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.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hadley Arkes on Hobby Lobby, "belief", and religious freedom: A response

As Mirror of Justice readers probably know, Prof. Hadley Arkes contributed a piece to the June issue of First Things called "Recasting Religious Freedom."  In that piece (and in some others) he expresses (among other things) concern not about the result in the Hobby Lobby case but in the arguments and premises on which (he thinks) many of Hobby Lobby's supporters have relied.  He is worried, for instance, that the arguments pressed by Hobby Lobby's defenders have emphasized the extent to which the contraception-coverage mandate burdens religious "beliefs" and that these defenders have uncritically accepted what he regards as an unsound claim, i.e., that there is a "right to be wrong."  

He returns to this general line of thinking in this piece ("Post-Hobby Lobby Illusions") and this one ("Backing Happily Into Heresy").  And, in these posts, he is responding to (among other things) Ryan Anderson's critique, "The Right to Be Wrong."  Ryan wrote:

. . . Arkes is a friend and mentor of mine. He is a hero of the pro-life cause and has been a bold voice for moral sanity in the academy. When he speaks, and especially when he offers fraternal correction, one must listen and carefully consider what he has to say. Yet in this case, I cannot ultimately follow his lead. . . . 

I agree.  Arkes' First Things piece and the more recent ones to which I have linked are, in my view, mistaken in several respects.  I won't repeat Anderson's arguments -- which I think are compelling -- but will just share a few thoughts in response to Arkes' expressions of concern.

First, Arkes writes:

I’ve argued in these columns that the Hobby Lobby case could have been won without setting into place these premises: that religious convictions are marked by “beliefs,” rather than “truths;” that we accept as a “religion” virtually anything that people tell us they regard as their religion;  that on the strength of these “beliefs” held “sincerely,” we give exemptions from the laws that are imposed on everyone else; and finally, as the Court said in Hobby Lobby, “it is not for [the government] to say that [our] religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial.”

Here, I think that Arkes is wrong.  It is not the case -- given the relevant real-world givens -- that the Hobby Lobby case "could have been won" using the argument that Arkes suggests, i.e.:  "In a regime of freedom, people have a presumptive claim to all dimensions of their freedom, and the burden lies with the government to offer a 'justification' for restricting that freedom."  Over and again, in the First Things piece and in the others, Arkes seems to be frustrated that Hobby Lobby's lawyers and defenders made the arguments that the relevant pieces of positive law invited -- it's probably fair to say "required" -- them to make.  It could well be that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not capture fully or well the real and true foundations of religious freedom, properly understood.  But, nevertheless, the Act is the Act, and for Hobby Lobby to win, Hobby Lobby's lawyers needed to argue -- and would have been foolish not to argue -- that the Act entitled them to win.  

Next, in "Backing Happily into Heresies" (here), Arkes appears to be arguing that Gregory Holt should lose his RLUIPA case (which the Supreme Court will hear next Term).  (Disclosure:  I signed an amicus brief supporting Holt, who is represented by Prof. Doug Laycock.)  When "we" argue that Mr. Holt's religiously motivated desire to wear a beard is one that current, valid, governing positive law recognizes and protects, we are -- Arkes says -- "walking in a haze, celebrating along the way, and backing happily into heresies, political and religious."  Specifically, we are mistakenly buying into the idea that "we cannot judge the content of beliefs, or test them by the standards of reason we bring to anything else."

But, again:  There is a piece of duly enacted legislation, RLUIPA, the meaning and implication of which is at issue in the Holt case.  And, according to that legislation, it is not a mistake, but is rather clearly and obviously the right thing to do, to put aside the business of judging the "content" of or otherwise "test[ing]" the truth or Holt's religious beliefs.  What matters is whether or not the challenged official action substantially burdens a sincerely held religious belief and, if so, whether that burden is adequately (within the meaning of RFRA) justified.  

Now, I imagine that there is a connection, or significant overlap, between (a) egregiously and dangerously misguided religious beliefs and (b) religious beliefs that the government is justified in burdening.  But, again, I do not understand why Arkes seems to be insisting that lawyers with a job to do should do something else.  (I also think it is wrong -- and contrary to Dignitatis Humanae -- to contend, as Arkes appears to contend, that the right to religious freedom does not include the right to hold and -- within the limits imposed by public order and the common good -- express and act upon religious convictions that are unreasonable or untrue.)

https://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2014/07/hadley-arkes-on-hobby-lobby-belief-and-religious-freedom-a-response.html

Garnett, Rick | Permalink