Tag Archives: First Amendment

Why Protect Religion?

Tocqueville understood

A growing number of legal scholars question whether a justification exists for protecting religion as its own category. Yes, the text of the First Amendment refers specifically to religion, they concede, but that’s an anachronism. As a matter of principle, religion as such doesn’t merit legal protection. Instead, the law should protect individual conscience, or private associations generally. In fact, it’s not just scholars. In the ministerial exception case a couple of years ago, the Obama Administration argued that the Religion Clauses did not even apply and that the Court should decide the case under more general associational freedom principles.

The Justices unanimously dismissed the Obama Administration’s argument in Hosanna-Tabor, and there seems little chance the Roberts Court will read the Religion Clauses out of the Constitution. But history shows that constitutional text is not an insurmountable barrier, and those of us who think religion as such does merit special protection will need to find arguments beyond the bare language of the First Amendment. In fact, in an increasingly non-religious society, we’ll have to find arguments that appeal to people without traditional religious commitments.

Here’s one such argument. Religion, especially communal religion, provides important benefits for everyone in the liberal state–even the non-religious. Religion encourages people to associate with and feel responsible for others, to engage with them in common endeavors. Religion promotes altruism and neighborliness and mitigates social isolation. Religion counteracts the tendencies to apathy and self-centeredness that liberalism seems inevitably to create.

Tocqueville saw this in the 19th century. Egalitarian democracy, he wrote, encourages a kind of “individualism.” It trains each citizen to look out for himself according to his own best judgment and discount the needs of the wider society. Self-reliance is a good thing; at least Americans have long though so. But the attitude poses two great dangers for liberal society. First, it makes it difficult to motivate people to contribute to the common projects on which society depends: public safety, schools, hospitals, and the like. Second, it makes it easier for despotism to arise. The despotic state desires nothing more than for individual citizens to feel isolated from and indifferent to the concerns of others, so that the state can easily divide and dominate them all.

Tocqueville saw that voluntary associations could lessen these dangers. Religious associations are particularly useful in this regard. They are uniquely good at promoting social engagement–secular as well as religious. According to sociologist Robert Putnam, for example, regular churchgoers are more likely to vote, serve on juries, participate in community activities, talk to neighbors, and give to charities, including non-religious charities. And when it comes to defying state oppression, no groups are more effective than religious associations, which can inspire members to truly heroic acts of resistance, as dictators down the centuries have learned.

To be sure, religions don’t always encourage civic fellowship; to the extent a religion promotes sedition or violence against other citizens, society does not benefit. And perhaps, as Gerald Russello suggests, the non-religious have come so to distrust religion that they will view its contributions as tainted and objectionable from the start. But in encouraging greater social involvement, religion offers benefits to everyone, believers and non-believers, too. It’s worth reminding skeptics of this when they argue that religion, as such, doesn’t merit legal protection.

Center Sponsors Successful Joint Colloquium with Villanova Law School

Here’s an article, from the St. John’s Law School website, on the inaugural session of the Joint Colloquium in Law and Religion, which the Center hosted with Villanova Law School this semester. The Joint Colloquium, which featured leading law and religion scholars, used innovative “virtual classroom” technology to allow students and faculty at both schools to participate simultaneously through a synchronous video link.

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Joint Colloquium with Michael Walzer

From the article:

Michael Walzer (Institute for Advanced Studies) discussed the ethics of war in classical and contemporary Jewish law. Legal historian Sarah Barringer Gordon (University of Pennsylvania) explained how the availability of the corporate form empowered African-American congregations in the early national period. Kristine Kalanges (Notre Dame University School of Law) explored the relationship between Islamic law and contemporary ideas about constitutionalism and human rights. Kent Greenawalt (Columbia Law School) and Donald L. Drakeman (Cambridge University) both presented papers on Originalism. Greenawalt argued that factors other than the original understanding inevitably will and should play an important role in constitutional interpretation. Drakeman offered a methodological middle ground, one that takes account of both original intent and original meaning. Steven D. Smith (University of San Diego School of Law) critiqued the standard account of American religious freedom, and asked whether religious freedom in America today is suffering a decline.

The virtual classroom enriched the discussions by allowing for a fruitful exchange between participants at the two host schools. After the speakers presented their papers, students had the opportunity to ask questions and present their own insights and opinions on the issues.

This was our first experience with virtual classroom technology, and it was highly successful. You can read more about the joint colloquium, and view a photo gallery, here. Thanks to everyone who made it possible, and see you next time!

 

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Wedding Photographer Dispute

The Supreme Court today denied certiorari in Elane Photography v. Willock, the case involving a claim by a photography business that it was compelled to create images celebrating a gay wedding pursuant to New Mexico’s public accommodations statute, in violation of the business owner’s First Amendment rights.

The decision by the Supreme Court not to hear the case leaves in place the New Mexico Supreme Court’s decision against Elane Photography.

Movsesian on the Rise of the Nones

Mark has a very interesting new paper on the growing importance of the “Nones”–those who claim no religious affiliation at all but by and large are neither atheists nor agnostics. Rather, the Nones reject institutional religious belief. As Mark puts it, “A better term for them might be religious ‘Independents,’ or the familiar ‘spiritual but not religious.’” The paper considers some of the legal ramifications of “none-ism,” including the relationship between group status and legal protection. Here’s the abstract.

The most important recent development in American religion is the dramatic increase in the number of people who claim no religious affiliation — the rise of the Nones. In this Working Paper, I discuss the social factors that explain the rise of the Nones–demography, politics, family, technology, a distrust of institutions generally–and explain what this development might mean for the definition of religion in American law. I focus on a recent federal appeals court case involving a self-styled spiritual adviser, “Psychic Sophie,” who claimed that following her “inner flow” constituted a religion meriting constitutional and statutory protection. I argue that the case is a close one. Protecting Nones as a religion would promote the important goals of state religious neutrality and personal autonomy. On the other hand, religion has always been understood in terms of community. Indeed, as Tocqueville saw, it is precisely religion’s communal aspect that makes it so important to liberal democracy. Granting Nones the status of a religion would fail to capture this important social benefit.

Boston, “Taking Liberties”

Next month, Random House will publish Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You The Right To Tell Other People What To Do by Taking LibertiesRobert Boston.  The publisher’s description follows.

Increasingly, conservative religious groups are using religious liberty as a sword to lash out at others. In this forcefully argued defense of the separation of church and state, Robert Boston makes it clear that the religious freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment is an individual right, the right of personal conscience, not a license allowing religious organizations to discriminate against and control others. The book examines the controversy over birth control, same-sex marriage, religion in public schools, the intersection of faith and politics, and the “war on Christmas,” among other topics. Boston concludes with a series of recommendations for resolving clashes between religious liberty claims and individual rights

Smith, “The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom”

9780674724754-lgThis February, Harvard University Press will publish The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom by Steven D. Smith (University of San Diego).

Familiar accounts of religious freedom in the United States often tell a story of visionary founders who broke from the centuries-old patterns of Christendom to establish a political arrangement committed to secular and religiously neutral government. These novel commitments were supposedly embodied in the religion clauses of the First Amendment. But this story is largely a fairytale, Steven D. Smith says in this incisive examination of a much-mythologized subject. He makes the case that the American achievement was not a rejection of Christian commitments but a retrieval of classic Christian ideals of freedom of the church and freedom of conscience.

Smith maintains that the distinctive American contribution to religious freedom was not in the First Amendment, which was intended merely to preserve the political status quo in matters of religion. What was important was the commitment to open contestation between secularist and providentialist understandings of the nation which evolved over the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, far from vindicating constitutional principles, as conventional wisdom suggests, the Supreme Court imposed secular neutrality, which effectively repudiated this commitment to open contestation. Rather than upholding what was distinctively American and constitutional, these decisions subverted it. The negative consequences are visible today in the incoherence of religion clause jurisprudence and the intense culture wars in American politics.

Ron Colombo on Yesterday’s Cert Grants

At Constitution Daily, Hofstra’s Ron Colombo, a past guest here at CLR Forum, has a helpful essay on the contraception mandate cases on which the Court granted cert yesterday. Ron argues that for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby, the respondent in one of the cases, have standing to raise a free exercise claim:

Hobby Lobby … is owned and operated by a family deeply devoted to its Christian faith.  The company’s statement of purpose commits it to “[h]onoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”  Unlike so many companies today that put profits over people, Hobby Lobby pledges to “[s]erving [its] employees and their families by establishing a work environment and company policies that build character, strengthen individuals, and nurture families.” . . .

So the question becomes:  does the First Amendment provide the protections necessary for businesses such as Hobby Lobby to exist?  Or, to frame things differently:  are individuals free under the U.S. Constitution to follow the dictates of their consciences into the private sector, and to start businesses with practices that are religiously informed?  Businesses around which workers, customers, and investors with shared religious values and beliefs can coalesce?

As should become readily apparent, the recognition of “corporate free exercise rights” ultimately redounds to the protection of individuals.  For it is through religiously expressive corporations that many people wish to live out their faiths.  Can it really be the case that the Constitution effectively consigns these individuals to careers and options only in the world of non-profits?  Is the most significant modern means of harnessing private initiative, the business corporation, somehow carved out from the First Amendment’s religious liberty protections?

You can read Ron’s essay here.

Fowler, Hertzke, Olson, & Dulk, “Religion and Politics in America: Faith, Culture, and Strategic Choices”

Next month, Westview Press will publish a new edition of Religion and Politics in America: Faith, Culture, and Strategic Choices by Robert Fowler (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Allen Hertzke (University of Oklahoma), Laura Olson (Clemson University), and Kevin Dulk (Calvin College). The publisher’s description follows.Religion and Politics in America

Religion and politics are never far from the headlines, but their relationship remains complex and often confusing. In this fifth edition of Religion and Politics in America, the authors offer a lively, accessible, and balanced treatment of religion in American politics. They explore the historical, cultural, and legal contexts that underlie religious political engagement while also highlighting the pragmatic and strategic political realities that religious organizations and people face. Incorporating the best and most up-to-date scholarship, the authors assess the politics of Roman Catholics; evangelical, mainline, and African American Protestants; Jews; Muslims and other conventional and not-so-conventional American religious movements. The author team also examines important subjects concerning religion and its relationship to gender, race/ethnicity, and class. The fifth edition has been revised to include the 2012 elections, in particular Mitt Romney’s candidacy and Mormonism, as well as a fuller assessment of the role of religion in President Obama’s first term. In-depth treatment of core topics, contemporary case studies, and useful focus-study boxes, provides students with a real understanding of how religion and politics relate in practice and makes this fifth edition essential reading for courses in political science, religion, and sociology departments.

“Religion in the Military Worldwide” (Hassner, ed.)

Next month, Cambridge University Press will publish Religion in the Military Worldwide, edited by Ron Hassner (University of California). The publisher’s description follows.Religion in the Military Worldwide

How does religion affect the lives of professional soldiers? How does religion shape militaries, their organization, procedures, and performance? This volume is the first to address these questions by comparing religious symbols and practices in nine countries: Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, India, the United States, and Turkey. The contributors explore how and why soldiers pray, the role of religious rituals prior to battle, the functions that chaplains perform, the effects of religion on recruitment and unit formation, and how militaries grapple with ensuing constitutional dilemmas.

Library of Congress Releases “Constitution Annotated”

To celebrate Constitution Day yesterday, the Library of Congress released a new resource, Constitution Annotated, or, more formally, The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation. Constitution Annotated contains legal analysis and interpretation of the US Constitution, including the Religion Clauses, based primarily on Supreme Court case law. It is updated through the end of the last Court term. Looks very helpful.