Thursday, June 30, 2022
To say that the past Supreme Court term was consequential might be to understate matters. Mark Movsesian and I have this Legal Spirits podcast discussing Carson v. Makin and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, two important church-state cases--potentially as important as we have seen in some time. Listen in!
I have a short piece up at First Things, here, about the predictable but still tiresome charges that the Supreme Court's Catholic justices are somehow imposing their religious beliefs, or ushering in a theocracy, by voting to (e.g.) undo the Roe and Casey decisions. I write:
Duly enacted laws do not become unconstitutional religious edicts simply because they are consonant with religious communities’ teachings. The fact that citizens are motivated or inspired by faith does not taint their political activism and participation. A jurist who concludes that the relevant constitutional text permits a controversial question to be decided politically is not issuing an encyclical or reporting a revelation.
The foundational premise of the pro-life position—that is, that every human being should be “protected in law and cared for in life”—is no more “theological” than the commitments behind laws mandating environmental stewardship and prohibiting unjust discrimination or exploitation. The facts about the human person and about human development, not secret knowledge or gnostic mysteries, are the basis of the pro-life case and the warrant for pro-life legislation. Neither bigoted attacks on Catholic justices nor superficial invocations of church-state separation change these facts.
Also, in the piece, I reference a detailed study of the deployment of these charges in the abortion context by our own Prof. John Breen. Check it out.
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
Our Center for Law and Religion (which I co-direct with Mark Movsesian) is co-sponsoring with our longtime partner institution, the Università LUMSA in Rome, a conference in Rome next week: Liberalism's Limits: Religious Exemptions and Hate Speech. We've got a wonderful group of presenters representing a broad range of perspectives. Cesare Mirabelli, the president emeritus of Italy's Constitutional Court, and the political historian Chantal Delsol, will kick things off, followed by three workshops considering the themes of the conference. More soon on the papers.
Tuesday, June 21, 2022
Way back in 1996, my wife Nicole Stelle Garnett was a young lawyer with the scrappy crew at the Institute for Justice, and participated in a challenge to the Maine tuitioning program that the Supreme Court just (finally) ruled against today in Carson v. Makin. (I filed an amicus brief in the case, for Agudath Israel, if I recall.) I usually don't buy claims about the "arc of history" but, this time, the long journey ended in a good place. The repair of the Court's education-funding doctrine over the last 20 years has been striking.
I was sorry to see Justice Breyer, in dissent, still beating his drum about the judicial obligation to evaluate state policies with an eye toward managing "strife" and "division." As I explained (at great length!) here, the "political divisiveness along religious lines" argument in church-state law has always been wrong:
Nearly thirty-five years ago, in Lemon v. Kurtzman, Chief Justice Warren Burger declared that state programs or policies could excessive(ly) - and, therefore, unconstitutionally - entangle government and religion, not only by requiring or allowing intrusive public monitoring of religious institutions and activities, but also through what he called their divisive political potential. Chief Justice Burger asserted also, and more fundamentally, that political division along religious lines was one of the principal evils against which the First Amendment was intended to protect. And from this Hobbesian premise about the inten(t) animating the First Amendment, he proceeded on the assumption that the Constitution authorizes those charged with its interpretation to protect our normal political process from a particular kind of strife and to purge a particular kind of disagreement from politics and public conversations about how best to achieve the common good. This Article provides a close and critical examination of the argument that observations or predictions of political division along religious lines should supply the content, or inform the interpretation and application, of the Religion Clause. The examination is timely, not only because of the sharp polarization that is said to characterize contemporary politics, but also because of the increasing prominence of this political division argument. The inquiry and analysis that follow have empirical, doctrinal, and normative components: What, exactly, is religiously based social conflict - or, as the Court put it in Lemon, political . . . divisiveness on religious lines? What, exactly, is the relevance of such conflict to the wisdom, morality, or constitutionality of state action? How plausible, and how normatively attractive, are the political-divisiveness argument and the principle it is intended to vindicate? How well do this argument and this principle cohere with the relevant text, history, traditions, and values? And what does the recent resurfacing of this argument in the Religion Clause context reveal and portend about the state and trajectory of First Amendment theory and doctrine more generally? Working through these questions, I am mindful of John Courtney Murray's warning that we should cherish only modest expectations with regard to the solution of the problem of religious pluralism and civic unity, and also of his observations that pluralism (is) the native condition of American society and the unity toward which Americans have aspired is a unity of a limited order. Those who crafted our Constitution believed that both authentic freedom and effective government could be secured through checks and balances, rather than standardization, and by harnessing, rather than homogenizing, the messiness of democracy. It is both misguided and quixotic, then, to employ the First Amendment to smooth out the bumps and divisions that are an unavoidable part of the political life of a diverse and free people.
Sunday, June 19, 2022
My friend and colleague, Dan Philpott, ran a research project called "Under Caesar's Sword", a collaborative global project that investigated how Christian communities respond when their religious freedom is severely violated. And, this Fall, he is putting on a six-week, online course on the subject, which should be great. Click the link to register!
Tuesday, June 7, 2022