Tag Archives: Religion in America

Podcast on Oral Argument in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch

In our latest podcast, Mark and I discuss last week’s Supreme Court oral argument in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., the Title VII headscarf case. We analyze the legal issues, discuss implications for religious accommodations generally, and predict the outcome.

Grzymała-Busse, “Nations under God: How Churches Use Moral Authority to Influence Policy”

In April, Princeton University Press will release “Nations under God: How Churches Use Moral Authority to Influence Policy” by Anna Grzymała-Busse (University of Michigan). The publisher’s description follows:

In some religious countries, churches have drafted constitutions, restricted abortion, and controlled education. In others, church influence on public policy is far weaker. Why? Nations under God argues that where religious and national identities have historically fused, churches gain enormous moral authority—and covert institutional access. These powerful churches then shape policy in backrooms and secret meetings instead of through open democratic channels such as political parties or the ballot box.

Through an in-depth historical analysis of six Christian democracies that share similar religious profiles yet differ in their policy outcomes—Ireland and Italy, Poland and Croatia, and the United States and Canada—Anna Grzymała-Busse examines how churches influenced education, abortion, divorce, stem cell research, and same-sex marriage. She argues that churches gain the greatest political advantage when they appear to be above politics. Because institutional access is covert, they retain their moral authority and their reputation as defenders of the national interest and the common good.

Nations under God shows how powerful church officials in Ireland, Canada, and Poland have directly written legislation, vetoed policies, and vetted high-ranking officials. It demonstrates that religiosity itself is not enough for churches to influence politics—churches in Italy and Croatia, for example, are not as influential as we might think—and that churches allied to political parties, such as in the United States, have less influence than their notoriety suggests.

“Islam and the Americas” (Khan, ed.)

This April, University Press of Florida will release “Islam and the Americas” edited by Aisha Khan (New York University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Islam and the AmericasIn case studies that include the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States, the contributors to this interdisciplinary volume trace the establishment of Islam in the Americas over the past three centuries. They simultaneously explore Muslims’ lived experiences and examine the ways Islam has been shaped in the “Muslim minority” societies in the New World, including the Gilded Age’s fascination with Orientalism, the gendered interpretations of doctrine among Muslim immigrants and local converts, the embrace of Islam by African American activist-intellectuals like Malcolm X, and the ways transnational hip hop artists re-create and reimagine Muslim identities.

Together, these essays challenge the typical view of Islam as timeless, predictable, and opposed to Western worldviews and value systems, showing how this religious tradition continually engages with local and global issues of culture, gender, class, and race.

Robinson, “Race, Religion, and the Pulpit: Rev. Robert L. Bradby and the Making of Urban Detroit”

In April, Wayne State University Press will release “Race, Religion, and the Pulpit: Rev. Robert L. Bradby and the Making of Urban Detroit”  by Julia Marie Robinson (University of North Carolina at Charlotte). The publisher’s description follows:

During the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the cities of the Northeast, Midwest, and West, the local black church was essential in the making and reshaping of urban areas. In Detroit, there was one church and one minister in particular that demonstrated this power of the pulpit—Second Baptist Church of Detroit (“Second,” as many members called it) and its nineteenth pastor, the Reverend Robert L. Bradby. In Race, Religion, and the Pulpit: Rev. Robert L. Bradby and the Making of Urban Detroit, author Julia Marie Robinson explores how Bradby’s church became the catalyst for economic empowerment, community building, and the formation of an urban African American working class in Detroit.

Robinson begins by examining Reverend Bradby’s formative years in Ontario, Canada; his rise to prominence as a pastor and community leader at Second Baptist in Detroit; and the sociohistorical context of his work in the early years of the Great Migration. She goes on to investigate the sometimes surprising nature of relationships between Second Baptist, its members, and prominent white elites in Detroit, including Bradby’s close relationship to Ford Motor Company and Henry Ford. Finally, Robinson details Bradby’s efforts as a “race leader” and activist, roles that were tied directly to his theology. She looks at the parts the minister played in such high-profile events as the organizing of Detroit’s NAACP chapter, the Ossian Sweet trial of the mid-1920s, the Scottsboro Boys trials in the 1930s, and the controversial rise of the United Auto Workers in Detroit in the 1940s.

Race, Religion, and the Pulpit presents a full and nuanced picture of Bradby’s life that has so far been missing from the scholarly record. Readers interested in the intersections of race and religion in American history, as well as anyone with ties to Detroit’s Second Baptist Church, will appreciate this thorough volume.

Cottee, “The Apostates”

This April, Hurst Publishers will release “The Apostates: When Muslims Leave Islam” by Simon Cottee (Kent University).  The publisher’s description follows:

ApostatesThe Apostates is the first major study of apostasy from Islam in the western secular context. Drawing on life-history interviews with ex-Muslims from the UK and Canada, Simon Cottee explores how and with what consequences Muslims leave Islam and become irreligious.

Apostasy in Islam is a deeply controversial issue and features prominently in current debates over the expansion of Islam in the West and what this means. Yet it remains poorly understood, in large part because it has become so politicised — with protagonists on either side of the debate selectively invoking Islamic theology to make claims about the ‘true’ face of Islam. The Apostates charts a different course by examining the social situation and experiences of ex- Muslims. Cottee suggests that Islamic apostasy in the West is best understood not as a legal or political problem, but as a moral issue within Muslim families and communities. Outside of Muslim-majority societies, ex-Muslims are not living in fear for their lives. But they face and must manage the stigma attached to leaving the faith from among their own families and the wider Muslim community.

Decentering Discussions on Religion and State (Donabed & Quezada-Grant, eds.)

This April, Lexington Books will release “Decentering Discussions on Religion and State: Emerging Narratives, Challenging Perspectives” edited by Sargon George Donabed and Autumn Quezada-Grant (Roger Williams University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Decentering ReligionThis volume explores dynamic conversations through history between individuals and communities over questions about religion and state. Divided into two sections, our authors begin with considerations on the separation of religion and state, as well as Roger Williams’ concept of religious freedom. Authors in the first half consider nuanced debates centered on emerging narratives, with particular emphasis on Native America, Early Americans, and experiences in American immigration after Independence. The first half of the volume examines voices in American History as they publicly engage with notions of secular ideology. Discussions then shift as the volume broadens to world perspectives on religion-state relations. Authors consider critical questions of nation, religious identity and transnational narratives. The intent of this volume is to privilege new narratives about religion-state relations. Decentering discussions away from national narratives allows for emerging voices at the individual and community levels. This volume offers readers new openings through which to understand critical but overlooked interactions between individuals and groups of people with the state over questions about religion.

Haselby, “The Origins of American Religious Nationalism”

This March, Oxford University Press will release “The Origins of American Religious Nationalism” by Sam Haselby (Columbia University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Origins of American Religious NationalismSam Haselby offers a new and persuasive account of the role of religion in the formation of American nationality, showing how a contest within Protestantism reshaped American political culture and led to the creation of an enduring religious nationalism.

Following U.S. independence, the new republic faced vital challenges, including a vast and unique continental colonization project undertaken without, in the centuries-old European senses of the terms, either “a church” or “a state.” Amid this crisis, two distinct Protestant movements arose: a popular and rambunctious frontier revivalism; and a nationalist, corporate missionary movement dominated by Northeastern elites. The former heralded the birth of popular American Protestantism, while the latter marked the advent of systematic Protestant missionary activity in the West.

The explosive economic and territorial growth in the early American republic, and the complexity of its political life, gave both movements opportunities for innovation and influence. This book explores the competition between them in relation to major contemporary developments-political democratization, large-scale immigration and unruly migration, fears of political disintegration, the rise of American capitalism and American slavery, and the need to nationalize the frontier. Haselby traces these developments from before the American Revolution to the rise of Andrew Jackson. His approach illuminates important changes in American history, including the decline of religious distinctions and the rise of racial ones, how and why “Indian removal” happened when it did, and with Andrew Jackson, the appearance of the first full-blown expression of American religious nationalism.

Numrich & Wedam, “Religion and Community in the New Urban America”

In March, Oxford University Press will release “Religion and Community in the New Urban America”  by Paul D. Numrich (Methodist Theological School & Trinity Lutheran Seminary) and Elfriede Wedam (Loyola University Chicago). The publisher’s description follows:

Religion and Community in the New Urban America examines the interrelated transformations of cities and urban congregations. The authors ask how the new metropolis affects local religious communities and what role those communities play in creating the new metropolis. Through an in-depth study of fifteen Chicago congregations-Catholic parishes, Protestant churches, Jewish synagogues, Muslim mosques, and a Hindu temple, both city and suburban-this book describes congregational life and measures congregational influences on urban environments. Paul D. Numrich and Elfriede Wedam challenge the view held by many urban studies scholars that religion plays a small role-if any-in shaping postindustrial cities and that religious communities merely adapt to urban structures in a passive fashion. Taking into account the spatial distribution of constituents, internal traits, and external actions, each congregation’s urban impact is plotted on a continuum of weak, to moderate, to strong, thus providing a nuanced understanding of the significance of religion in the contemporary urban context. Presenting a thoughtful analysis that includes maps of each congregation in its social-geographic setting, the authors offer an insightful look into urban community life today, from congregations to the places in which they are embedded.

Joppke, “The Secular State Under Siege”

This April, Wiley Publishing will release “The Secular State Under Siege: Religion and Politics in Europe and America” by Christian Joppke (University of Bern).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Secular State Under SiegeThroughout human history, religion and politics have entertained the most intimate of connections as systems of authority regulating individuals and society. While the two have come apart through the process of secularization, secularism is challenged today by the return of public religion. This cogent analysis unravels the nature of the connection, disconnection, and attempted reconnection between religion and politics in the West.

In a comparison of Western Europe and North America, Christianity and Islam, Joppke advances far-reaching theoretical, historical, and comparative-political arguments. With respect to theory, it is argued that only a “substantive” concept of religion, as pertaining to the existence of supra-human powers, opens up the possibility of a historical-comparative perspective on religion. At the level of history, secularization is shown to be the distinct outcome of Latin Christianity itself. And at the level of comparative politics, the Christian Right in America which has attacked the “wall of separation” between religion and state and Islam in Europe with the controversial insistence on sharia law and other “illiberal” claims from some quarters are taken to be counterpart incarnations of public religion and challenges to the secular state.

This clearly argued, sweeping book will provide an invaluable framework for approaching an array of critical issues at the intersection of religion, law and politics for advanced students and researchers across the social sciences and legal studies, as well as for the interested public.

Vaccination, the Nones, and Hobby Lobby

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Map from the New York Times

Measles is back. In recent weeks, an outbreak that originated in Southern California has spread across the nation (above). Public health officials seem confident the outbreak is explained, in large part, by the fact that significant numbers of parents no longer have their children vaccinated. These parents rely on exemptions that state laws, like California’s, provide for parents who object to mandatory vaccination programs. Perhaps surprisingly, the resistance is disproportionately high in wealthier, better educated, bluer neighborhoods, the sort of communities that pride themselves on their enlightened, progressive outlook.

The outbreak has obvious, unsettling public health implications. We are witnessing the recurrence of a serious, highly contagious disease we thought we had eradicated. In this post, though, I’d like to discuss some important cultural and legal implications. Culturally, the outbreak suggests the growing influence of the Nones—those Americans, maybe as many as 20% of us, without a formal religious affiliation. As I’ll explain, many of the parents who object to vaccination reflect the spirituality of the Nones. Legally, the outbreak seems likely to provide ammunition for opponents of last term’s decision in Hobby Lobby, the Contraception Mandate case. As I’ll explain, though, Hobby Lobby wouldn’t allow parents to claim religious exemptions in this context.

Let’s start with the cultural implications. To understand why the measles outbreak suggests the growing influence of the Nones, consider the reasons parents give for refusing to vaccinate their children. Some parents, it’s true, worry about the threat of toxins and an alleged link with autism. But the link with autism has been debunked; scientifically, there’s nothing to it. Some parents belong to religions that oppose vaccination. But the number of religions that forbid or even discourage vaccination is actually quite small. Conventional religious teachings cannot explain the widespread resistance we’re seeing, particularly in those blue, progressive neighborhoods.

Based on media accounts, much of the resistance comes from parents who object to vaccination, not because of science or conventional religion, but “personal belief.” Indeed, California law speaks in terms of a “personal belief exemption.” Many of the objectors have an intuitive conviction that vaccination is not right, natural, or wholesome. They associate it with capitalism and anti-environmentalism, which they see as morally deficient. Immunization makes these parents sincerely uncomfortable on a gut level. One told the New York Times, simply, “Vaccines don’t feel right for me and my family.”

Now, it’s impossible to hear these objections without thinking of the Nones. The Nones are a diverse group with varied commitments and philosophies. But sociologists have identified a common characteristic. Nones reject organized religion, not faith. In fact, they tend to be quite comfortable with spirituality, as long as it is personal and authentic: they are the “Spiritual but Not Religious.” So when a parent says vaccination seems wrong to her on a visceral level, and that she therefore refuses to allow her children to go through the procedure, she is reflecting the spirituality of the Nones. Of course, I don’t claim that all Nones reject vaccination, or even that all the parents who object to vaccination are Nones. But the Nones’ worldview pretty clearly provides the anti-vaccination movement with much of its considerable force.

Next, the legal implications. It seems to me very likely that opponents will use the outbreak to attack the Court’s decision last term in Hobby Lobby, the Contraception Mandate case. In fact, in her Hobby Lobby dissent, Justice Ginsburg argued that that, under the Court’s reading of RFRA, employers with religious objections could refuse to cover vaccinations for employees. This argument is a bit ironic, since, as I say, most religions don’t object to vaccinations. But some religions do object, and anyway, under Supreme Court precedent, the personal, anti-vaccination beliefs of Nones could be treated, for legal purposes, like traditional religious convictions. So Justice Ginsburg’s argument has a surface plausibility.

The Hobby Lobby Court expressly declined to address the implications of its holding for vaccination requirements. But Justice Ginsburg’s argument is misleading. Under RFRA, the government must offer an accommodation where a less restrictive alternative exists, that is, one that would allow the government to fulfill its compelling interest without substantially burdening the claimant’s exercise of religion. In Hobby Lobby, an alternative did exist. The government could have allowed the employer to opt out of coverage and have the plan administrator itself pay for the contraception. A similar accommodation could be worked out for vaccinations. If an employer didn’t want to pay, the plan administrator could be required to do so.

But here’s the important point: the vaccinations would take place. Hobby Lobby would not allow parents with religious objections to refuse to have their kids vaccinated at all. This is because there is no less-restrictive alternative to a mandatory vaccination protocol. For vaccination to work in preventing the spread of serious disease –surely a compelling government interest—more than 90% of a population must be vaccinated. (Scientists refer to this as the percentage necessary to create “herd immunity”). If the government allowed exemptions for people with religious objections, the percentage of vaccinated children could quickly fall below this number, endangering the whole population. In one California location, for example, the Times reports that exemptions have allowed 40% of schoolchildren to skip their measles vaccination.

Now, there is a complication. All states allow parents to claim exemptions from mandatory vaccination requirements for medical reasons. In some very rare cases, vaccination can endanger the health of a child, and in those circumstances, parents can decline to have their child vaccinated. Well, you might ask, doesn’t the possibility of medical exemptions suggest that the government doesn’t have a compelling interest in vaccinating absolutely everybody? And doesn’t that mean the government must also allow religious exemptions?

Maybe—some lower court caselaw does suggest that outcome. But I doubt it. No medical protocol is ever completely categorical; we don’t insist that doctors carry out a course of treatment even if it’s not medically indicated. It’s hard to imagine the Supreme Court would hold that allowing any medical exemption at all would necessarily require an exemption for religious reasons. It wouldn’t make sense.

Anyway, an outbreak of the sort we’re experiencing now is not an inevitable consequence of Hobby Lobby. It’s worth keeping that in mind in the weeks ahead.