Saturday, June 28, 2014
I recently returned from the 5th (!) Annual Law and Religion Roundtable, which met this year on the lovely campus of Washington University in St. Louis. (Thanks very much to Prof. John Inazu and his colleagues for being such excellent hosts!). We read and discussed about 20 works-in-progress and also had time for conversation and re-connecting over meals . . . and -- for some -- the World Cup. (There was, no surprise, a lot of attention paid on Thursday morning to the ScotusBlog "live feed", as the announcement of a decision in Hobby Lobby would have been, it is safe to say, of some interest to many present.)
MOJers Michael Moreland and Kevin Walsh were also there, and I'd love to hear /read their impressions. My own sense -- and Paul Horwitz presented a working paper that explored this possibility in more detail -- is that the law-and-religion/church-state/First Amendment controversies of recent years, which have had to do with hot-button and culture-war issues like abortion, contraception, sexual orientation, and marriage, have introduced (or maybe just surfaced and exposed) some tensions and edges that might have been absent (or at least hidden) during the previous decade or so, or perhaps even during the 20+ years since RFRA was enacted. (Which is certainly not to say that the conversations among scholars in the field does not remain civil, collegial, engaging, and earnest.) The debate is not limited to the (no small thing!) challenge of working out a balance among (i) concern for religious minorities whose practices can be burdened through discrimination, indifference, or failure to accord sufficient respect; (ii) the longstanding and continuing place of religious expression, values, institutions, believers and themes in public and political life; (iii) the desire to avoid "divisiveness" in our increasingly pluralistic society; and (iv) a respect for the integrity, autonomy, and -- in a sense -- "separateness" of religion. More so now than before, it seems to me, "religion" (and religious accommodations, religious believers' claims and arguments, etc.) is seen by some as a problem to be managed, a threat to be guarded against, and/or an obstacle to be overcome. If "religion" *were* seen in this way, it would (naturally?) be regarded as less deserving of respectful accommodation and as less welcome in civil society, outside the closely cabined "private" realm.