis collection discusses how official legal systems do and should respond to the reality of a plurality of family types and origins within their jurisdictions. It further examines the challenges that arise for practitioners, including lawyers and judges, when faced with such plurality. Focussing on empirical research, the volume presents legal and sociological data of unprecedented comparative depth. It also includes a discussion of how members of minority families respond to the need to organise their legal relationships, and to resolve their disputes in the shadow of official legal systems which differ from those of their familial and communal traditions. The work invites reflection, and demonstrates the urgency and complexity of the questions regarding the search for justice in the field of family life in Europe today.

Nedilsky, “Converts to Civil Society”

This month, Baylor University Press released “Converts to Civil Society: Christianity and Political Culture in Contemporary Hong Kong” by Lida V. Nedilsky (North Park University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Converts to Civil SocietyLida V. Nedilsky captures the public ramifications of a personal, Christian faith at the time of Hong Kong’s pivotal political turmoil. From 1997 to 2008, in the much-anticipated reintegration of Hong Kong into Chinese sovereignty, she conducted detailed interviews of more than fifty Hong Kong people and then followed their daily lives, documenting their involvement at the intersection of church and state.

Citizens of Hong Kong enjoy abundant membership options, both social and religious, under Hong Kong’s free market culture. Whether identifying as Catholic or Protestant, or growing up in religious or secular households, Nedilsky’s interviewees share an important characteristic: a story of choosing faith. Across the spheres of family and church, as well as civic organizations and workplaces, Nedilsky shows how individuals break and forge bonds, enter and exit commitments, and transform the public ends of choice itself. From this intimate, firsthand vantage point, Converts to Civil Society reveals that people’s independent movements not only invigorate and shape religious community but also enliven a wider public life.

America’s Duty to Iraq’s Christians

At The Week, columnist Michael Brandon Dougherty has a hard-hitting piece on America’s responsibility to Iraq’s Christians. In light of the fact that America’s invasion, occupation, and withdrawal created a situation of great and continuing peril for Christians, America should be doing much more to help them. For example, he writes:

Although I’m generally inclined toward a more restrictive position on immigration, the U.S. should, as a matter of practice, be especially generous in granting refugee status to the collateral victims of the war we started in Iraq. It should even offer some refugees of ISIS persecution the material resources to emigrate to America if they so desire.

The dream of transforming Iraq into an incubator of Arab liberalism has turned into a nightmare for religious minorities. America’s intervention in Iraq, and its support of Syrian and Libyan rebels, have created a disastrous disorder in which Islamist threats thrive.

Mosul was a home for Christians for as long as Christianity existed. Not anymore. Now, the U.S. cannot restore these people to their homes, or reverse the desecration of Christian shrines. But our diplomatic, financial, and moral energies should be used to protect them from any further harm.

Read the whole thing.

Is More Less? Or is More More?

The titular questions refer to the issue of the reduction in the strength and integrity of rights by the increase in their number and scope. The issue is: do you weaken rights by multiplying them and broadening them? Or instead, as the size and scope of government itself expands, is the concomitant expansion of rights (in number and coverage) necessary simply to keep pace?

The best defense of the view that more is less with respect to the First Amendment belongs to Philip Hamburger. Hamburger’s key claim is that as one expands the scope of the rights protected under the First Amendment, one weakens those rights inasmuch as the degree to which one conceives of them as something approaching inviolable (though never actually inviolable) decreases. Where the scope of rights is limited, it requires some really and truly compelling rival concern to overcome the right. But as the scope of the right increases, so too does the need to “balance” the right against rival interests.

That particular “more-is-less” claim depends on the scope given to a protected right. A related “more-is-less” claim focuses on the expansion of the number of protected rights. That’s the claim Steve Smith makes in a hot off the presses post at the Liberty Law blog (if you haven’t seen it, Steve is writing up a storm over there). Steve writes:

[S]uppose we relax our standards, and relax them again, and expand our thinking, and fine-tune our sensibilities and sensitivities, to the point that anything that any favored constituency really, really wants comes to be viewed as a “right.” In other words, we follow the path that the Warren Court– and, truth be told, the Burger Court, and to a significant extent the Rehnquist Court, and even in some respects the Roberts court– followed. Or we heed the prescriptions of political theorists and constitutional scholars to codify as “rights” all manner of privacy and dignitary and equality and self-fulfillment interests. Perhaps we use as a guide Martha Nussbaum’s list of essential human “capabilities” without which it is ostensibly impossible to be “truly” or “really human.” These would include things like the use of senses, imagination, and thought; bodily health; and bodily integrity (including “opportunities for sexual satisfaction”). Without “opportunities for sexual satisfaction,” your life is not “really human”; so surely you must have a right to such opportunities.

Under this impulse, rights would multiply like rabbits. But given some such vastly expanded inventory of rights, it will be impossible to give all of these rights…“compelling interest” protection. For one thing, government would thereby be effectively paralyzed, because just about anything government might do will run up against one of more of the newly articulated “rights.” For another, some of these diffuse rights are sure to conflict with others. For still another, government’s rights-oriented obligation now is not just to leave people alone in certain respects, but affirmatively to supply people with lots of desired things: and in a world of scarcity there is only so much that government can supply (or can mandate that employers, say, must supply)….

Now, to say that something is a right is basically to say that it should be taken into account, or given “weight,” in the balancing of competing interests that goes into the formulation and assessment of laws and government policies. Government should not infringe the “right”– unless, of course, there is some good reason to do so.

Though this is strictly speaking a claim about how the increasing number of rights weakens the protection of such rights, the connection to the issue of scope is evident. Take the RFRA rule that only those religious burdens that are “substantial” trigger the law’s protection. A religious burden isn’t enough. It has to be a really, really big, terrible burden. The more-is-less claim is that by broadening the scope of protection and increasing the number of things that we protect in the name of religious freedom, we’ve now got to have some mechanism to limit the kinds of claims that merit protection in the first place. So we superimpose the language of “substantiality” and we talk about the shifting of burdens and the balancing of interests because we’ve watered down the basic right so much that we don’t even really know what it is that counts as the right in the first place any longer.

But there is another side to the story. That side is admirably represented by John Inazu in this paper–More is More: Strengthening Free Exercise, Speech, and Association. John argues, to the contrary, that the thesis of “rights confinement” as giving strength to existing rights does not account for the ways in which cultural developments can affect the scope of rights. In the First Amendment context, some explanations for weakening of the right of religious freedom include decline in popular support for the right, the ideological cabining of the right (as, John argues, has happened to religious freedom but not to the freedom of speech), and (most importantly I believe) changing cultural views about what constitutes a government interest–that is, in what government ought to be interested in at all.

Here I want to note an overlapping position in the more-is-less and more-is-more views. They seem opposed. But I wonder. Both recognize that a major part of the difficulty is not the individual right in question and our feelings about it, but the expanding scope of what is deemed a concern of the state. Both, that is, locate the crux of the more/less debate in changing societal perspectives on the fundamental nature of government and its role in the lives of the citizen.

If that is true, let me offer a point of agreement with John Inazu, and then perhaps a point of difference. The point of agreement is that in a society in which the government takes on more and more of a place and a role in the life of the citizenry, the protection of rights becomes a zero sum game. More is more, because every inch gained is a gain for the right, and every inch lost is a gain for the state. The point of difference is that if this is so, then one should expect that with time it will begin to affect all rights, very much including the right of free speech. That is, the particular explanations for the more is more thesis that affect religious freedom (loss of the right’s prestige in popular sentiment) will eventually hit other freedoms too. That is because the key issue is not evolving cultural perceptions of the right’s strength and ambit, but evolving cultural perceptions of the strength and ambit of the state’s proper power.

Rose, “Jewish Philosophical Politics in Germany, 1789-1848″

In August, Brandeis University Press will release “Jewish Philosophical Politics in Germany, 1789-1848″ by Sven-Erik Rose (University of California, Davis). The Publisher’s description follows:

A provocative look at how Jewish intellectuals thought about Jewish religion and existence within a German philosophical tradition 

In this book Rose illuminates the extraordinary creativity of Jewish intellectuals as they reevaluated Judaism with the tools of a German philosophical tradition fast emerging as central to modern intellectual life. While previous work emphasizes the “subversive” dimensions of German-Jewish thought or the “inner antisemitism” of the German philosophical tradition, Rose shows convincingly the tremendous resources German philosophy offered contemporary Jews for thinking about the place of Jews in the wider polity. Offering a fundamental reevaluation of seminal figures and key texts, Rose emphasizes the productive encounter between Jewish intellectuals and German philosophy. He brings to light both the complexity and the ambivalence of reflecting on Jewish identity and politics from within a German tradition that invested tremendous faith in the political efficacy of philosophical thought itself.