Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Catholics v. Protestants on regulating the workplace

You should check out William & Mary law prof Nate Oman's op-ed arguing that labor law is Catholic and anti-discrimination law is Protestant.  An excerpt:

Labor law and anti-discrimination law regulate the workplace in fundamentally different ways. Anti-discrimination laws treat workers in isolation, protecting them against mistreatment on the basis of race, religion, gender, and – in some jurisdictions – sexual orientation. It holds up the ideal of an individual judged wholly independent of any accidents of birth or identity.

Labor law, in contrast, creates associations of workers, often using mild coercion, and forces management to bargain with the associations. In contrast to the individualism of anti-discrimination laws, labor law envisions an ideal marketplace in which every worker is embedded in an association that both regulates his behavior and protects his interests.

Anti-discrimination law reflects a basically Protestant view of the moral universe, while labor law reflects a basically Catholic view of the moral universe. For Martin Luther every individual came alone before the throne of God, stripped of the mediating influences of tradition, community, or priesthoods, seeking mercy for his exposed and sinful soul.

. . . .

Despite our nation's laudable commitment to religious diversity, the majority of religious Americans are Protestants and Protestant assumptions are deeply embedded in our culture. In such a culture, it is unsurprising that a body of law based on Catholic notions of solidarity, community and skepticism about the ultimate merits of unfettered individualism enjoys a more precarious position than its Protestant cousin.


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Nice article, thanks for the information.

Posted by: rental elf | Mar 1, 2011 8:17:16 AM

I agree with rental elf.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Mar 1, 2011 10:37:34 AM

Interesting article, I never looked at labor law as being more Catholic but by creating associations of workers and often using slight coercion it makes more sense to me. Thank you for the article

Posted by: SF | Mar 1, 2011 12:43:40 PM

This article suggests some interesting lines of thought. For example, is the civil rights movement, civil disobedience, and the cause of anti-discrimination in general, inspired by "Protestant" individualism? By contrast, given its ecclesiology, is Catholicism more comfortable with personal submission and incorporation into the body, the greater authority, e.g. the union, the state. Might Catholics not even be constitutionally suspicious of the individualism which underpins the drive for anti-discrimination laws? Could be true. Worth thinking about.

Nevertheless the article itself is, in my opinion, so flawed that any line of thought suggested is in spite of the author's arguments rather than because of them. Perhaps given more space the author could have made his points clearer. But if lack of space was his problem, he has compromised the credibility of his argument with sweeping legal, historical and theological assertions that simply can't be supported. And if they can't be supported in the space allotted, to make them is to mislead.

1. He does not make the obvious distinction between public and private sector unionism. 2. The author suggests that the U.S. labor movement's inspiration was Catholic because its membership has largely been so throughout the 20th century. As for Senator Wagner's conversion to Catholicism -- it's interesting, but a complete red herring. 3. The Last Judgment as an individual thing is not uniquely Protestant. If anything, the doctrine of pre-destination of the elect would seem to rely more on the communitarian notion than the Catholic idea that the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints might put in a good word for me when i go before the throne. Dies Irae, anyone? 4. Positions or statements from individual bishops or the US Conference are, unfortunately, not good indicators of traditional Catholic teaching, above all when they deal with politics and economics. It's debatable what exactly these pronouncements are. I always have a hard time explaining this to my Protestant acquaintance. 5. The author makes no mention of Rerum Novarum, which is of course a bona fide Catholic teaching. He would find there a template for labor unions quite unlike anything we see in U.S. labor law or labor organizations. 6. That a majority of U.S. religious citizens is Protestant is irrelevant. Weren't Protestants an even greater majority during the New Deal when the NLRA gave birth to U.S. labor law?

Apologies for posting at such length. I do so because I believe the commonly and uncritically held notion that Catholicism and the labor movement are somehow linked in inspiration and history, is simplistic and flawed.

Posted by: matt muggeridge | Mar 2, 2011 2:38:18 PM

Since it is true that everything that exists in Time and Space exists in relationship, I second the notion of rental elf, making it three.

Posted by: N.D. | Sep 11, 2012 1:25:02 PM