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.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The March and Faith

It was an electric day here in Washington. This 50th anniversary of the March on Washington filled the city with energy as the participants and onlookers both reflected on the past and looked toward the future. So much has been and will be written about the day, that this post is in no way an attempt to capture the entirety of the day. Many will no doubt offer numerous and moving accounts with each having its own insight.

I would like to highlight one aspect of the news coverage of day that struck me as particularly relevant to MOJ and its mission. As a law professor at a religiously affiliated institution, I often encounter (as I am sure many here do) the argument that religion and faith have no place in policy, laws, or debate. Indeed, some have argued persuasively that a bias exists against religion, and indeed faith of any kind, playing any role in policy development. Professor Garnett noted a thread of this just days ago when commenting on some secular forces hijacking such public events.

However, as the country celebrated this March and its significance in a social movement, the prominent role spirituality and faith played in this day flies in the face of the position minimizing the integral role faith and faith based institutions can play. The power of faith goes far beyond the inspiring Dr. King, whose spiritual leadership soared throughout his work and transformed America. But the entire fabric of that day - from the biblical quotations, to the active role of organized churches, to the spiritual hymns that provided the background music – was fused with faith as a conductor of social reform. Even 50 years later the day began with prayer, progressed to a President invoking God as the source of dignity for all people, and continued with bells ringing from churches throughout the world. What is remarkable is not just that faith played such an integral role, but that it explicitly and openly did so in a public and prideful way.

To be sure many forces fuel and influence important social movements. Some of these forces are individual and others collective. Yesterday is a reminder of a portion of those forces. In a world perhaps resistant to any interplay between faith and policy, yesterday underscores that faith and faith institutions can play integral roles in the liberation of the oppressed and protection of the vulnerable. Faith can inspire; faith can fuel; faith can sustain; faith can guide…good stuff to remember for those of us fortunate to teach a generation of future lawyers, activists, and policy makers.


Leary, Mary G. | Permalink


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Hi Professor Leary,

Certainly much of what you have written here is true regarding the role that religion played in Dr. King's movement and life. However, when one tries to compare the role that religion has played in our politics since the 1970s, I would state that it is quite different from the Civil Rights Movement. The fusion of religion with right wing (for lack of a better word) politics has led to the two being largely entwined and to the discredit of religion. I believe that it is a key reason for the rise of what has been referred to as the "Nones".

Dr. King never sought political office and nor did many of his supporters (with the exception of Congressman Lewis). His movement sought to gain rights and freedoms for people, not to restrict them. And it did not campaign for office and brag of it's influence in those offices, as would happen later with folks such as Dr. Falwell, Dr. Dobson, Father Neuhaus (who was one of the few of these folks who was active in the Civil Rights movement, to his everlasting credit), Mr. Colson and others. I think that's an important distinction.

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Aug 29, 2013 3:31:18 PM