Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Partisanship and Religious Freedom

I agree with Marc's comments about some mischaracterizations of the law of religious freedom that have been flying around the past many weeks, and, as he notes, we have both commented on a post about Employment Division v. Smith by Cathy Kaveny over at the Commonweal blog.

Speaking of our friends at Commonweal, it's remarkable for a document that invokes Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" and criticizes a state anti-immigration statute and the exclusion of many predominantly African-American churches from worshipping after-hours in New York City public schools to be swept aside as an exercise in partisanship. But that's just what the Commonweal editors have done in this editorial. Like Marc, I find much to commend in "Our First, Most Cherished Liberty," including its use of a range of specific examples, adapting the American idiom of religious liberty to a Catholic context, the judicious use of theological and historical sources, and a pastoral sensibility about the challenges facing Catholics today. The document leaves on the table one of the more potent points that could have been lodged against the Obama Administration, namely the Administration's brief arguing against the ministerial exception in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC. I just don't see throwing the label of partisanship around as an especially interesting or useful exercise. Catholics on the left bristled at allegations of partisanship from conservative Catholics upon release of the bishops' pastoral letters on the economy and war in the 1980s, conservative Catholics bristle when pro-life advocacy is deemed mere partisanship, and around and around we go. So here's a proposal: in this election year, let's talk about the merits of particular issues drawing upon the rich tradition of Catholic thought, avoid cheap allegations of partisanship against the bishops or anyone else, and let the electoral consequences fall where they may.

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Moreland, Michael | Permalink

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Mike and Marc, and others--Do you think Commonweal is right that the religious liberty statement should have included problems of discrimination and refusals-to-accommodate that Muslims face? My first reaction would be that it was an oversight, but I also know that there are voices in the "religious liberty coalition" who say, "Well, Muslims do present real worries...." (I should add my own view that while some activities by certain Muslim-identified organizations cross the limits of religious freedom, there is a big overreaction right now, and it's important for religious-liberty defenders to say so.)

Posted by: Tom Berg | Apr 14, 2012 1:08:44 PM

My thoughts are that the statement could have mentioned threats to religious liberty that Muslims face, but that the document isn't flawed because of its absence. It could have mentioned attacks on the religious liberty of Jews too. The document instead focuses on issues that particularly affect Catholics.

The document's drafters may have considered blowback from Islam's nay-sayers, but I doubt it. The USCCB has a variety of initiatives that involve dialogue with Islam that are perennially criticized by some of the sillier folks on the Right. The bishops (thankfully) haven't let this criticism stop them and have issued press releases in the past touching on religious liberty threats to Muslims. (see e.g. +Gregory's unconditional condemnation of anti-Muslim bigotry here: http://old.usccb.org/sdwp/international/statement-amp.shtml) So, I doubt fear of blowback is at play.

Posted by: Catholic Law Student | Apr 14, 2012 2:16:01 PM

Tom, my view is that the statement would have been strengthened by discussion of some of the problems of religious freedom and accommodation that Muslims face in this country. I also agree that those problems are serious and, in some respects, growing -- here and abroad.

Having said that, I do not think that the statement is defective because it did not contain that discussion. The statement makes many points worth considering. There are certainly other points that it did not make, but which should also be considered. But that does not take away from (what I thought) was a thoughtful treatment of the matters that it did address.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Apr 14, 2012 2:57:44 PM

The statement also contains this line: "This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. This is an American issue." And later, it says: "As Catholics, we are obliged to defend the right to religious liberty for ourselves and for others. We are happily joined in this by our fellow Christians and believers of other faiths."

These and other expressions of ecumenism are, I think, appropriate and true statements. As are the statements about the terrible persecution experienced by many Christians in other parts of the world.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Apr 14, 2012 4:08:56 PM

A parenthesis ended up as part of the hyperlink in my comment above, so the link doesn't work. So, here is a a hopefully working link to +Gregory's statement on the Koran Burning, WTC Mosque imbroglio, etc. http://old.usccb.org/sdwp/international/statement-amp.shtml

Posted by: Catholic Law Student | Apr 14, 2012 4:14:52 PM

I don't understand people complaining about it either not having more to say about religious liberty difficulties for people of other faiths or not having enough legal analysis. These are Catholic bishops, Pastors of the Church, who are solemnly tasked with shephering her people. It's sort of appropriate for them to worry about their immediate flock first and then by extension the rest of humanity. Nor were they issuing a legal analysis, a legal opinion, a legal strategy, or anything else legal. That's why Cathy Kaveny's post at Commonweal cracked me up. I imagined her listening to Dr. King's mountaintop speech and being like, "That was impassioned rhetoric, but kind of light on analysis of the legal precedent." Lordy.

Posted by: Anonsters | Apr 14, 2012 6:49:19 PM

Anonsters,

We seem to be on the same page again. If we keep this up...

Posted by: Catholic Law Student | Apr 14, 2012 8:11:11 PM

Catholic Law Student, in regards to the statement by Justice, Peace, and Human Development, if one were to look beyond Park 51, to those behind Park 51, one would think that the fact that Feisal Abdul Rauf is unwilling to denounce Hamas and other terrorist organizations, does not bode well for interfaith cooperation and those people of Faith, including Muslims, who desire to live together peacefully.

Posted by: N.D. | Apr 15, 2012 10:26:08 AM

The statement also contains this line: "This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. This is an American issue." And later, it says: "As Catholics, we are obliged to defend the right to religious liberty for ourselves and for others. We are happily joined in this by our fellow Christians and believers of other faiths."

These and other expressions of ecumenism are, I think, appropriate and true statements. As are the statements about the terrible persecution experienced by many Christians in other parts of the world.

Posted by: paralegal requirements | Apr 20, 2012 12:12:34 AM