Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

St. Thomas Amicus Supporting Cert. re. RFRA in the Military

Here's a news release concerning the latest brief filed by the Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic that I supervise at St. Thomas. It's an amicus curiae brief in Sterling v. United States, a cert petition involving the application of RFRA in the military. The petitioner, Marine LCpl Monifa Sterling, "was court-martialed for, among other things, objecting to a superior’s order to remove from her work station three small signs displaying a Bible verse." (It's Isaiah 54:17: "No weapon formed against me shall prosper.") Whether or not LCpl Sterling should ultimately win her case, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces wrongly cut off her claims at the threshold, making some bad errors in holding that the order to remove the verses had not "substantially burdened" her religious exercise. As the news item explains:

The courts held that Sterling had not been burdened because she had not shown that the order violated any religious tenet that she display signs, because she had not given clear notice that the signs were religious, and because she had not asked for a religious accommodation through the military’s administrative processes.

The certiorari petition and the St. Thomas clinic’s amicus brief argue that all these grounds for denying RFRA’s application are inconsistent with the statute and precedents. Moreover, they argue, the Supreme Court must review the decision because these grounds would broadly restrict the rights of military personnel—Sikh, Jewish, Christian, and others—to follow their religious practices in the military when it would not undercut combat-readiness or good order.

“The [military courts’] narrow conception of burden,” the clinic’s amicus brief states, “wrongly rejects claims at the threshold and neuters RFRA’s requirement—equally applicable in the military—that substantial restrictions on religious activity must be justified by compelling governmental interests.”

... The organizations joining the brief include several religious denominations; the National Association of Evangelicals; the Christian Legal Society (co-counsel); and the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, which represents religious organizations certifying 2,600 military chaplains, about 50 percent of those currently serving in the armed forces.

My student Andrew Hanson, class of 2018, did a great job doing much of the drafting on this brief.

Although the odds are always long on a cert petition, keep an eye out for this case. The petition was filed by Paul Clement; there are several other amicus briefs in support; and the justices ordered the government to filed a response after it initially waived responding.

February 19, 2017 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Evangelicals, Trump, and Moral Credibility

A couple of days before the election, The Gospel Coalition, a leading evangelical website, did a story comparing the prospects for religious liberty under Clinton and Trump. I was interviewed, and I emphasized the likely "direct" religious-liberty threats to conservative religions that a Clinton administration would have posed; then I referred to problems posed by Trump. Those included direct threats to Muslims, but also this "indirect" problem even for white evangelicals' religious liberty, that is, in the long-term:

“Part of the answer has to be that evangelicals act in a way that maintains the kind of moral credibility that allows you to witness for religious freedom,” Berg said. “It’s going to be very interesting to see how the next generation proceeds and how they renew the witness. It certainly needs to be renewed, given how many evangelical leaders have seemed willing to minimize Trump's character problems just because he claims he'll protect religious liberty.”

Despite their efforts to distinguish Trump's many bad words and deeds from his stated policy positions on issues like religious freedom, many white evangelicals have risked their moral credibility by effectively minimizing his narcissism, crudity and meanness, and ethnic and sexual chauvinism. And in an increasingly hostile society long-term, conservative evangelicals will need moral credibility to strengthen their claims for religious freedom.

Now those who've endorsed him are effectively tied to his statements not just for a few months' campaign, but for a four-year term in office. And the stakes are high, especially for the future of evangelicalism. White evangelicals went for Trump 81 to 16 percent (up somewhat from the numbers for Romney and McCain, who were quite different candidates in moral character). Meanwhile, young voters--millennials--went disproportionately (54 percent) for Clinton (as they had, even more so, for Obama). Millennials are already more non-religious than previous generations; the association of evangelicals with Trump threatens to intensify that.

Let me be clear: I understand the reasons for evangelicals to oppose Clinton, even support Trump, because of concerns about abortion and religious liberty. But what is absolutely plain is that evangelical leaders (institutional, media, etc.) must hold him accountable, on an ongoing basis, for his behavior in office. They must criticize him vigorously for any statements or policies attacking minorities, or women, or individuals with whom he gets in a spat. If they do not give him such dogged scrutiny and criticism, their credibility will steadily erode over the next four years--with awful results for their evangelistic task and, ultimately, for their ability to argue for freedom to serve others through their religious organizations.

November 9, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Emphasizing Religion's Societal Contributions is Not "Capitulation" (or Even Bad "Conciliation" )

Marc places a passage from political philosopher Ryszard Legutko in "conversation" with my assertion (in this post) that "[i]n an increasingly secular-oriented public square, it seems to me, arguments for religious freedom will increasingly be unable to take the value of religion as an accepted premise: they will have to appeal explicitly to, and then demonstrate, the distinctive contributions that religious organizations make." That sentence introduces the post, which in turn links to my article exploring how exactly the societal contributions that religious organizations make are relevant to the case for religious freedom. In that article I assert that the societal contributions are part of the case for religious freedom: "an important strain in America’s religious freedom tradition" is that "we protect voluntary religious organizations is that they are important means by which individuals develop and exercise 'civic virtue.'” I then acknowledge some objections to this argument and briefly develop some corresponding answers.

The Legutko passage describes, critically, two of the strategies Christians might adopt toward liberal democracy: "conciliation" and "capitulation." (I should make clear that can react only to this passage, because I don't know the book's broader arguments.)

The aim of the conciliatory Christians has been to avoid conflicts with the liberal democrats and to adapt themselves to the existing system, which they thought sufficiently spacious and friendly to include Christianity together with other religions; the aim of the Christians who have capitulated is to be admitted to the liberal-democratic club, and in order to do it they are willing to accept any terms and concessions, convinced that remaining outside this club or being refused entrance would bring infamy on them.

I'm not sure whether Marc's suggestion is that arguing for religious freedom based on religion's societal contributions reflects "conciliation" or that it reflects "capitulation." (From the quoted description, capitulation sounds worse, but "conciliation" sounds naive). I don't think it reflects either, really. I'm talking about arguments in the legal and political arena that religious organizations should be legally free to follow their tenets and identity, even in the face of conflicting laws, when they serve and employ others in society. (The provision of service and employment to others outside the immediate religious community is what's triggering the most serious threats to religious freedom; the legal position of churches as such still remains pretty strong, although not impregnable.)

If an organization advocates for the ability to follow its tenets in the face of the law, it certainly is not capitulating: it's not showing a "willing[ness] to accept any [and all] terms and concessions." It's not like, for example, Catholic colleges dropping major religious elements in order to be eligible for government funding. Here the organization advocates to preserve its differences, not to shed them. (Elsewhere I've argued that these organizations are "partly unacculturated" in that they adhere to certain counter-cultural norms, and that they may be effective because they are willing to be counter-cultural.)

The "societal contributions" argument is "conciliatory," but only in the sense that making any argument in the legal or political system seeks to work within that system and holds out some hope for doing so. Perhaps the hope is misplaced and no arguments will succeed--but we don't know that, and the project still seems worth pursuing, among other things because I don't see that it involves any compromise of principle, i.e. "capitulation." This kind of "conciliation" does not seem to fit Legutko's analysis, later in the paragraph, that conciliation rests on the premise

that an enormous part of the activities of churches and an enormous area of religion have nothing to do with politics, socialism, liberal democracy, or anything related. Religion and churches are about God, souls, and salvation. Therefore, because we live in a civil society governed by the rule of law, waging big political battles against it is not only meaningless from the perspective of religion but pulls the churches away from their primary mission, which is that of evangelization.

To the contrary, the "societal contributions" argument asserts that religious organizations are not simply "about God, souls, and salvation": they have service work in society at their religious core, as a matter of loving their neighbors. (Service to others is in fact part of "evangelization," but the Legutko passage seems to use that term in the narrow sense of saving souls--which sounds more fundamentalist-Protestant than Catholic.) So while the "societal contributions" argument may defend religious freedom in secular terms, it does not adopt secularism in the sense of privatizing religion and conceding its irrelevance to society. To contrary, it argues for religious freedom precisely because religion is relevant to society. 

I would describe arguing for religious freedom based on religion's societal contributions not as conciliation or capitulation, but as a kind of political/civil "apologetics." All apologetics assumes some receptivity in the hearer; in that (limited) sense it's conciliatory, but it seems to me in that limited sense, the Catholic tradition itself is conciliatory.

I also think that the "societal contributions" argument fits with a Catholic (and more broadly Christian) understanding of civil society, where moral and "political" claims are is not limited to claims about what moral projects government itself should pursue. The argument is that religious organizations also serve moral/political/social goods: they  are mediating institutions that make distinctive contributions to a flourishing society.

This is one among several arguments for religious freedom--aimed at people in the ideological/political/jurisprudential middle. Those are the arguments that I generally choose to pursue and refine, in my current work, because I think they have a chance of succeeding.

October 9, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

How Do Religion's Societal Contributions Support Religious Freedom?

The Berkley Center at Georgetown is a leader in supporting and publicizing the growing body of empirical research that catalogs and quantifies the contributions religious organizations make to society: serving those in need, employing workers, mobilizing volunteers and donors, etc. On the Berkley Center blog, I have a piece exploring how these findings are relevant to religious freedom for these organizations. It starts off:

       A new study by the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation quantifies the socio-economic value that religious organizations contribute to America: nearly $1.2 trillion yearly in economic activity and in services to others. The analysis reinforces evidence previously amassed by scholars like Ram Cnaan, John DiIulio, Steven Monsma, and Robert Putnam and David Campbell.

       Such evidence is relevant to the questions about religious freedom that currently vex American society—in particular, the rights of religious organizations, both churches and nonprofits, to adhere to their religious tenets and identity in hiring employees and serving clients. Countering the one-sided view that freedom of religion is simply a cover for irrationality and bigotry will open minds to considering religious freedom arguments rather than dismissing them out of hand.

       More specifically, this argument that religion benefits society reflects an important strain in America’s religious freedom tradition. One reason we protect voluntary religious organizations is that they are important means by which individuals develop and exercise “civic virtue.” ...

I go on to address some important challenges to the idea that religious organizations' societal contributions are a ground for protecting their religious freedom--for example, "If religious organizations are so important and pervasive, doesn’t society have to regulate them heavily to limit their harms to others?"

In an increasingly secular-oriented public square, it seems to me, arguments for religious freedom will increasingly be unable to take the value of religion as an accepted premise: they will have to appeal explicitly to, and then demonstrate, the distinctive contributions that religious organizations make. This piece is a brief exercise in refining the arguments. (I have longer versions of my thoughts here, at pp. 113-26, and here, at pp. 307-18.) 

September 28, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Take on "Religious Exemptions and Third-Party Harms"

Scholarship about religious-freedom exemptions from laws has increasingly focused on whether the existence of any "harms to third parties" is a ground for holding that an exemption is not required by religious freedom principles, or is perhaps even forbidden by the Establishment Clause. I've just published my analysis of the question, in the Federalist Society Review. A couple of excerpts:

The chief assertion of this article is that harms to others should not be conclusive against religious exemptions under either free exercise or nonestablishment principles. Such harms can certainly be a reason to deny exemption, but they are not the end of the inquiry: a number of factors must be considered. In particular, I argue, Establishment Clause limits on religious exemptions should not be strict. An exemption is not unconstitutional merely because it has negative effects on others: the burdens on others must be significantly disproportionate to the burdens that it removes from religion....

Under post-1937 constitutional jurisprudence, government has broad prima facie power to define, declare, and prohibit [legal] harms. The modern state is not limited to imposing liability for actual harmful effects; it may declare legal rights designed to head off such effects. And it may frame them as benefits or rights for individual third parties. For example, to prevent the ultimate material harms of labor strife and unfair treatment of employees, government can declare rights of employees to unionize and can allow individuals to sue to enforce the right.

But just because government can prima facie regulate does not mean it can do so in ways that substantially burden religious exercise. The very point of the freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights, including religious freedom, is to place limits on actions otherwise within the government’s power. If religious freedom confers no right to harm others, and the government can define anything it wishes as a harm, then the regulatory state will severely constrict religious freedom. For example, once Title VII and analogous laws defined various forms of discrimination as a legal harm to employees, religious organizations faced lawsuits triggering civil court review of their employment decisions concerning their clergy and other leaders. Their ability to choose their leaders was preserved only by a court-ordered religious exemption: the ministerial exception, affirmed in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC....

 If religious freedom is to continue receiving strong weight in an era of greatly expanded government, the existence of some harm to other individuals cannot be enough in itself to deny exemption or accommodation. On the other hand, harms to others certainly are grounds for limiting religious freedom in a number of circumstances.

... And then you read the rest to find out when. (I've done a longer version of the arguments here.)

September 21, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Monday, August 29, 2016

"Public Faith: A Christian Voice for the Common Good"

Some thoughtful and committed folks, mostly younger evangelicals, have announced this venture and issued a vision statement responding to our current situation, which they describe as follows:

In the midst of another divisive election and a political culture that thrives off of conflict, many Christians and other Americans are tempted to check out and claim the posture of a conscientious objector or to dig in for even greater political hostilities. We believe that neither political withdrawal nor reinvigorated culture wars by Christians will help our nation and communities through the difficult challenges we face.

The headings in the statement include (A) "Pluralism and 21st-Century Religious Freedom"; (B) "Poverty, Stewardship, and Caring for the Most Vulnerable"; and (C) "Strengthening Families and Reducing Abortion."

Check it out.

August 29, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink

Sunday, August 28, 2016

"Progressives Embrace Religious Liberty to Defend Social Action"

Religion News Service, through Crux, reports the shocking news. Progressive churches and social service ministries sometimes run up against legal regulations that prevent them from serving others, and they sometimes seek exemptions--including under those awful state religious-freedom statutes. They sometimes even do it when their work could cause "third-party effects," for example on homeowners in the neighborhood of a homeless shelter or food pantry. Who would've thunk it?

This is a reminder, as I've argued here, that religious freedom is for everyone, and deserves support from progressives and moderates as well as conservatives.

August 28, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Alan Noble on Protecting Religious Colleges, with Sympathy for LGBT Students

Alan Noble, a professor at Oklahoma Baptist University, responds to the welcome dropping of the onerous proposed regulations on religious colleges in California. He notes that the issue will surely return, perhaps as soon as next year. The way forward, he argues, is to preserve the freedom of religious (among other) colleges to maintain their thick identity through policies on student conduct, while making sure that LGBT students have notice of policies that will affect them and also have the ability to exit the college and attend elsewhere without severe cost. Along the way he explains in concrete terms why the colleges' freedom matters and should be protected, why LGBT students may face difficulties that call for a sympathetic response, and why the Bob Jones model of handling the problem--strip the colleges of tax exemption--while perhaps appropriate for the situation of race discrimination, is inappropriate for this situation. A small sample of the arguments:

If [other] students were prohibited from using their government aid at these religious schools, [as a sanction for the schools' policies,] the consequences would be severe for these communities. But the policy would also represent a weakening of the U.S.’s commitment to support dissenting views. Religious schools offer public benefit with the education they provide, but also in their cultivation of thick beliefs that may differ from public orthodoxy....

     No response to these scenarios can erase all the conflicts and heartbreak between students, families, and academic communities, but through a model of communication, mutual respect, and dignity, schools can create a healthier environment for everyone....

     ... By increasing transparency about Title IX exemptions and codes of conduct, easing the transfer process for students who cannot abide by the codes of conduct, and taking a strict stance on bullying and abuse, religious schools can retain their distinctive mission while protecting students.

One need not agree with everything in this piece, and the details about disclosure/notice and exit can matter a lot. But overall, IMO, the piece is a good example of how to argue for the freedom of colleges and other religious nonprofits, in the face of current challenges, in a way that is most likely to convince those in the middle who are open to persuasion.

August 25, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Monday, August 8, 2016

Friedersdorf on Trump Appointments and Religious Liberty

At The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf argues that one can't trust Trump-appointed judges even on religious-liberty questions. Responding to Rod Dreher's argument that Trump would be only indifferent to religious liberty while Clinton would be actively hostile, Friedersdorf writes:

     The glaring flaw in this logic is that Trump is not, in fact, ambivalent about protecting the liberty of religious Americans, he is openly antagonistic to it––it’s just that he has singled out Muslim Americans rather than Catholics or Jews or Mormons.

     Dreher is blind to the degree to which their respective fates are tied.

     If Trump and the judges he appoints help local communities to prevent the construction of mosques, other zoning bodies will use the same precedents to rein in churches; an effort to ban headscarves could have implications for Sikhs and Jews; whether a Muslim cab driver is able to refuse passage to someone ferrying alcohol will bear on whether a Christian can decline to bake a cake for a gay marriage. It’s hard to anticipate exactly what controversies will arise in future years, or how the precedents set will be applied still farther in the future, but suffice it to say that any legal attack on one faith’s religious liberties threatens every faith.

I'm very sympathetic to the argument that religious-liberty claims stand and fall together. That's partly for the precedent-based reasons Friederdorf cites. And it's partly because I think judges and the public--at least those in the reachable middle, who in my view are always the key audience--will tend to be more sympathetic to any given religious-liberty claim in an atmosphere where all such claims are treated with respect, and conversely less sympathetic when religious-liberty claims are seen as special pleading for one's underlying views. I just gave a talk at BYU on why our current atmosphere of reaching for labels of "Muslims terrorists" and "Christian bigots" is unhealthy for religious liberty. In my view, Trump's inclinations are a part of that miasma.

At the same time, I have to be honest and say I don't think I'm persuaded by Friedersdorf if he is arguing that as a matter of pragmatic self-interest, conservative Christians should fear Trump just as much as Clinton. I don't want this to be a "Clinton vs. Trump" post (although I suppose it unavoidably has that element); I'm more interested in considerations about the dynamics of judicial protection of religious freedom. So here's why I think Friedersdorf's argument, while good in principle and in the long term, is not likely to convince religious conservatives in real-world terms now [ADDED FROM HERE]--if you start from the premise that Clinton judges will be unsympathetic to conservative Christian religious-liberty claims involving gay rights, abortion, etc.

First, Friedersdorf seems to assume that Trump-appointed judges will share Trump's personal authoritarian and anti-Muslim positions, [ADDED] which will then lead them to devalue religious liberty. But if his appointees are principled conservative judges, as are many on the recently released "short list," then they seem more likely to give consistent weight to religious-liberty claims, including those of Muslims. The stronger warning against Trump's likely pattern of appointments, it seems to me, is that there's no strong reason to assume he will be constrained by the short list, because he's shown so little inclination to be constrained by anything.

Second, the sequence Friedersdorf describes--"Trump judges first rule against Muslim claims, and then those rulings affect a case that comes along about about traditionalist sexual morality"--seems relatively unlikely. The likely order seems the opposite. For example, among the cases about objections to facilitation of allegedly-sinful behavior, there are many more disputes about wedding vendors and Catholic or evangelical colleges or social services than there are about Muslim cab drivers objecting to passengers with alcohol or checkout clerks objecting to ringing up pork. That's unsurprising given the relative number of Christian traditionalists and Muslims. The Christian-traditionalist cases seem more likely to come first. 

Finally, although I definitely think that religious liberty is strengthened for each claim by treating it as a powerful right for everyone, this effect is not conclusive: it's also true that there are factual differences in cases that allow judges to distinguish claims if they're strongly inclined to do so. If we assume that Trump appointees will want to target Muslims (which is questionable, see point #1 above, but let's assume it), they can likely find ways to distinguish the primary cases affecting traditionalist Christians. For example, more Muslim cases may involve government claims of national-security needs, as opposed to claims in the Christian-traditionalist cases about the need to combat discrimination.

In sum, while I think Friedersdorf's argument against Trump on religious liberty is right in principle, I'm unconvinced that he can make the case to religious traditionalists purely in terms of their own self-interest.

August 8, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Kaine Says He Still Supports Hyde Amendment

Since others have previously noted here the reports that Tim Kaine dropped his support for the Hyde Amendment--the ban on federal taxpayer funding for abortions--we should also note that he has now told CNN that he continues to support the Amendment and has not changed his position. 

It's legitimate, of course, to question whether this makes the slightest difference. The Clinton campaign says it does not; they seem to suggest (as reported by CNN above) that Kaine only "personally" supports the Hyde Amendment and will actually help support "carry out" efforts to overturn it. (This is an interesting, and not very comprehensible, extension of the "personal vs. political position" distinction concerning abortion.) It's far from unheard of, obviously, for a VP candidate to disagree with some aspect of the platform; but if he has to support "carry out" a given policy in his official acts, it's not clear what "personally" disagreeing could really mean. For example, what would he do if he had to break a tie in the Senate over Hyde? The Clinton campaign, as a tactical matter, may simply have OKed him to make this latest statement, in order to have out there a small symbolic nod toward the middle of the country on abortion without making any change in the announced policy.

Nothing more could be claimed for the effect of Kaine's position than this modest point: It is better, from the standpoint of affecting immediate policy, to have someone in a Democratic White House circle who has some qualms (however limited) about forcing others to support abortion, and is willing to express those qualms, than it is to have no one with any such qualms. When the Obama contraception mandate was amended in 2012 to make the first provision for the "accommodation" for nonprofit schools and charities--which, as refined and strengthened, may become the basis for resolving the issue--it was reported that Vice President Biden had led in expressing the need to do some such accommodation, prevailing over those on the side of the abortion-sympathetic groups, who had not expected any accommodation to be adopted. I would hope and urge that if Clinton is elected, Tim Kaine would play such a role, but I certainly don't know whether he would.

July 30, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink