Tag Archives: Religion in America

Froese, “California Mennonites”

In October, John Hopkins University Press will release “California Mennonites” by Brian Froese (Canadian Mennonite University). The publisher’s description follows:

Books about Mennonites have centered primarily on the East Coast and the Midwest, where the majority of Mennonite communities in the United States are located. But these narratives neglect the unique history of the multitude of Mennonites living on the West Coast. In California Mennonites, Brian Froese relies on archival church records to examine the Mennonite experience in the Golden State, from the nineteenth-century migrants who came in search of sunshine and fertile soil to the traditionally agrarian community that struggled with issues of urbanization, race, gender, education, and labor in the twentieth century to the evangelically oriented, partially assimilated Mennonites of today.

Froese places Mennonite experiences against a backdrop of major historical events, including World War II and Vietnam, and social issues, from labor disputes to the evolution of mental health care. California Mennonites include people who embrace a range of ideologies: many are historically rooted in the sixteenth-century Reformation ideals of the early Anabaptists (pacifism, congregationalism, discipleship); some embrace twentieth-century American evangelicalism (missions, Billy Graham); and others are committed to a type of social justice that involves forging practical ties to secular government programs while maintaining a quiet connection to religion.

Through their experiences of religious diversity, changing demographics, and war, California Mennonites have wrestled with complicated questions of what it means to be American, Mennonite, and modern. This book—the first of its kind—will appeal to historians and religious studies scholars alike.

Gonzalez, “A Critical Introduction to Religion in the Americas: Bridging the Liberation Theology and Religious Studies Divide”

Last month, NYU Press released “A Critical Introduction to Religion in the Americas: Bridging the Liberation Theology and Religious Studies Divide” by Michelle A. Gonzalez (University of Miami). The publisher’s description follows:

A Critical Introduction to Religion in the Americas argues that we cannot understand religion in the Americas without understanding its marginalized communities. Despite frequently voiced doubts among religious studies scholars, it makes the case that theology, and particularly liberation theology, is still useful, but it must be reframed to attend to the ways in which religion is actually experienced on the ground. That is, a liberation theology that assumes a need to work on behalf of the poor can seem out of touch with a population experiencing huge Pentecostal and Charismatic growth, where the focus is not on inequality or social action but on individual relationships with the divine.

By drawing on a combination of historical and ethnographic sources, this volume provides a basic introduction to the study of religion and theology in the Latino/a, Black, and Latin American contexts, and then shows how theology can be reframed to better speak to the concerns of both religious studies and the real people the theologians’ work is meant to represent. Informed by the dialogue partners explored throughout the text, this volume presents a hemispheric approach to discussing lived religious movements. While not dismissive of liberation theologies, this approach is critical of their past and offers challenges to their future as well as suggestions for preventing their untimely demise. It is clear that the liberation theologies of tomorrow cannot look like the liberation theologies of today.

“American Jewish History” (Zola et al., eds.)

Next month, Brandeis University Press will release “American Jewish History” edited by Gary Phillip Zola (Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion) and Marc Dollinger (San Francisco State University). The publisher’s description follows:

Presenting the American Jewish historical experience from its communal beginnings to the present through documents, photographs, and other illustrations, many of which have never before been published, this entirely new collection of source materials complements existing textbooks on American Jewish history with an organization and pedagogy that reflect the latest historiographical trends and the most creative teaching approaches.

Ten chapters, organized chronologically, include source materials that highlight the major thematic questions of each era and tell many stories about what it was like to immigrate and acculturate to American life, practice different forms of Judaism, engage with the larger political, economic, and social cultures that surrounded American Jews, and offer assistance to Jews in need around the world.

At the beginning of each chapter, the editors provide a brief historical overview highlighting some of the most important developments in both American and American Jewish history during that particular era. Source materials in the collection are preceded by short headnotes that orient readers to the documents’ historical context and significance.

Craig, “Health Care as a Social Good”

In September Georgetown University Press will release “Health Care as a Social Good: Religious Values and American Democracy” by David M. Craig (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis).  The publisher’s description follows:

#1A CraigDavid M. Craig traveled across the United States to assess health care access, delivery and finance in this country. He interviewed religious hospital administrators and interfaith activists, learning how they balance the values of economic efficiency and community accountability. He met with conservatives, liberals, and moderates, reviewing their ideas for market reform or support for the Affordable Care Act. He discovered that health care in the US is not a private good or a public good. Decades of public policy and philanthropic service have made health care a shared social good.

Health Care as a Social Good: Religious Values and American Democracy argues that as escalating health costs absorb more and more of family income and government budgets, we need to take stock of the full range of health care values to create a different and more affordable community-based health care system. Transformation of that system is a national priority but Americans have failed to find a way to work together that bypasses our differences. Craig insists that community engagement around the common religious conviction that healing is a shared responsibility can help us achieve this transformation—one that will not only help us realize a new and better system, but one that reflects the ideals of American democracy and the common good.

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

Sullivan, “A Ministry of Presence”

This September, University of Chicago Press will release A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care, and the Law by Winnifred Fallers Sullivan (Indiana University, Bloomington).  The publishers description follows:

A Ministry of PresenceMost people in the United States today no longer live their lives under the guidance of local institutionalized religious leadership, such as rabbis, ministers, and priests; rather, liberals and conservatives alike have taken charge of their own religious or spiritual practices. This shift, along with other social and cultural changes, has opened up a perhaps surprising space for chaplains—spiritual professionals who usually work with the endorsement of a religious community but do that work away from its immediate hierarchy, ministering in a secular institution, such as a prison, the military, or an airport, to an ever-changing group of clients of widely varying faiths and beliefs.

In A Ministry of Presence, Winnifred Fallers Sullivan explores how chaplaincy works in the United States—and in particular how it sits uneasily at the intersection of law and religion, spiritual care, and government regulation. Responsible for ministering to the wandering souls of the globalized economy, the chaplain works with a clientele often unmarked by a specific religious identity, and does so on behalf of a secular institution, like a hospital. Sullivan’s examination of the sometimes heroic but often deeply ambiguous work yields fascinating insights into contemporary spiritual life, the politics of religious freedom, and the neverending negotiation of religion’s place in American institutional life.

My Review of Steve Smith’s Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom

I’ve got a review of Steve’s book over at The University Bookman. A bit from the beginning:

In legal scholarship, as in any literature, style matters as much as content. The subjects authors explore, their manners and patterns of thought, the metaphors and idioms they select, the grace with which they address the audience and carry it along—in sum, the personal qualities that emerge in the telling of the tale—are remembered long after the details of the argument have faded. Over the duration of a scholarly life, a writer constructs a personality. And as the relationship of author and reader matures across the years, the publication of a new piece is the occasion to look not so much for argumentative roundhouse punches that could have been thrown anywhere by anybody, as for an old friend.

This is the way I come to the work of Steven D. Smith, the most penetrating and thoughtful scholar of religious freedom of our generation, and that rare author in American legal academia whom it is a joy to read. His new book, The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom, represents a distinctively and recognizably Smith-esque contribution. His authorial method has always been primarily diagnostic: he describes the existing legal and historical landscape, and in so doing brings a particular critical perspective that generally runs more or less against the current. Toward the conclusion of his work, Smith often gestures toward several possible resolutions to the problems he has discussed, but they are rarely more than that: soft speculations, almost afterthoughts, about a few pathways out of the forest. But the heart of a Steve Smith book is in the careful exposition of a problem. He has cultivated this method over the years with consistent, wry panache to great effect—whether the subject is the healthful absence of a single theory of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, or the contemporary obsession with the value of equality, or the unsustainable claims about the “reason” that inheres in constitutional law and scholarship. Always, Smith offers an alternative historical and doctrinal description. Always, he hints suggestively at contrarian possibilities and ends. Always, the leitmotivs are skepticism and decline.

The Necessity of Legal Sacralization

One of the topics of a Libertas Project session concerned the Napoleonmaxim, “Christianity is part of the common law.” There is a fascinating debate between Thomas Jefferson and Joseph Story (both in their unofficial capacities) about the maxim, much of which concerns the accuracy of the translation from the French of the phrase, ancien scripture, as used by a fifteenth century judge named Sir John Prisot (Chief Justice of Common Pleas, as far as I have been able to determine). You can see the debate worked out in this fine volume edited by Professors Daniel Dreisbach and Mark David Hall. The maxim was invoked in 19th century American judicial decisions concerning violations of anti-blasphemy laws as well as Sunday closing laws. But what did the phrase mean, and when did it go out of usage, and why?

In a superb article, When Christianity Was Part of the Common Law, Professor Stuart Banner explores the use and the decline of the maxim. It seems to have been used relatively frequently in judicial decisions of the 19th century, far less frequently in the early 20th, and by mid-century have gone out of usage entirely. Indeed, the last use of the maxim that Banner records is in a 1955 Pennsylvania state court decision that I assign my students in criminal law–Commonwealth v. Mochan–involving a prosecution for “persistent, lewd, immoral, and filthy” phone calls. Banner concludes that the maxim had almost no tangible legal effect on the substance of the 19th century blasphemy and Sunday closing law prosecutions. Those cases were about disturbing the peace in general, not about specific injuries done to Christianity that the law could remedy.

Does this mean that the maxim was functionally useless. Not at all. The maxim did not go to the substance of law, but to its nature. And the fact that the maxim falls out of use in the early twentieth century has as much or more to do with our changing conception of the common law as it does with our changing views about religion. The common law in the older view had an existence independent of the particular statements of judges: it was founded on sources much broader than the positive commands of authorized government functionaries. Those sources, which included Christian sources, sacralized the common law; they rendered it greater and deeper than positive law. One can see this view in a nineteenth century Pennsylvania blasphemy case, Updegraph v. Commonwealth, in which the court said of the common law: “It is not proclaimed by the commanding voice of any human superior, but expressed in the calm and mild accents of customary law.”

What Edmund Burke saw as the political, legal, and constitutional value of establishment is quite similar to the functions that the maxim served in 19th century America. These both were ways in which law was sacralized. The idea was to remind officials that they are subject to a greater power, and that this greater power is founded on and drawn from sources of transcendence outside the law (see also Town of Greece v. Galloway, as I explained here). In the context of the exercise of judicial power, the sacralizing function of the maxim was to reject the claim that judicial will is all that exists. Just as, in Burke’s view, disestablishment destroys the sacralizing power of law, so, too, does the rejection of the maxim desacralize law in the American experience. Here is Banner:

Where the common law has this sort of existence independent of the statements of judges, it can include systems of thought otherwise external to the legal system without causing any tension. If the common law can be found in our architecture, in our dreams, in our manner of speech—and especially in our prerational judgments as to right and wrong—then there is nothing mystical about the notion that the common law incorporates Christianity.

This view of the common law simply died out. We no longer believe that judges discover the common law. We believe that they, and they alone, make it. When judges render a decision, that decision is not–as the old view had it–“the best evidence of the common law” but not itself the common law. The common law just is the judicial will. If judges recognize the doctrines of Christianity as part of the common law, they are making Christianity the law. That is exactly a reason that the maxim would raise Establishment Clause complaints today where in the past it would raise none.

And yet I wonder what fills the void in place of the sacralizing meta-doctrine that Christianity is part of the common law. There are two possibilities. The first is that the modern state is no longer in need of sacralization or consecration at all. We just know better today. This seems to be the view taken by Banner at the conclusion of his piece.

But a second possibility is very different. It posits that all states—and certainly all modern states whose ambit of power is large and ever-increasing—depend on sacralizing credos and maxims. If the maxim that Christianity is part of the common law is dead, other credos reflected in new maxims inevitably must take its place. No state, and especially no state whose jurisdiction is expanding into realms traditionally overseen by other social powers—can long survive without the consecration of its law.

Hamilton’s Religion, and Ours

A Complicated Man

This past weekend was the 210th anniversary of the death of Alexander Hamilton in a duel with Aaron Burr. Commemorations took place around New York City–at the Weehawken, New Jersey dueling site; at Hamilton’s home in upper Manhattan, recently restored and relocated in St. Nicholas Park; and at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, where Burr, who somehow survived the scandal, later married his wealthy second wife. Commemorations conclude this afternoon with a ceremony at Hamilton’s grave in Trinity Churchyard.

Hamilton was a complicated man–brilliant, handsome, charming, visionary; but also reckless, prideful, and a schemer. He had remarkable achievements. He attended the Constitutional Convention and wrote most of the Federalist Papers, including Number 78, on the judiciary; he established the finances of the United States as first Secretary of the Treasury; he founded a nationalist, commercial conservatism that survives to this day. Although this is somewhat less known, he also wrote one of the most important texts on the place of religion in American public life.

Most people know the story of his duel with Burr, the sitting Vice President, which took place on the morning of July 11, 1804. Burr challenged Hamilton after reading some disparaging remarks Hamilton allegedly had made about him during a gubernatorial election. Hamilton could have avoided the duel, had he wanted. But he chose not to, inflaming the situation with his lawerly, evasive answers to Burr’s questions. He told friends before the duel that he did not intend to shoot Burr, and indeed his bullet that morning drifted harmlessly into the trees. Perhaps he expected Burr to act the same way. Duels often ended with both parties wasting their shots.

Some historians believe, though, that Hamilton no longer cared much about living. He was approaching 50 and his political career was over, largely as a result of his own unsuccessful machinations. “Every day proves to me more and more,” he wrote Gouverneur Morris in 1802, “that this American world was not made for me.” He was heavily in debt. And he was shattered by the death of his son, Philip, in a duel two years before–defending his father’s honor, at that same Weehawken dueling ground, with the very pistols Hamilton selected for his own duel with Burr. Did Hamilton court death that July morning? Who knows? In any event, Burr shot to kill and hit his target. Hamilton lingered for a while in agony and died, back in New York, the next day.

But about Hamilton and American religion. Even after he left the Cabinet in 1795, Hamilton continued to advise President George Washington, who was a father figure to him. As Washington’s retirement neared in 1796, he asked Hamilton for help with his Farewell Address, and Hamilton prepared a draft. The ideas were Washington’s own. But the words were Hamilton’s.

One famous section of the Farewell Address relates to the proper place of religion in public life:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

How very American this is. Note the generic reference to “religion,” as opposed to Christianity. From the beginning, American public religion has had a non-sectarian cast. Most Americans in 1796 were Christians, as most are today. Most would have understood the reference to religion to mean the Christian religion. But our public expression of religion typically avoids expressly Christian imagery. In part this reflects the Deism of many of the Founders. But it also reflects an Evangelical faith that is comfortable with biblical non-sectarianism. In America, religious conservatives demand public display of the Ten Commandments. In Europe, they demand public display of the crucifix.

Note, too, the practicality of Hamilton’s appeal. Why is religion important? Because it’s true? Because people need salvation? No–it’s because of the pragmatic benefits religion provides, benefits even the “mere politician” can understand. To work properly, republicanism requires citizens to be moral; and to be moral, citizens require religion. To be sure, every now and then, one might find an exceptional person who is moral without religion. But that can never be true for most people. And it doesn’t matter what the religion is. This, too, is very American. As a twentieth-century American president famously remarked, “Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

640px-Alexander_Hamilton_Grave

Hamilton’s Grave, Trinity Churchyard

Hamilton’s own faith ebbed and flowed. As a young man, he was a pious Christian. His college roommate remembers him praying every morning and evening. But he leaned toward Deism as he matured. Indeed, he appears to have been a bit of a scoffer. When someone asked him why the Constitution failed to mention God, he famously joked, “We forgot.” Later in life, though, he appears to have returned to his boyhood Christianity, dismayed, as many American conservatives were, by the anti-Christianity of the French Revolution. Two years before he died, he proposed a Christian Constitutional Society to counter Jacobinism in the United States. Perhaps he was thinking as a “mere politician.” But on his deathbed, he requested, and received, Communion.

Lupu & Tuttle, “Secular Government, Religious People”

The long partnership of Ira “Chip” Lupu and Robert Tuttle (both of GW Law) has resulted in a Secular Government Religious Peopledistinctive view of and approach to religious freedom in the United States through the years, and so I will be very interested to read the product of their latest collaboration, Secular Government, Religious People, to be published by Eerdmans Publishing Company in August. The publisher’s description follows.

In this book Ira Lupu and Robert Tuttle break through the unproductive American debate over competing religious rights. They present an original theory that makes the secular character of the American government, rather than a set of individual rights, the centerpiece of religious liberty in the United States.

Through a comprehensive treatment of relevant constitutional themes and through their attention to both historical concerns and contemporary controversies — including issues often in the news — Lupu and Tuttle define and defend the secular character of U.S. government.