Tuesday, November 22, 2016
That's the title of a book chapter I contributed to the recently published collection Public Theology and the Global Common Good (a Festschrift for my doctoral dissertation advisor, David Hollenbach, SJ). Based on Murray's writings in the 1940s and 1950s about the Supreme Court's early Establishment Clause cases, I argue that Murray was more pessimistic about the future of American public philosophy and constitutional law than he is usually regarded, and I draw out some lessons for the mission of legal education today. Critics of Murray (both traditionalist and radical) and readers only of We Hold These Truths (1960) are apt to miss this aspect of Murray. Here is a bit from my chapter (citations and footnotes omitted):
In Murray’s engagement with American constitutional law, an overlooked aspect of his thought was his focus on the particularities of the church-state question as it had played out historically in the United States. He did not so much develop a theory of church and state as use sources in the Catholic tradition to discern historical possibilities for how church and state could relate in ways that the tradition (shaped as it was primarily by continental, not Anglo-American, source) had neglected. This is evident both in Murray’s treatment of church and state in the teaching of Pope Leo XIII and in his discussions of the First Amendment.
A prominent example of this aspect of Murray’s thought is his engagement throughout the 1940s and early 1950s in a wide-ranging critique of the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence as it emerged in early cases applying the First Amendment to state and local governments. Two cases from that period especially interested Murray. In Everson v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court took up the question of whether a New Jersey program of reimbursing the parents of schoolchildren traveling to and from school (including parochial schools) for transportation expenses was constitutionally permissible. While the Court concluded that the transportation reimbursement program did not violate the First Amendment, Justice Black’s majority opinion famously invoked the “wall of separation” metaphor that has bewitched Establishment Clause jurisprudence ever since. Justice Black’s opinion purported to rest on the original understanding of the First Amendment, but—in both Murray’s articles on Everson and in subsequent legal scholarship—that account has been called into serious question.
In McCollum v. Board of Education, decided shortly after Everson, Murray’s concerns were vindicated. In another majority opinion from Justice Black, the Court used the Establishment Clause doctrine adopted in Everson to hold that a release-time program for pubic school students to attend religious instruction was unconstitutional. In a talk delivered in Wilmington, Delaware shortly after McCollum was decided (discovered in the Murray archives by Joseph Komonchak and published in First Things in 1992), Murray excoriates the reasoning of McCollum: “Our original constitutional doctrine simply affirmed the equality of all religious faiths before the law of the land; our new constitutional doctrine affirms something much more radical and sweeping—it affirms the so-called principle of the ‘absolute separation of church and state.’”
Recently, Andrew Koppelman has invoked Murray’s view as an example of concerns about corruption of religion in First Amendment cases. “A rule against establishment of religion ought not itself to establish a religion,” Koppelman writes, “The point is a powerful one, and it is remarkable that so little has been made of it since Murray wrote.” For Murray, the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause decisions in Everson and McCollum are “an irredeemable piece of sectarian dogmatism. And if there is one thing that the First Amendment forbids with resounding force it is the intrusion of a sectarian philosophy of religion into the fundamental law of the land.” As an alternative to this misguided interpretation of the Establishment Clause, Murray argued in his essay “Law or Prepossessions?” for “first, a return to the original political philosophy of the First Amendment” and “second, its realistic application in a situation wherein the alignment of forces and the conflict of values is substantially different from what it was in 1791.” Absent these developments, Murray warned that the consequences would be severe:
Join a rigidly negative concept of religious freedom, as sheer immunity from coercion by governmental power, to a rigidly absolute, end-in-itself concept of separation of church and state, as meaning absolutely no aid to religion by government, and you have opened the way to the subtle tyrannies of irreligion, secularist ideologies, false political and education philosophies, and the dangerous myth of “democracy as a religion.” Such a development is utterly foreign to the letter, spirit, and intent of the First Amendment, and will be consequently disastrous to American society.