Friday, March 1, 2024
Friday, February 16, 2024
Education is not value-free; indeed, it is value-laden. And in a country as divided as ours, we no longer share common values and common truths. We have competing versions of what is good, what is true, what is fair, what is just, what is morally good, and what is beautiful. Moreover, we are at odds over the most important question in life—whether God exists and whether His Word is relevant to a quality education. And a one-size-fits-all K–12 curriculum cannot possibly serve all these competing versions of the good life. Although I think competition is always good for the quality and efficiency of any product or service, my argument in this Article is not about higher standardized test scores or better mastery of subjects and skills. My perspective is based on First Amendment values of freedom of religion, thought, and belief formation. In other words, I believe that school choice is necessary for religious liberty and for freedom of thought and belief. If religious and intellectual autonomy are to survive and thrive in a deeply divided, pluralistic nation such as ours, parents must be free to choose an appropriate education for their children, without having to sacrifice the benefit of public funding of education. To put it succinctly, educational funds should be directed to children and their parents, not to strictly secular government schools.
I tried to make a similar argument, a (long!) while back, in this paper, "The Right Questions about School Choice: Education, Religious Freedom, and the Common Good." Time flies!
Thursday, February 15, 2024
As Rick Garnett said in his post, we've reached the age of 20 for the Mirror of Justice. The anniversary provoked me to look back on some of the early messages from that period and reminded me that the hottest topic and source of strongest rhetoric of disagreement on posts in the initial months involved the forthcoming 2004 presidential election. Catholics troubled by the strong pro-abortion advocacy of Democratic Senator John Kerry argued he was disqualified from Catholic support. Others were troubled about the ongoing war in Iraq and contended that Catholics should withdraw support from President Bush based on the debacle about never-found weapons of mass destruction while thousands of innocent lives were lost.
In sum, as one writer put it to Mirror of Justice posters at the time, people were feeling rather "anguished" about the upcoming presidential election. Oh, how things change!
Sunday, February 4, 2024
This weekend, the Mirror of Justice blog turned 20 years old. Here is a link to our first post (authored not by me, as the link suggests, but by Mark Sargent):
Welcome to Mirror of Justice, a group blog created by a group of Catholic law professors interested in discovering how our Catholic perspective can inform our understanding of the law. Indeed, we ask whether the great wealth of the Catholic intellectual and moral tradition offers a basis for creating a distinctive Catholic legal theory- one distinct from both secular and other religious legal theories. Can Catholic moral theology, Catholic Social Thought and the Catholic natural law tradition offer insights that are both critical and constructive, and which can contribute to the dialogue within both the legal academy and the broader polity? In particular, we ask whether the profoundly counter-cultural elements in Catholicism offer a basis for rethinking the nature of law in our society. The phrase "Mirror of Justice" is one of the traditional appellations of Our Lady, and thus a fitting inspiration for this effort.
A few things about this blog and us:
1. The members of this blog group represent a broad spectrum of Catholic opinion, ranging from the "conservative" to the "liberal", to the extent that those terms make sense in the Catholic context. Some are politically conservative or libertarian, others are on the left politically. Some are highly orthodox on religious matters, some are in a more questioning relationship with the Magisterium on some issues, and with a broad view of the legitimate range of dissent within the Church. Some of us are "Commonweal Catholics"; others read and publish in First Things or Crisis. We are likely to disagree with each other as often as we agree. For more info about us, see the bios linked in the sidebar.
2. We all believe that faith-based discourse is entirely legitimate in the academy and in the public square, and that religious values need not be bracketed in academic or public conversation. We may differ on how such values should be expressed or considered in those conversations or in public decisionmaking.
3. This blog will not focus primarily on the classic constitutional questions of Church and State, although some of our members are interested in those questions and may post on them from time to time. We are more interested in tackiling the larger jurisprudential questions and in discussing how Catholic thought and belief should influence the way we think about corporate law, products liability or capital punishment or any other problem in or area of the law.
4, We are resolutely ecumenical about this blog. We do not want to converse only among ourselves or with other Catholics. We are eager to hear from those of other faith traditions or with no religious beliefs at all. We will post responses (at our editorial discretion, of course.) See "Contact Us" in the sidebar.
5. While this blog will be highly focused on our main topic, we may occasionally blog on other legal/theoretical matters, or on non-legal developments in Catholicism (or on baseball, the other church to which I belong.)
6. We will be linking to relevant papers by the bloggers in the sidebar. Comments welcome!
It is, I suppose, cringe-inducingly obvious to note that a lot has changed since February of 2004. (There were a lot of back-and-forth postings about the Bush v. Kerry election!) A fair bit of the conversation among law-types has migrated to Twitter, Substack, etc. And yet, blogs survive (and, in some well-known cases, continue to thrive).
It continues to be my view -- as I tried to express in this very early post of mine, and in a lot of posts since -- that at the heart of any "Catholic legal theory" has to be the Christian proposal about moral anthropology, that is, about what it means and why it matters to be human. As I said in this short essay, "persons" are "the point of the law."
Ad multos annos!
Thursday, February 1, 2024
The Center for Law and the Human Person is delighted to host Professor Daniel Mahoney this coming Wednesday, February 7, from 5:15-6:15 in the Slowinski Courtroom of the Columbus School of Law. Professor Mahoney is the author most recently of "The Statesman as Thinker" and "The Idol of Our Age," as well as other insightful work in the history of political ideas. He is one of the world's foremost experts on the thought of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and what it has to tell us today.
Please join us for his lecture, Freedom, Moral Purpose, and Self-Limitation: The Enduring Wisdom of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Sunday, January 28, 2024
One of the legal academy's true treasures, Bob Cochran, has a new book out, called The Servant Lawyer: Facing the Challenges of Christian Faith in Everyday Law Practice. Cochran draws not only on his own crucial body of work on religious lawyering, but also on the thought and legacy of our mutual friend and mentor, Tom Shaffer.
Here's the blurb from that huge Bezos website:
Most lawyers, from Wall Street to the county seat, spend their days drafting documents, negotiating with other attorneys, trying cases, researching the law, and counseling clients. How does this everyday law practice relate to Jesus' call to follow him in servanthood?
With decades of experience in the law office, courtroom, and classroom, Robert F. Cochran Jr. explores Jesus' call on lawyers to serve both individual clients and the common good. Cochran pulls back the curtain with stories from his own career and from the legal community to address a wide range of challenges posed by law practice, including counseling clients, planning trial tactics, navigating tensions with coworkers, and handling temptations toward cynicism and greed. This honest and accessible book
- shares wisdom from an experienced practitioner and master teacher
- addresses real-world situations and relationships experienced by most lawyers
- charts the way toward a truly Christian practice of everyday law
For students considering a career in law as well as for seasoned attorneys, The Servant Lawyer casts an encouraging vision for how lawyers can love and serve their neighbor in every facet of their work.
Check it out!
Friday, January 26, 2024
Dominic Preziosi has a piece in Commonweal called "Executioner in Chief" in which, inter alia, he criticizes the decision by the Biden Administration's Department of Justice to seek the death penalty for Payton Gendron, shot and killed ten black people at a Buffalo supermarket. As Preziosi observes, this decision seems inconsistent with Biden's stated (although not always consistent) opposition to capital punishment and his promises to do what is within his power to abolish the federal death penalty (or, at least, to restore the effective moratorium that had been in place on federal executions until 2020.
Like Preziosi, I would welcome legislation that repealed the death penalty at the federal level. (I would be less enthusiastic about a judicial decision that purported to invalidate the federal death penalty, because I am confident that the Constitution, correctly understood, permits the use of capital punishment for at least some federal crimes. And, while prosecutorial discretion is, appropriately, a fact of life, I am not entirely comfortable with executively-annouced moratoria that amount to non-enforcement of duly enacted federal law. But, put these reservations aside.)
There was a time, during the early years of the Obama administration, when abolition of the federal death penalty was politically possible, and that administration failed to take advantage of that opportunity. At present, abolition is probably not politically feasible. And, in any event, it seems that -- given all the political givens -- the administration has decided (perhaps, for reasons like those that motivated then-Governor Bill Clinton in the Rector case) to shelve, at least for now, its earlier professed abolitionism.
Wednesday, January 17, 2024
Thanks to my local bishop, Kevin Rhoades, for his leadership on this new report from the USCCB. As he said, "Catholics have a vital role to play in defending religious freedom and promoting the common good”.
Here is a bit from "The State of Religious Liberty in the United States":
This report identifies the top five threats to religious liberty in 2024 as follows:
- attacks against houses of worship, especially in relation to the Israel-Hamas conflict
- the Section 1557 regulation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which will likely impose a mandate on doctors to perform gender transition procedures and possibly abortions
- threats to religious charities serving newcomers, which will likely increase as the issue of immigration gains prominence in the election
- suppression of religious speech on marriage and sexual difference
- the EEOC’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act regulations, which aim to require religious employers to be complicit in abortion in an unprecedented way
Tuesday, January 16, 2024
I'm delighted to announce "Tolle et Lege," an initiative of the Center for Law and the Human Person at Catholic University. This is a reading group that invites (gently urges?) students to "pick up and read" classic literature in the Catholic intellectual tradition. We'll meet on selected evenings for discussion and fellowship. We have an edifying slate of reading this semester.
First, on January 29, and in preparation for Professor Daniel Mahoney's lecture on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, we'll be discussing two of Solzhenitsyn's essays, "Live Not By Lies" (1974) and his Harvard University address, rather timely again, "A World Split Apart" (1978).
Second, on March 25, we'll consider C.S. Lewis's wonderful tale of heaven and hell, The Great Divorce (1945).
All readings not otherwise available on the web are provided for free to students. Join us!
Monday, January 15, 2024
In the Wall Street Journal, Tunku Varadarajan has a piece called "Title IX and the Assault on Hillsdale College." It's important. Here's a bit:
The lawsuit seeks to impose Title IX’s strictures on Hillsdale, arguing that the college’s tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Tax Code “operates as a subsidy, which is a form of federal financial assistance.”
Mr. Arnn sees a darker ideological intent in this claim. “This is about the kind of society some people want us to have,” he says. “The principle that because you have a tax deduction you’re spending government money can’t mean anything other than that all money, in principle, belongs to the government.” This “tax-deduction thing,” as he calls the argument, “would be a massive expansion of government authority in one go. And of course, there are many people who seek that in America.”
Arnn is correct. The notion that a tax exemption -- that is, a decision by the government not to impose a tax -- "counts" as a subsidy is a dangerous one, in a community that attaches any importance to civil society.
Rob Vischer on "Martin Luther King Jr. and the Morality of Legal Practice: Lessons in Love and Justice"
Our own Rob Vischer ("el presidente" now, I guess!) published, a few years ago, a book called Martin Luther King Jr. and the Morality of Legal Practice: Lessons in Love and Justice. Here is the Amaz-n blurb:
This book seeks to reframe our understanding of the lawyer's work by exploring how Martin Luther King Jr. built his advocacy on a coherent set of moral claims regarding the demands of love and justice in light of human nature. King never shirked from staking out challenging claims of moral truth, even while remaining open to working with those who rejected those truths. His example should inspire the legal profession as a reminder that truth-telling, even in a society that often appears morally balkanized, has the capacity to move hearts and minds. At the same time, his example should give the profession pause, for King's success would have been impossible absent his substantive views about human nature and the ends of justice. This book is an effort to reframe our conception of morality's relevance to professionalism through the lens provided by the public and prophetic advocacy of Dr. King.
Saturday, January 13, 2024
One of the great joys of my new position at The Catholic University of America is to co-direct the Center for Law and the Human Person with the excellent Elizabeth Kirk. We have very big plans for the Center in the coming months and years.
Those plans begin with our program for the spring. We have chosen to explore the theme of freedom. We will do that in a series of lectures and conferences. Here is the schedule, which I will be writing about and detailing here in the future. Join us!
- February 7, 2024: 5:00 p.m. • Columbus School of Law
“Freedom, Moral Purpose, and Self-Limitation: The Enduring Wisdom of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn”
Plenary Lecture by Prof. Daniel Mahoney, Assumption University, and Senior Fellow, Claremont Institute
Reception to follow
- February 13, 2024: 12:30 p.m. • Columbus School of Law
Faith in Action Lecture: “The Truth Shall Set You Free: Seeking Truth and Finding Your Calling”
Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P., Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception, and Director, Thomistic Institute
- March 19, 2024: 12:30 p.m. • Columbus School of Law
Faith in Action Lecture: "Top Ten Tips for Living and Lawyering Authentically"
Jennie Bradley Lichter, Deputy General Counsel, The Catholic University of America
- April 4, 2024: All day • Columbus School of Law
“Freedom & Truth”: Second Annual Spring Symposium
Speakers include: Prof. Carl Trueman, Grove City College; Prof. Catherine Pakaluk, The Catholic University of America; Prof. Gerard Bradley, Notre Dame Law School.
Wednesday, January 10, 2024
The title of this essay, by Steve Smith, in the latest issue of The Lamp, might seem designed to jar, even to scandalize, Mirror of Justice readers. But, press on! First, it's by Steve Smith so . . . 'nuff said. Smith reminds us that many of More's friends thought him -- at the time -- less a heroic martyr than one wallowing in (his words) “stubbornness and obstinacy.” Later, some would sniff at the talk of More, the champion of "conscience", given that he had, well, punished heretics. Hypocrisy?
Smith explores the possibility that More meant something by "conscience" very different than what we mean today (i.e., "I gotta be me."):
But if we understand conscience more substantively as acting on beliefs based on the collective understanding of Christendom, as More did, then it seems that he was not being inconsistent after all. That is because, sincere or not, the Protestants were not acting on conscience—not as he understood it. Rather, they were acting against conscience. Indeed, they were openly and unapologetically acting against conscience by setting up their own personal judgement in opposition to and in defiance of the doctrines held by the Church and by Christians generally. Martin Luther had been proudly explicit at Worms on exactly this point (“Here I stand, I can do no other”). For More, this course was not only hubristic and reckless and self-contradictory; it was precisely the opposite of what it meant to act on conscience.
But in More’s view the Protestants were acting against conscience in an even more basic and threatening way. They were not merely acting against conscience themselves; they were working to make it impossible for Christians generally to act on conscience.
Check it out.
Friday, December 29, 2023
I'm re-printing a Becket-Day post from our own Michael Moreland:
Today is the Feast of St. Thomas Becket, murdered on this date in 1170. I've reposted below a post from 2012 with an excerpt from John Guy's fine biography of Becket.
And for those looking to learn more about medieval English law and its legacy, I commend the exhibit on Magna Carta now on display at the Library of Congress in Washington, including a rare viewing of the Lincoln Cathedral original of Magna Carta. It was Henry II's feckless youngest son John, of course, who was forced to issue Magna Carta in 1215. And the (likely) principal author of Magna Carta was Becket's successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, who, like Becket, was forced into exile in France by the King but returned to England to lead the struggle against an overweening monarch. Recall that the first clause of Magna Carta is: "That We have granted to God, and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired." ("In primis concessisse Deo et hac presenti carta nostra confirmasse, pro nobis et heredibus nostris in perpetuum quod Anglicana ecclesia libera sit, et habeat jura sua integra, et libertates suas illesas.")
From December 29, 2012:
A blog devoted to Catholic legal theory can hardly let pass today's Feast of St. Thomas Becket (c.1181-1170). Peter Glenville's 1964 film with Richard Burton as Becket and Peter O'Toole as Henry II is a classic. More recently, the eminent Tudor historian John Guy (author of a number of fine books on Thomas More) has written a splendid biography of Becket--a taste here:
For his attack on the church's claim of immunity from secular jurisdiction, Anglo-American lawyers and constitutional historians in the nineteenth century would put on rose-colored spectacles and reinvent Henry as a legal reformer avant la lettre, a pioneer of fair trials and equality before the law who paved the way for some of the most important clauses later incorporated into Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. In reality, however, his actions showed that the rights of the accused could always be overridden by political considerations and the king's will. Far from remodeling the legal system and the courts in the interests of justice and the common good, Henry sought to strengthen his own power. And far from being a pioneer of "equitable" or "impartial" justice, he happily presided over his own court in the Battle Abbey case and at Becket's trial for embezzlement and false accounting at Northampton, acting simultaneously as chief counsel for the prosecution, judge, and jury. In response, Thomas would prove that a middle-class Londoner could transcend his social origins and challenge a ruler who he believed was degenerating into a tyrant, but it would cost him his life. Thomas More would take a similar path in Henry VIII's reign, and it may be no coincidence that More's working library contained many of the same books as Becket's.
John Guy, Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel (Random House, 2012), p. 338.
Friday, December 15, 2023
A recent issue of Commonweal includes an unfortunate, and unsound, attack on school choice called "The Battle Against School Vouchers", by Luke Mayville. Let's start with the fact -- and, to be clear, it is a fact -- that Catholic Social Teaching clearly supports policies that not only permit Catholic schools to operate as Catholic schools but also that make it possible for parents to choose such schools. To put the matter differently, the standard anti-pluralism argument of school-choice opponents that, somehow, school-choice programs "take money away from public education" is unsound: Public education, correctly understood, is the education of the public; it is not limited to education delivered by government employees in state-owned buildings.
Mayville draws on a variety of tropes in the first paragraph: "In place of a school system that is publicly funded, democratically governed, and accessible to all, policy entrepreneurs have sought to transform American education into a commodity—something to be bought and sold in a free market." Let's put aside that systems of state schools in the United States are not, in a meaningful sense, "democratically governed." Let's also put aside the notion that using market mechanisms, and permitting choice, insidiously transforms education (from what?) into a "commodity." The fact is that the "policy entrepreneurs" in question have sought to expand the range of "publicly funded" educational opportunities and options and thereby to better meet the needs, reflect the values, and empower the decisions of "all".
Mayville also gets the law quite wrong: "Meanwhile, voucher proponents were energized by landmark decisions of the United States Supreme Court, most notably Espinoza v. Montana in 2020 and Carson v. Makin in 2022, both of which appeared to remove constitutional obstacles to the use of public dollars for private religious education." In fact, as MOJ readers probably know, "the use of public dollars for private religious education" (again, this misstates the issue: school choice involves using "public" dollars, to which parents who choose religious rather than government schools are no less entitled, for education, provided by non-state schools) has been, in various circumstances, constitutionally permissible for decades. Espinoza and Carson -- correctly -- affirmed that governments may not single out religious private schools, as opposed to other non-state schools, for discriminations.
The piece continues with various false political-advocacy claims, and recounts efforts to block school-choice (and preserve the interests of those who benefit from the current monopoly), and descends into various teacher-union talking points. None of this kind of thing is new, but what does seem new, and disappointing, is that the piece -- without any engagement with Catholic Social Teaching -- ran in one the longest running Catholic journals.
Wednesday, December 13, 2023
Some happy news for our Center for Law and Religion (press release here), which I co-direct with Mark Movsesian. The Center has been named after Denise and Michael Mattone (classes of 1990 and 1991 respectively) in recognition of their transformative, multi-million dollar gift. We are deeply grateful and look forward to exciting times ahead for the Center.
Tuesday, December 12, 2023
The Psalmist asked, "Lord, what is man . . . that thou makest account of him?” (Ps. 143:3). This is not only a prayer, but a starting point for jurisprudential reflection. All moral problems are anthropological problems, because moral arguments are built, for the most part, on anthropological presuppositions. That is, as Professor Elshtain has put it, our attempts at moral judgment tend to reflect our “foundational assumptions about what it means to be human." Jean Bethke Elshtain, The Dignity of the Human Person and the Idea of Human Rights: Four Inquiries, 14 JOURNAL OF LAW AND RELIGION 53, 53 (1999-2000). As my colleague John Coughlin has written, the "anthropological question" is both "perennial" and profound: "What does it mean to be a human being?” Rev. John J. Coughlin, Law and Theology: Reflections on What it Means to Be Human, 74 ST. JOHN’S LAW REVIEW 609, 609 (2000).
According to the Robots, we've had going-on 7 million pages views and over 16,000 posts here. Not all of them have been about New Urbanism, or Christ the King, or the judicial murder of Henry Garnet (even if, from my own blog-work, it might seem that way).
We all (because of Twitter/X, Facebook, arthritis, etc.) blog less than we used to; some past contributors have moved on; the "issues" have changed . . . heck, we are on our third pope! (And, several of our original bloggers are now presidents of Catholic universities!) Many of us have changed institutions, and jobs . . . and retired. And, of course, may eternal light shine on our former co-blogger, Fr. Araujo.
For my own part, I continue to obsess over questions having to do with Catholic institutions, and with the way these institutions are shaped, pushed, supported, thwarted, etc. by the law. I continue to be interested in the ways that law mediates the relationships among "church," "state," and "society." Certainly, in recent years, the renewed interest in "integralism" has . . . affected the conversations about these relationships.
The "anthropological" question still seems central, to me. Any "Catholic legal theory" has to include, or incorporate, it seems, an account of what it means to be human, of what a "person" is. (My friend Carter Snead's recent book on this question, in the context of public bioethics, is outstanding.) Today, even more so than in 2004, it seems as though the Catholic account is contested -- maybe even on the ropes. Rather than being "everlasting splendours" -- created, loved, and sustained by God -- we are loosely connected, shifting, coagulations of identities, preferences, and performances. What can law do -- how can law deal -- with such things? I'm not sure. Stay tuned!
Friday, December 8, 2023
Remarks at the Philos Foundation/Franciscan University of Steubenville Conference on Catholic-Jewish Relations, November 2023
Robert P. George
We are meeting in the wake of the horrific attacks by Hamas terrorists on innocent Israeli Jews and others in Israel. The brutal murders, rapes, and kidnappings have outraged the sensibilities of decent people of every faith and shade of belief. Shockingly, however, both here in the United States and abroad the tragedy unfolding in the Holy Land has brought back onto the stage open expression of the vilest forms of anti-Semitism—from academics and public figures blaming Israel itself for October 7th, to crowds in the street chanting “gas the Jews.”
I hope it goes without saying to a Christian audience that we, as followers of Jesus, must reject anti-Semitism and, indeed, all forms of ethnic, racial, and religious bigotry. But beyond that, it is incumbent upon us to be outspoken against such bigotry and in defense of its victims.
One of the great stains on the history of Christianity is the contempt—and sometimes worse—that some Christians, including some leaders of the Church, have over the centuries expressed for Jews and Judaism. Catholics were never required as a matter of doctrine to hold anti-Jewish attitudes or support, much less participate in, the persecution of Jews. For centuries, however, the posture of the Catholic Church as an institution, and other Christian ecclesial communities, towards the Jewish faith and the Jewish people was decidedly negative—often hostile.
In the wake of the Holocaust, this began to change. No doubt part of the explanation is that Catholics and other Christians, especially those in leadership positions in the Church, rightly perceived that, though the Nazis were profoundly anti-Christian, the long history of European Christian hostility to Jews helped to shape the conditions that made the murder of Jews on an industrial scale by Hitler and his thugs possible.
To their credit, Catholics and other Christians, and many Church leaders, were represented among those who courageously protected, and in many cases rescued, Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Many of the Jews who survived attribute their survival to Christians, ranging from peasants and laborers who took in Jewish neighbors to the Pope himself, on whose orders Jews were hidden in convents and other religious houses.
The post-Holocaust period leading up to the Second Vatican Council became a time of deep reflection for the Catholic Church in particular, and the occasion for a profound examination of conscience—and the historical record. This bore fruit in the sections on Jews and Judaism of the conciliar document known as Nostra Aetate, the declaration on the Church’s understanding of, and relationship with, non-Christian religions.
Nostra Aetate once and for all repudiated the idea of Jewish collective guilt and the outrageous slander that “the Jews” killed Christ or were “accursed” or “rejected by God,” because the Jewish people as a whole did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. It condemned, categorically, all forms of anti-Semitism and discrimination against Jews. What’s more, it expressly affirmed that there is a “common patrimony” and, indeed, a “spiritual bond”—something not merely historical, though rooted in historical reality—uniting Christians (“the people of the New Covenant”) with Jews (“Abraham’s stock”). Perhaps most importantly, quoting the Jewish Christian St. Paul, it refers to the Jewish people as the “good olive branch onto which has been grafted the wild shoot, the Gentiles.”
Nostra Aetate turned out to be only the beginning of the development of Catholic teaching on Jews and Judaism. Within a decade-and-a-half of its ratification and promulgation by Pope Paul VI as the official teaching of the Church, Karol Woytila, the Archbishop of Cracow in Poland, would become Pope. As John Paul II, he would use Nostra Aetate as the foundation for further elaboration of the Church’s teaching, working out the fuller implications of the Vatican Council’s declaration.
It is important to understand that what concerned John Paul in this matter was above all theological, not sociological or political. He sought to understand, and to teach, the truth about how the Church properly understands and relates herself to Jews and Judaism. There were options on the table here—judgments to be made, if the topic was to be addressed at all. And John Paul made his judgments, exercising his full authority to declare the mind of Christ as Christ’s Vicar, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church.
One option would have been to say that God’s covenant with the Jews had been abrogated when the Jewish people as a whole did not join the Christian Church, but we should be nice to Jews anyway, and avoid speaking disparagingly of their religion, since after all, we’ve been awfully cruel to them over the centuries, and we’d have a better chance of winning them over by being kind.
This was not the path he took or the judgment he made. This was not the mind of Christ.
Rather, he spoke of the Jews as “the people of the original Covenant.” Indeed, his exact words were “our kindred nation of the original Covenant.” To make himself even clearer, he formally declared that God’s covenant with the Jews “has never been revoked.” In 1986, speaking to leaders of the Australian Jewish community during a visit to that country, John Paul went still further, declaring the covenant to be not only still in force, but irrevocable.
“The Catholic faith is rooted in the eternal truths of the Hebrew Scriptures and in the irrevocable covenant made with Abraham. We too gratefully hold these same truths of our Jewish heritage and look upon you as our brothers and sisters.”
The references to “our Jewish heritage” and to the Jewish people as “our brothers and sisters” are particularly noteworthy.
In one of the most important acts of his long and remarkably consequential pontificate, both those concepts would again be center stage when John Paul made his historic visit, also in 1986, to the Great Synagogue of Rome—the first by any pope—where he made the following profound declaration:
“The Jewish religion is not extrinsic to us, but in a certain way is intrinsic to our own religion, With Judaism we have a relationship we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers, and in a certain way our elder brothers.”
Driving the point home, John Paul greeted Jewish rabbis in a meeting in Assisi in 1993 as “our dearly beloved brothers of the ancient covenant never broken and never to be broken.”
Benedict XVI and Francis have, of course, stood by the teachings of Nostra Aetate and of John Paul II—the teachings of the Church. So will their successors. These are magisterial teachings—declarations of the mind of Christ.
Obviously, contemporary Judaism and Christianity have important differences—above all the question of whether Jesus of Nazareth is or is not the Messiah promised to Israel, the incarnate son of God who suffered and died in atonement for our sins and who by his cross and resurrection triumphs over sin and death. Neither the Second Vatican Council nor John Paul II and his successors deny these differences, paper them over, or treat them as insignificant.
They have led some Catholics to suppose that if, as Catholics of course believe, the Church is right on these questions then Judaism as such, as it is practiced today, is of no special spiritual standing or importance, that “living Judaism” has no role or mission, that God is no longer in that special form of relationship called “covenant” with the Jews, that the Jewish religion has been “superseded” by Christianity.
This is not the teaching of the Catholic Church—and faithful Catholics, by definition, want to be guided by the teaching of the Church. Faithful Catholics will therefore affirm, with the Council and with the papal magisterium, that the Jewish people are indeed “the good olive tree onto which the wild shoot of the Gentiles has been grafted,” that God’s original Covenant with his chosen people is unbroken and unbreakable, that our bond with the Jewish people is a spiritual bond, rooted in a common spiritual patrimony, and that their Jewish neighbors are indeed our brothers and sisters in faith.
What is more, no faithful Catholic, no Catholic who believes, and is loyal to, the gospel as proclaimed by the Church, will bear in his or her heart any hostility to people because they are Jewish or any contempt for the Jewish people and their religion. Nor will he or she quietly tolerate expressions of animosity or hatred for Jews and Judaism.
Obviously, this does not mean that a faithful Catholic may not criticize individuals who happen to be Jewish on the same grounds that he would criticize anyone else. Nor does it mean that Catholics must agree with, or may not criticize, policies of governments of Israel. Jews themselves, including Israeli Jews, do not refrain, from criticizing such policies when they believe criticism is merited. At the same time, a faithful Catholic will be very careful never to accept anti-Jewish animus masquerading as policy differences with governments of the Jewish state.
Once again I quote John Paul II:
“In the face of the risk of a resurgence and spread of anti-Semitic feelings, attitudes and initiatives, of which disquieting signs are to be seen today … we must teach consciences to consider anti-Semitism and all forms of racism as sins against God and humanity.”
It was under John Paul II that the Catholic Church established full diplomatic relations with the State of Israel, something Israel had sought from the founding of the modern state in 1948, but had not been achieved due to disputes over non-theological questions. Here is what the Pope said when interviewed by Tad Szulc for an American magazine:
“It must be understood that the Jews, who two thousand years were dispersed among the nations of the world, decided to return to the land of their ancestors. This is their right … recognized from the outset by the Holy See, and the act of establishing diplomatic relations is simply an international affirmation of that relationship.”
Does the Pope’s teaching here bind the consciences of Catholics to agree with him that the Jewish people have, strictly speaking, a right to establish a modern state in their ancestral homeland? Like John Paull II, I myself support the state of Israel. But I cannot claim that Catholics are bound by his words to agree. In this context, he was speaking as a head of state, not proclaiming theological truths. He himself would, I have no doubt, acknowledge that, and with it the right of Catholics who in good conscience see that matter differently to dissent.
Even for such Catholics, however, I reiterate the point I made a moment ago. While criticism of Israel, or any political entity, is in bounds, hostility or contempt for Jews and living Judaism masquerading as mere political differences with the Israeli government or state, is out of bounds.
I want to conclude my reflection today on a point of some pride. I’m proud of how the Catholic community of Princeton has responded to the October 7 massacre of Jews in Israel and the anti-Semitism on campuses and elsewhere that has been expressed in its wake. Fr Zachary Swantek, my university’s Catholic chaplain, issued this statement:
The Aquinas Institute, Princeton University’s center for Catholic life, stands in prayerful solidarity with the Jewish people—our “elder brothers in faith”—at this time of loss and grieving. The Catholic community was shocked and appalled by the barbaric terrorist attacks on innocent Jews, including defenseless children and elderly people, in Israel. These attacks—including murders, rapes, and kidnappings—were timed to occur on the Sabbath and on the holiday of Simchat Torah when the Jewish people, whom we Catholics recognize in our Easter liturgy as “first to hear the Word of God,” remember the giving of the Torah to their ancestors. We offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families and we wish particularly to assure our local Jewish community here in Princeton of our fervent prayers and support.
Let this be the message of all Catholics and all Christians—everywhere—to our dear brothers and sisters of the ancient Covenant.
December 8, 2023 | Permalink
Tuesday, December 5, 2023
I'm very gratified and humbled to report that my book Religious Liberty in a Polarized Age (Eerdmans Publishing 2023) has won an award in the 2024 Christianity Today Book Awards: the Award of Merit (2d place) in the Politics and Public Life category. The awards reflect, as the CT editors' subtitle puts it, "the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture."
I also greatly appreciate the kind endorsement from one of the judges, Katie Frugé, director of the Center for Cultural Engagement for Texas Baptists:
Religious liberty is a fundamental part of the American political order. But in many current conversations, it has taken on a controversial edge, often functioning as a flash point in our culture wars. In this thorough book, Berg argues that religious liberty, rather than being a prescription of uniformity, is both a remedy for divisiveness and an essential safeguard for genuine pluralism and cultural diversity. Religious Liberty in a Polarized Age is a must-read for all who find themselves engaging in the public square, and it gives valuable insight into the current legal and ideological landscape.
I'm grateful to the Eerdmans editorial team. to John Witte for including it in Emory's Law and Religion series, and to many colleagues including several on MOJ for reading chapters, discussing ideas, and giving encouragement.
I very much hope that the book will in some way fulfill the editors' statement by helping evangelicals, Catholics, and many others defend strong religious liberty in a way that is persuasive in our divided society.
Saturday, December 2, 2023
I was delighted and honored to participate in a two-day conference marking the 30th anniversary of Professor Robert George's deeply important book, Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality, organized by the Project on Constitutional Originalism and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition at The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy, and the American Enterprise Institute.
I was joined by my friends, Professors Joel Alicea and Steven Smith, with Judge Thomas Griffith moderating, on the final panel concerning constitutional theory. The recording, which I've posted below, begins at 6:49:29 and my own presentation starts at 7:06:35. But I very highly recommend all of the panel presentations and discussions. Every one is worth it.
Friday, December 1, 2023
One of the hats that I wear is that of co-director of the Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law & Public Policy at the University of St. Thomas. A key mission of our institute is to encourage civil discussion of controversial topics modeled by those who disagree on a "hot topic." Last month, I spoke at one of our programs, along with my colleague Julie Jonas, on whether it is right to own a gun for self-defense. The program is now available on video at this link.
December 1, 2023 | Permalink
Thursday, November 30, 2023
Notre Dame Law School and our Religious Liberty Initiative are hosting TODAY an important, if distressingly timely, event on "the rising tide of antisemitism on American Campuses and Beyond." (I should note that, unlike far too many University presidents, our own president, Fr. John Jenkins, was a lead signatory on a strong statement condemning the 10/7 terror-murders by Hamas and supporting Israel's right to exist and to defend itself.) (The event will be live-streamed.)
n November 30, Notre Dame Law School Professors Avishalom Tor and Stephanie Barclay will host the event, "The Rising Tide of Antisemitism on American Campuses and Beyond" at the McCartan Courtroom in Eck Hall of Law.
The panel discussion includes a keynote address delivered by Professor Ruth Wisse, Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Comparative Literature Emerita at Harvard University.
The panelists include:
Ken Marcus, Esq., Chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law
Most Reverend Robert J. McClory, Bishop of the Diocese of Gary
Professor Jeffrey Veidlinger, Joseph Brodsky Collegiate Professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan
The event will begin with an introduction from Professor Avishalom Tor, Professor of Law and Director of the Notre Dame Program on Law and Market Behavior (ND LAMB) at Notre Dame Law School.
The opening remarks will be delivered by Dean G. Marcus Cole, Joseph A. Matson Dean and Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School.
The panel discussion will be moderated by Professor Stephanie Barclay, Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School and Faculty Director of the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Initiative.
Attendees will be asked to present their Notre Dame ID card. Backpacks and bags will not be allowed in the courtroom.
1140 Eck Hall will be reserved as the overflow room where the livestream of the event will be playing.
Sunday, November 26, 2023
In my experience, homilists in Catholic parishes don't know quite what to do with the Feast of Christ the King, which is today. Usually, the day's "message" or "theme" has been (again, in my experience) something to the effect that we should ask if we are "putting Jesus first in our lives/hearts" (and, certainly, we should).
And yet . . . especially in light of the emerging (and much needed) focus in the Church on religious liberty and the realities of both aggressive secularism and persecution, it's worth (re-)reading Quas Primas, the encyclical of Pope Pius XI that instituted the feast day in 1925, and remembering that this institution's purpose sounded more in political theology than in personal piety and devotion. This feast is a reminder that government is not all, that there are things which are not Caesar's, and that everything, in the end, is "under God."
Tuesday, November 21, 2023
Prof. Robert Pushaw (Pepperdine) has a comprehensive and magisterial article, "Defending Dobbs", posted. A perfect gift for your irritating, Casey-loving uncle at Thanksgiving! Here is the abstract:
In short, the Court is on the right track in cases like Dobbs by retreating from eccentric, unreviewable, common law policymaking and instead focusing on the Constitution itself.
Alas, average Americans, politicians, pundits, and even lawyers rarely read Court opinions but instead care only about whether they personally agree with the outcome, as the reaction to Dobbs illustrates. One can hardly blame them, as the Court’s constitutional opinions have often featured legal window dressing for results already reached on political or ideological grounds. Therefore, the current majority of Justices must illuminate the public about the Court’s proper role in interpreting the Constitution as law. The Court tried to do so in Dobbs, without the Chief Justice’s support and without widespread popular approval. Hence, its educational task will be formidable, and perhaps impossible.
The foregoing themes will be detailed in four Parts. Part II examines the Court’s discovery in 1965 of a constitutional right to marital privacy, its awkward common law extension of that right to include abortion in Roe, and attempts by Justices and scholars to bolster Roe’s shaky constitutional footing. Part III describes how the three concurring Justices in Casey concocted an unprecedented version of stare decisis that allowed them to purport to follow Roe while substantially changing its legal framework. Part IV demonstrates that the Justices applied Casey’s malleable “undue burden” approach to reach any results they desired, as illustrated in cases concerning laws that either banned late-term abortions or that mandated certain safety standards for abortion providers. Part V analyzes Dobbs and defends the decision as restoring the idea of the Constitution as law.
Saturday, November 11, 2023
Remarks of Donald Landry, MD, PhD, President of the American Academy of Sciences and Letters at the Library of Congress
The following remarks were given by Donald Landry, MD, PhD, of Columbia University, President of the American Academy of Sciences and Letters, at the Academy’s 2023 Investiture held at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, November 8, 2023. This was the Academy's launch event. Its inaugural Robert J. Zimmer Medal for Intellectual Freedom was conferred upon Sir Salman Rushdie. In addition, Barry Prizes for Distinguished Intellectual Achievement were conferred upon ten scholars representing a spectrum of academic disciplines: Orlando Patterson of Harvard (sociology and African-American Studies); Josiah Ober of Stanford (classics); Svetlana Jitomaskaya of the University of California (mathematics); Steve Koonin of NYU (engineering); Anna Krylov of the University of Southern California (chemistry); Robert George of Princeton (politics); Ruth Okediji of Harvard (law); Candace Vogler of the University of Chicago (philosophy); Jonathan Haidt of NYU (psychology); and Jon Levenson of Harvard (Jewish Studies).
The modern university, whose origins date back almost a millennium, reflects and indeed embodies the truth-seeking spirit of humanity, when we human beings are at our best. It is in our nature as rational creatures to want to understand our world and ourselves. We are curious and inquisitive. We seek knowledge, and that special kind of knowledge we call wisdom. We desire to move from ignorance to truth. From partial knowledge to greater, deeper, richer understanding.
“E Tenebris ad Lucem” – “from darkness into light.”
Of course, we value what is sometimes called “useful knowledge,” and honor its tenacious pursuit across a wide range of disciplines. Yet, we also value knowledge for its own sake, for its inherent enrichments of ourselves as human beings. And we especially encourage the pursuit of what may legitimately claim to be the highest form of knowledge, namely, the deeper understanding of what it means to be human.
The determined pursuit of truth, especially of the deepest and most consequential truths, is not for the faint-hearted. On the contrary, it requires boldness. It requires independence of mind. And—let us here speak plainly—it requires courage.
Learned academies date to the 15th Century. On this continent they antedate the founding of the United States. Such academies were and are born at particular times in particular places to respond to the circumstances of their times and places. And yet, they are motivated by a perennial ambition: to encourage, to support, to recognize, and to honor courageous truth seeking and bold truth speaking.
The American Academy of Sciences and Letters was founded to honor distinguished scholarly achievement across the disciplines of the university and in that fashion promote scholarship and learning—a common thread among such academies, to be sure. Responding to the circumstances and exigencies of our own time and place, this Academy places a special accent on lifting up for the highest recognition eminent scholars whose exceptional achievements are the fruit of independence of mind and intellectual courage.
Members of the American Academy of Sciences and Letters are scholars who have made extraordinary contributions in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, mathematics, engineering, the arts, and the learned professions. Later in tonight’s program, we will add new members to the Academy as we award to each a prize that expresses our gratitude for their advancement of knowledge and the example they have set of independence of mind and intellectual courage.
Now, as a prelude to our keynote event, it is a special privilege this evening to confer upon a most worthy recipient, Sir Salman Rushdie, the inaugural Robert J. Zimmer Medal for Intellectual Freedom.
The Medal recognizes the work and profound witness of the late Robert Zimmer, who served from 2006 to 2021 as President of the University of Chicago. President Zimmer was an acclaimed mathematician whose commitment to intellectual excellence and academic freedom became the stuff of legend. It was his inspirational leadership and direction that bequeathed to the academic world the Chicago Principles of academic freedom, principles that he applied courageously and even-handedly, thus further burnishing his institution’s reputation and standing as a beacon of freedom of thought, inquiry, and discussion.
President Zimmer passed away earlier this year, a terrible loss for his family, his university, and the entire academic community. When, on behalf of the board of the Academy, I approached President Zimmer’s widow, Chicago Professor Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer, and related how deeply we revere him for his inspired support of academic freedom and integrity and how we sought through the Zimmer Medal to honor President Zimmer—with her permission—in order that his memory and contributions might endure, she responded: “Bob would have been delighted and I am too. I hope that the Robert J. Zimmer Medal for Intellectual Freedom will be a beacon for many as we go forward, as Bob was himself.”
This is our shared hope. And I am delighted that Professor Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer is here with us tonight.
Thank you, Shadi, for the honor of your presence.
Who could merit such an award for intellectual freedom, intellectual courage? In the last century, perhaps it would have been the great writer and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who stood in bold relief, risking life and limb, speaking truth to power.
For us today, as the board of the Academy unanimously agreed, it is Sir Salman Rushdie.
Sir Salman’s challenging and transformative novels have been recognized as among the greatest literature of our era. Midnight’s Children not only won the 1981 Booker Prize, the top honor for a novel; it was twice selected as the best novel ever to win the Booker. Sir Salman was knighted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth for his services to literature in 2007. His richly deserved prizes and awards are too numerous to list.
For thirty-five years, Sir Salman has served as a global beacon for intellectual freedom. You are all familiar with the decades of death threats and violence he has faced with resolute courage. His refusal to be silenced or deflected has inspired millions around the world, providing a model for us all. His example reminds us that the only thing more costly than standing up for intellectual freedom would be failing to make that stand.
November 11, 2023 | Permalink