Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Wheaton and Islam: The Next Step, and the Unanswered Question

Wheaton College's provost is recommending that Professor Larycia Hawkins be removed from her tenured position for having stated (as part of an expression of civil solidarity with Muslims) that Muslims and Christians worship "the same God." The matter now goes to a faculty advisory committee for its recommendation, and then to the college president.

Wheaton's website contains a set of responses to FAQs concerning the situation. They don't address what I think is the most serious challenge to Wheaton: Do the asserted reasons for saying Islam worships a different God (i.e. Islam rejects the Trinity and Christ's place in salvation)  also apply to Judaism? Professor Hawkins seems to affirm (according to the Christianity Today link above) that Muslims and Christians understand God very differently. But the Jewish-Christian  differences in understanding of God--many of them similar to the Muslim-Christian differences--do not stop most Christians, I think, from saying that Christians and Jews both worship the God of Abraham.

On the other hand, Wheaton also says (in its FAQ responses) that "[o]n the part of the College, further theological clarification is necessary before [a] reconciliation [with her] can take place, and unfortunately Dr. Hawkins has stated clearly her unwillingness to participate in such further clarifying conversations," which created an "impasse." So perhaps she hasn't allayed concerns that, for example, her "same God" statement might be taken to reflect a more general religious universalism, or a minimizing of the deity and central importance of Jesus, both of which would of course be inconsistent with Wheaton's evangelical commitment.

But that doesn't deal with the more specific claim that "Muslims worship the God of Abraham, albeit with very different understandings than Christians." And I can't help but think that if one is willing to apply that to Judaism but not to Islam, the reason is cultural and political distrust rather than theological distinctiveness. Thus it would be good to know what Wheaton says in this context about Christianity and Judaism.

Thanks very much to Mike for quoting the Catholic Church's position on this from Nostra Aetate. Perhaps the Catholic teaching can give evangelicals some food for thought as they grapple with this issue.

UPDATE: Here is Professor Hawkins's fuller description of her position, in a December 17 letter to Wheaton's administration. HT: Frank Beckwith (he gives his own take on the issue here, and a catalog of others' perspectives here)

January 6, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Religion | Permalink

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Second Complaint Against Montana Tax-Credit Discrimination

As Howard Friedman reports at Religion Clause, a second lawsuit has now been filed against the Montana Revenue Department for its silly decision to exclude parents and donors of religious schools from participating in the state's tax-credit program for donations to "student scholarship organizations" (SSOs). This complaint is in federal court.

The comments our St. Thomas religious liberty clinic filed, on behalf of several organizations, when the Department was considering the rule predicted that it would be awash in litigation. Why the tax lawyers at the Department wanted to bring this on is beyond me. As we wrote back then, the exclusion is based on a House that Jack Built sequence: the asserted need to prevent the state from crediting "a donation to an SSO that funds a scholarship that assists a parent who chooses a school that may or may not be religious."  

December 31, 2015 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Saturday, December 26, 2015

OT (Off Topic): Douthat on Star Wars Episode 7

(Minor spoiler alert too:)

If you want it (for, say, holiday dinner-table arguments), Ross Douthat gives a long, detailed list of why The Force Awakens is not a reboot of, but rather the "the same frickin' movie" as, previous ones. He almost persuades me that its overwhelming critical success is evidence of cultural decadence. (No reason to post this here, except that MOJ writers frequently discuss what Douthat says and this gave me an excuse to endorse this view of Ep. 7.) And yes, if the attractive new characters are given an interesting new plot in the next two episodes, the new series will prove to be a success.

December 26, 2015 in Berg, Thomas, Film | Permalink

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Montana Revenue Department's Misguided Notion about Tax Credits and Religious Schools

The Montana Legislature recently enacted a state tax credit for donations to charitable organizations that provide scholarships for students attending private schools (including, on equal terms, religious schools). When taxpayers have objected that such a programs "aids religion," a number of state courts have rejected that assertion on the merits, most notably the Arizona Supreme Court in Kotterman v. Killian, 972 P.2d 606 (Ariz. 1999). And the U.S. Supreme Court held that taxpayers lacked standing in federal court to challenge Arizona's program under the Establishment Clause (Arizona Christian Sch. Tuition Org. v. Winn, 131 S. Ct. 1436 (2011)).

Unfortunately, as Religion Clause recently reported, the Montana Department of Revenue (charged with enforcing the statute) has promulgated a rule excluding the use of tax credits to support donations for students who use them at "sectarian" schools. The Department has the misguided notion that this program is prohibited by the Montana Constitution's ban on "any direct or indirect appropriation or payment from any public fund or monies ... to aid any [school] controlled in whole or part by any, church, sect, or denomination." Mont. Const. Art. X, sec. 6. This is a particularly egregious example of the use of a state "Blaine Amendment" to discriminate against families who choose religious schooling for their children, and against donors who want to support that choice. (As we've noted here recently, the Supreme Court is considering important certiorari petitions challenging the application of Colorado Blaine's Amendment to discriminate against religious choices in education.)

Several parents, represented by the Institute for Justice, have filed suit against the new rule. During the agency process preceding the final promulgation of the rule, the Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic at St. Thomas, which I direct, drafted comments (here) filed by the Christian Legal Society and the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. We pointed out a bunch of things, with lots of supporting authority: that a tax credit is not an appropriation or payment, that the credits aid families rather than religious schools as such, and that such discrimination against religious choices is contrary to basic First Amendment principles. One sample bit (emphasis added):

Indeed, excluding religious organizations from this credit would a fortiori require excluding them from tax exemptions and from deductions for charitable contributions, since those exemptions are not separated by the additional steps present here: donation to an SSO that funds a scholarship that assists a parent who chooses a school that may or may not be religious. To find an unconstitutional connection in the House-that-Jack-built sequence of actions here would have intolerable consequences, “endanger[ing] the legislative scheme of taxation.” Toney, 744 N.E.2d at 357. The Montana Constitution, and thus the tax-credit statute, provides no authority for the Department to take this step.    

Thanks to UST Law student Jennifer Tripp for her drafting work on the comments.

December 21, 2015 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Wolf on Wheaton and Islam: Enmity, not Theology

In The Washington Post, evangelical theologian Miroslav Wolf criticizes Wheaton College's decision to suspend a professor who is wearing a hijab in solidarity with peaceful Muslims and who based her decision in part on the ground that Muslims and Christians "worship the same God." Wolf says the suspension reflects not a sound assertion of Christian theological distinctiveness, but rather the current political-cultural "enmity" toward Islam (the headline ramps this up to "bigotry," although Wolf doesn't use that term). Wolf notes that Christians (most Christians?) have long accepted that Jews worship the same God, which leads him to ask this good question:

Why is the Christian response to Muslim denial of the Trinity and the incarnation not the same as the response to similar Jewish denial? Why are many Christians today unable to say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God but understand God in partly different ways?

Is there a good answer to the question? One can certainly say (as Wheaton has) that substantially different understandings of the nature of God must be maintained with clarity, and when those differences exist one is not really worshiping "the same God." (See Christianity Today's follow-up story.) But what's the argument for distinguishing, on that score, between Judaism and Islam in their theological differences with Christianity?

Wolf emphasizes other major theological-ethical differences between Christianity and Islam besides the Incarnation: specifically, the Christian assertion that God is, ultimately, love. But, he says, if Christians emphasized that latter difference, "they would need to show how struggle against enemies is a way of loving them — an argument that many great theologians in the past were willing to make." And by any measure, a lot of Americans (including American Christians) currently are not acting with love toward Muslims.

Logically, Wolf's latter point doesn't matter to the "same God" issue: Christ's command to love your enemies applies no matter who they worship or don't worship. (And Wheaton has made clear that Hawkins was free to wear the hijab as an expression of solidarity with Muslim persons; the issue is her "same God" rationale.) But it seems to me Wolf also has a point: when theology becomes operational in politics and  culture, our treatment of other people will be connected to how much commonality with them we are able to see.

December 17, 2015 in Berg, Thomas | Permalink

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Capt. Singh's Beard and Turban and Religious Liberty

Good news, for the moment, from The Hill, about the ability of American soldiers to follow their faith in ways consistent with real military needs:

The Army has granted a temporary religious accommodation for a Sikh member of the armed forces, who will be allowed to wear a beard and turban when he reports to a new post on Monday.

"My Sikh faith and military service are two core parts of who I am,” Capt. Simratpal Singh, 27, said in a statement issued Monday....

The Army, which maintains meticulous grooming standards, must decide whether to make the accommodation permanent. It has granted thousands of exceptions for beards based on medical reasons, according to a legal group working on behalf of Singh, which said his accommodation is only the fourth such given since the early 1980s. 

Here is the Army's letter with the interim permission. Congratulations--and best wishes in the future on this case--to The Becket Fund, which continues with its mission of defending religious liberty for all faiths.

December 16, 2015 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Friday, December 11, 2015

Good News about Robbie George

Here. Thankful and continuing prayers for our colleague.

December 11, 2015 in Berg, Thomas | Permalink

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Prayers After Shootings Now a Partisan Issue?

In The Atlantic, Emma Green reports on Democratic and Republican reactions to the San Bernardino shootings, and how a noticeable number of liberal/progressive commentators are "shaming" people who've expressed the sentiment that "our prayers are with those affected." For example, she quotes a Think Progress editor and pretty aggressive atheist named Zack Ford, who tweeted, "Stop thinking. Stop praying. Look up Einstein's definition of 'insanity.' Start acting on gun violence prevention measures." Green thinks there's a developing pattern here indicative of the changes in religion and politics:

There are many assumptions packed into these attacks on prayer: that all religious people, and specifically Christians, are gun supporters, and vice versa. That people who care about gun control can’t be religious, and if they are, they should keep quiet in the aftermath of yet another heart-wrenching act of violence. At one time in American history, liberals and conservatives shared a language of God, but that’s clearly no longer the case; any invocation of faith is taken as implicit advocacy of right-wing political beliefs.

I certainly hope that the "shamers" are in the minority; I hope that for the sake of the left, which (to say it for the umpteenth time) has no hope of making progress in America if it divorces itself from religious inspiration. I'd hope that many of those who attack prayer alone as insufficient, and want action, are reflecting something of the attitude of the prophet Amos (see 5:21-23, NRSV):

I hate, I despise your festivals,  and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.... 
Take away from me the noise of your songs;  I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,  and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

If you are impatient with unaddressed matters of justice, and you think that religion can throw up pious distractions from those matters, you have the Biblical prophets on your side. As Green points out, praying and acting are far from inconsistent. See the familiar list of social-justice movements the left commends, from abolition to women's suffrage to civil rights, that have been inspired by preaching and prayer. I think that most Americans on the left still recognize that--although unfortunately, Green is likely right that more and more do not.  

December 2, 2015 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink

Thursday, November 26, 2015

E.J. Dionne, Yuval Levin, and Ecclesiastes on Gratitude

Here.  The money quote is Levin's: “Ecclesiastes 9:11 should be stamped on luxury cars and Harvard degrees.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 26, 2015 in Berg, Thomas, Religion | Permalink

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Trump "Might Just Get Around to You..."

"... You'd better hope there's someone to help you [then]." This new John Kasich ad gives Trump everything he deserves for his shameful litany of bigoted statements.

November 24, 2015 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink