With Thanksgiving weekend coming to an end, it seems like a good time to share a few words about Town of Greece v. Galloway, the legislative prayer case on which the Supreme Court heard oral argument early last month, on November 6.
I have a special personal interest in this case because I was a law clerk to William J. Brennan, Jr. when the Supreme Court decided Marsh v. Chambers, the case that first upheld the practice of legislative prayer on essentially historical grounds, and worked on Justice Brennan’s dissent. The dissent argued, compellingly I think, that official legislative prayers violated the Establishment Clause despite their long history in both Congress and state legislatures. But my favorite passage in the dissent, and the one possibly most relevant to the Town of Greece case, is this:
[L]egislative prayer, unlike mottos with fixed wordings, can easily turn narrowly and obviously sectarian. I agree with the Court that the federal judiciary should not sit as a board of censors on individual prayers, but, to my mind, the better way of avoiding that task is by striking down all official legislative invocations.
More fundamentally, however, any practice of legislative prayer, even if it might look “nonsectarian” to nine Justices of the Supreme Court, will inevitably and continuously involve the State in one or another religious debate. Prayer is serious business — serious theological business — and it is not a mere “acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country” for the State to immerse itself in that business. Continue reading
Posted in CLR Forum Guest, Commentary, Perry Dane
Tagged Church and State, Constitutional Law, Establishment Clause, Free Speech, Legislative Prayer, Marsh v. Chambers, Religion and Politics, Religion in America, Supreme Court, Town of Greece v. Galloway
The organizers of this blog were kind enough to ask me to do some guest-blogging here last month. They’ve now been even kinder in letting me post some more over the next couple of weeks.
A few days ago, a federal district court judge in Wisconsin struck down the so-called “parsonage exemption,” under which practicing clergy get to exclude many of their housing expenses from taxable income. Judge Barbara Crabb held that the exemption, included in § 107 of the Internal Revenue Code, violated the Establishment Clause as, among other things, an unjustified special favor to organized religion. Now, I’m generally a “strict separationist” on Establishment Clause questions. But this decision is quite wrong. And it misunderstands an important piece of our church-state dispensation. Continue reading
Next month, NYU Press will publish The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness by Raphael Warnock (Ebenezer Baptist Church). The publisher’s description follows.
What is the true nature and mission of the church? Is its proper Christian purpose to save souls, or to transform the social order? This question is especially fraught when the church is one built by an enslaved people and formed, from its beginning, at the center of an oppressed community’s fight for personhood and freedom. Such is the central tension in the identity and mission of the black church in the United States.
For decades the black church and black theology have held each other at arm’s length. Black theology has emphasized the role of Christian faith in addressing racism and other forms of oppression, arguing that Jesus urged his disciples to seek the freedom of all peoples. Meanwhile, the black church, even when focused on social concerns, has often emphasized personal piety rather than social protest. With the rising influence of white evangelicalism, biblical fundamentalism, and the prosperity gospel, the divide has become even more pronounced.
In Piety or Protest, Raphael G. Warnock, Senior Pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,traces the historical significance of the rise and development of black theology as an important conversation partner for the black church. Calling for honest dialogue between black and womanist theologians and black pastors, this fresh theological treatment demands a new look at the church’s essential mission.
Next month, Oxford University Press will publish American Civil Religion: What Americans Hold Sacred by Peter Gardella (Manhattanville College). The publisher’s description follows.
The United States has never had an officially established national church. Since the time of the first British colonists, it has instead developed a strong civil religion that melds God and nation. In a deft exploration of American civil religious symbols-from the Liberty Bell to the Vietnam Memorial, from Mount Rushmore to Disney World-Peter Gardella explains how the places, objects, and words that Americans hold sacred came into being and how Americans’ feelings about them have changed over time. In addition to examining revered historical sites and structures, he analyzes such sacred texts as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, the Kennedy Inaugural, and the speeches of Martin Luther King, and shows how five patriotic songs-”The Star-Spangled Banner,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “America the Beautiful,” “God Bless America,” and “This Land Is Your Land”-have been elevated into hymns.
Arguing that certain values-personal freedom, political democracy, world peace, and cultural tolerance-have held American civil religion together, Gardella chronicles the numerous forms those values have taken, from Jamestown and Plymouth to the September 11, 2001 Memorial in New York.
This November, Oxford University Press will publish Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism by Molly Worthen (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The publisher’s description follows.
In Apostles of Reason, Molly Worthen offers a sweeping intellectual history of modern American evangelicalism. Traditionally, evangelicalism has been seen as a cohesive—indeed almost monolithic—religious movement. Sometimes, religion drops out of the picture and evangelicalism is treated strictly as a political force. Worthen argues that these views are false. Evangelicalism is, rather, a community of believers preoccupied by shared anxieties. Evangelicals differ from one another on the details of their ideas about God and humankind, but three elemental concerns unite them: how to reconcile faith and reason; how to know Jesus; and how to act on faith in a secularized public square. In combination, under the pressures of modernity, and in the absence of a guiding authority capable of resolving uncertainties and disagreements, these anxieties have shaped evangelicals into a distinctive spiritual community.
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 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.
Next month, the University of Michigan Press will publish For the Civic Good: The Liberal Case for Teaching Religion in the Public Schools by Walter Feinberg (University of Illinois) and Richard Layton (University of Illinois). The publisher’s description follows.
Why teach about religion in public schools? What educational value can such courses potentially have for students?
In For the Civic Good, Walter Feinberg and Richard A. Layton offer an argument for the contribution of Bible and world religion electives. The authors argue that such courses can, if taught properly, promote an essential aim of public education: the construction of a civic public, where strangers engage with one another in building a common future. The humanities serve to awaken students to the significance of interpretive and analytic skills, and religion and Bible courses have the potential to add a reflective element to these skills. In so doing, students awaken to the fact of their own interpretive framework and how it influences their understanding of texts and practices. The argument of the book is developed by reports on the authors’ field research, a two-year period in which they observed religion courses taught in various public high schools throughout the country, from the “Bible Belt” to the suburban parkway. They document the problems in teaching religion courses in an educationally appropriate way, but also illustrate the argument for a humanities-based approach to religion by providing real classroom models of religion courses that advance the skills critical to the development of a civic public.
… here in New York City, and CLR Forum reader John McGinnis points us to an interesting New York Times column on the election’s likely effect on some important law-and-religion controversies. Whether the heavily-favored Democrat Bill de Blasio or the Republican Joe Lhota prevail in today’s mayoral contest, the Times reports, the next administration will likely be friendlier than the Bloomberg Administration to the city’s faith communities:
After 12 years of a mayor who has resisted making concessions to religious groups, New York City is in for a change.
The two leading candidates for mayor — Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, and Joseph J. Lhota, a Republican — have pledged to break with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on a range of issues at the nexus of government and religion. They say they would accommodate two of the most important Muslim holy days, allow church services on school property, and work with Jewish leaders to ease the city’s supervision of circumcision rituals.
We’ve covered the last two issues here at the Forum. With respect to church services on school property, the city has been fighting in federal court to stop churches from using public school property for worship services on Sunday; it looks like that litigation will soon become moot. And here’s a post about the particular circumcision ritual that has run afoul of city health regulators.
Religion in New York City is typically (though not always) an ethnic phenomenon. New Yorkers are not so comfortable with overt religiosity; but tribe, we understand. The greater solicitude for faith communities likely reflects a return to classic interest-group politics more than a resurgent piety. Still, it’s interesting to observe the change in tone from the hyper-secular Bloomberg Administration, which actually banned clergy from 9/11 commemorations. By the way, here’s another sign of changing religious politics. When asked to describe his religious views, de Blasio answered, “I have my own spirituality, but it doesn’t take the form of any particular religion.” Our likely next mayor is a None.
Next month, the University of Michigan Press will publish Politics, Faith, and the Making of American Judaism by Peter Adams (Montgomery Community College). The publisher’s description follows.
In 1862, in the only instance of a Jewish expulsion in America, General Ulysses S. Grant banished Jewish citizens from the region under his military command. Although the order was quickly revoked by President Lincoln, it represented growing anti-Semitism in America. Convinced that assimilation was their best defense, Jews sought to Americanize by shedding distinctive dress, occupations, and religious rituals.
American Jews recognized the benefit and urgency of bridging the divide between Reform and Orthodox Judaism to create a stronger alliance to face the challenges ahead. With Grant’s 1868 presidential campaign, they also realized they could no longer remain aloof from partisan politics. As they became a growing influence in American politics, both political parties courted the new Jewish vote.
Once in office, Grant took notice of the persecution of Jews in Romania and Russia, and he appointed more Jews to office than any president before him. Indeed, Simon Wolf, a Washington lawyer who became one of Grant’s closest advisers, was part of a new generation of Jewish leaders to emerge in the post–Civil War era—thoroughly Americanized, politically mature, and committed to the modernized Judaism of the Reform movement.
Next month, New York University Press will publish Islam Is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority by Zareena Grewal (Yale University). The publisher’s description follows.
In Islam Is a Foreign Country, Zareena Grewal explores some of the most pressing debates about and among American Muslims: what does it mean to be Muslim and American? Who has the authority to speak for Islam and to lead the stunningly diverse population of American Muslims? Do their ties to the larger Muslim world undermine their efforts to make Islam an American religion?
Offering rich insights into these questions and more, Grewal follows the journeys of American Muslim youth who travel in global, underground Islamic networks. Devoutly religious and often politically disaffected, these young men and women are in search of a home for themselves and their tradition. Through their stories, Grewal captures the multiple directions of the global flows of people, practices, and ideas that connect U.S. mosques to the Muslim world. By examining the tension between American Muslims’ ambivalence toward the American mainstream and their desire to enter it, Grewal puts contemporary debates about Islam in the context of a long history of American racial and religious exclusions. Probing the competing obligations of American Muslims to the nation and to the umma (the global community of Muslim believers), Islam is a Foreign Country investigates the meaning of American citizenship and the place of Islam in a global age.