Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Why Conservative Christians Have a Stake in Protecting Muslim Religious Freedom

I have a piece on this subject up at Christianity Today. One bit:

Both groups, in different places and settings, are unpopular and face hostile, overly burdensome regulation. Opponents label them “Muslim terrorists” and “Christian bigots.” I don’t claim the situations are identical; Muslims are a small minority almost everywhere, while conservative Christians often have political and cultural power. But conservative religious beliefs about sex and other issues are highly unpopular in some places: in secular universities, in states and cities that are deep blue politically. Conservative Christians in those settings face restrictions, and it hurts their cause when Christians in power elsewhere restrict Muslims.

The piece at places, if there were room, could have cited our own Robbie George as well as Russell Moore, Luke Goodrich, and others who have made the case that religious freedom stands and falls together for all. "Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” (Andre Gide)

The piece is up simultaneously with a CT interview of Asma Uddin, former Becket Fund lawyer, on her excellent book When Islam is Not a Religion.

 

September 9, 2019 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Sunday, September 8, 2019

"Religious Freedom and the Common Good: A Summary of Arguments and Themes"

That's the title of my introductory/overview essay, posted on SSRN, summarizing the papers from our Law Journal symposium at St. Thomas on the subject. The full set of papers is here. A couple of paragraphs from the abstract of my overview: 

       We tend to think that the common good is simply a limit on freedom: that individual and societal claims inevitably clash, that the common good stands for society’s interests in restricting the actions of individuals and private groups. But freedoms also serve social purposes. Indeed, such arguments may be increasingly important to defending the right of religious freedom in an era of skepticism toward many religious claims. Perhaps for this reason, advocates and scholars have made a discernible turn toward exploring the common good as one key rationale for religious freedom.

       But this justification of religious freedom also raises a number of important challenges and questions. They can generally be grouped into three areas: (A) What precisely is the evidence, and how strong is it, for the connection between religion and benefits to individuals and society? (B) What do religion’s social contributions have to do with religious freedom? (C) How does the common good suggest limits on the scope of religious freedom, or criticisms of religious freedom as it is practiced or claimed today?

The symposium brings together contributors from sociology, political science and history, law, and public-policy disciplinary perspectives. The roster includes Stanley Carlson-Thies, founder of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance; Angela Carmella, who writes on CST and the scope of religious freedom; Roger Finke and Dane Mataic, social scientist who do empirical work on religious restrictions around the world; Brian Grim, who gives a shortened version of his important study on the economic value of U.S. religion; Mark Hall, leading scholar on the founders' views of religion in public life, including their views on religious accommodations; Byron Johnson of Baylor's Institute for Religious Studies, among our leading sociologists on the empirical contributions of religious social-service activities; Jacqueline Rivers, sociologist and scholar of the African-American church; and Melissa Rogers, now at Brookings and formerly advisor on faith-based and community work, including religious-freedom issues, in the Obama White House.

While I'm at it, I should also commend Kathleen's Brady excellent article on the same topic, here.

September 8, 2019 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Cert Petition Urging Overruling of Smith

The Becket Fund has filed a certiorari petition in a case called Ricks v. Idaho Board of Contractors. Ricks, who applied for an Idaho license to be able to practice his livelihood as a construction contractor, objected to the requirement of providing his social security number (he believes, as a small but non-negligible number of people have regularly believed, that it’s the “mark of the beast” in Revelation 13:16-18). The petition urges the Court to overrule Employment Division v. Smith and subject even “neutral and generally applicable laws” to meaningful scrutiny under the Free Exercise Clause.

Ten religious liberty scholars, including yours truly, have signed an amicus brief supporting the petition. Tom Hungar and others at Gibson Dunn drafted and filed the brief on our behalf. From the summary of argument:

Smith is ripe for reconsideration, and this case presents an excellent opportunity for the Court to engage in that endeavor. Smith itself was a departure from this Court’s previously settled requirement that the government demonstrate a compelling interest before imposing a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion. The question of the proper interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause was not briefed in Smith, but it has been substantially elucidated by subsequent academic work. That scholarship reveals that the Framers understood the Clause not merely as embodying an equal protection principle that prohibits targeting or discriminating against religion, but also as a substantive protection granted to religious practices even in some circumstances where similar secular conduct can be prohibited. The Smith Court’s undue contraction of the protections afforded by the Free Exercise Clause inevitably falls hardest on adherents of minority religions—the very individuals that the Clause was adopted to protect.

August 13, 2019 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink

Friday, August 9, 2019

"Human Dignity, Law, and Religious Diversity": International Conference

Here is a call for proposals for both panels and papers for the 6th conference of the International Consortium for Law and Religion Studies (ICLARS), to be held in Cordoba, Spain, September 2020. The theme is "Human Dignity, Law, and Religious Diversity: Designing the Future of Inter-Cultural Societies.” Which makes room for a wide variety of topics, all in the orbit of this blog, its writers, and its readers.

And southern Spain in September? Yes indeed. (The organizers promise to show participants something of beautiful Cordoba.)

As the call explains, institutions and research groups, as well as individuals, can make proposals for panels. "[T]he proposing institution or research group —subject to the organizing committee’s approval— will design the subject of the panel and appoint the speakers. The proposing institution or research group will be mentioned as one of the conference sponsors provided it takes care of the registration fees and attendance of the speakers."

+++++

WHILE WE'RE ON THE SUBJECT: The Punta del Este Declaration (December 2018) reaffirms the centrality of human dignity to human rights, on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. A couple of bits from the new declaration:

3. Defining and Specifying Human Rights.
Dignity is an essential part of what it means to be human. Respect for human dignity for everyone everywhere
helps us define and understand the meaning and scope of all human rights. Focusing concretely and in actual
situations on human dignity and its implications for particular human rights claims can help identify the specific
content of these rights as well as how we understand human dignity itself....
6. Seeking Common Ground.
Focusing on human dignity for everyone everywhere encourages people to search for ways to find common ground
regarding competing claims and to move beyond exclusively legal mechanisms for harmonizing, implementing,
and mutually vindicating human rights and finding solutions to conflicts.

August 9, 2019 in Berg, Thomas | Permalink

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Cert Petition and Support in DC Bus-Advertisements Case

The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) accepts advertisements on the side of its buses but rejects religious ads along with political and "issue-advocacy" ads. Under that policy, WMATA  rejected an ad from the Catholic Archdiocese for its "Find the Perfect Gift" holiday campaign (directing viewers to information about worship services, charitable giving, and charitable-service opportunities), even though WMATA had accepted ads from retailers encouraging holiday shopping, from the Salvation Army exhorting charitable giving in the holiday red kettles, and from others (a yoga studio, a Christian radio station whose ad was supposedly not as overtly religious as the Archdiocese's, etc.).

The D.C. Circuit upheld the exclusion of the Archdiocese ad on the ground that it did not discriminate (impermissibly) against a religious viewpoint, but rather discriminated (permissibly) against religion as a "subject matter" in a nonpublic forum. The en banc court refused rehearing, over a strong dissent by Judge Griffith teeing up the case for cert (here is the SCOTUS Blog page). The cert petition, filed by Paul Clement et al. at Kirkland & Ellis, argues that the decision below is irreconcilable with Lamb's Chapel, Rosenberger, and Good New Club: the "equal access" decisions that hold, time after time, that exclusion of religious speech is viewpoint discrimination. (It also argues that excluding religious viewpoints as such violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.)

Our religious liberty clinic at St. Thomas filed a brief for multiple organizational amici supporting the petition. First, we zeroed in on a couple of the court of appeals' arguments for treating the religious exclusion as subject-based rather than viewpoint-based, including this argument:

the court of appeals reasoned that the Archdiocese would have been able to place an ad urging charitable donations if its ad, like that of the Salvation Army, “contained only non-religious imagery”—for example, an ad simply saying “Please Give to Catholic Charities.” App-25. This argument is irreconcilable with Lamb’s Chapel, Rosenberger, and Good News Club. In each of those cases the presentation of a religious perspective involved explicit religious language, not mere reference to a religious identity or the religious nature of a belief. A restriction on “religious imagery” cripples the ability of speakers to present religiously grounded, and only religiously grounded, perspectives.

Second, we argued that "the specific subject matter involved in this case—the meaning and essence of Christmas and the winter holidays—itself presents important and recurring questions":

There is an ongoing debate in society about the essence of the holiday, the priorities to observe in celebrating it, and the motivation for gift-giving. On these subjects, various religious and secular perspectives compete, and the government must not discriminate among expressions of these perspectives by private groups and individuals.

By allowing holiday-related ads exhorting commercial gift-giving and charitable giving, but not an ad exhorting the religious basis for the holiday and for gift-giving, the court upheld viewpoint discrimination within subject matters included in the forum. Our brief touched on some of the societal controversies over "keeping Christ in Christmas," etc. Those controversies, we argued,

show that there is a set of competing perspectives on the subjects of the holiday season and which elements of it are most important. Some of those controversies arise in contexts not applicable here, such as speech by employees of private businesses or displays sponsored by government. But this case involves a government restriction on private speakers expressing their religious perspective in a government forum. In that category of cases, the government’s proper course is clear: it must allow varying perspectives on a subject matter to be expressed, on equal terms. To accept ads emphasizing the commercial and charitable aspects of Christmas and gift-giving but refuse ads emphasizing religious perspectives on those subjects skews public debate—the fundamental harm to free expression from viewpoint discrimination.

Like the Montana tax-credit case (Espinoza) where cert was just granted, this case focuses on what Justice Kavanaugh recently called "the bedrock principle of religious equality"--a concept more simple than the sometimes complex questions over government-sponsored religious symbols and government accommodation of religious practice. Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, 139 S. Ct. 909, 909-11 (2019) (statement of Kavanaugh, J., respecting denial of certiorari). I would put the principle as "freely chosen religious activity should not be discouraged through discriminatory government actions"--but so framed, the principle is just as clear and foundational.

Both the Montana and D.C. cases show lower courts struggling mightily to validate discriminatory rules against voluntary religious speech and activity. A grant and reversal in the second case, joining the first, would clearly signal to judges and other officials that those efforts should cease.

July 2, 2019 in Berg, Thomas, Religion | Permalink

Monday, June 24, 2019

"The Perception Gap"

As reported by Yascha Mounck of Johns Hopkins in The Atlantic,  a group called More in Common has released a study called "The Perception Gap," showing the divergence between what people of one political party think the other party's members believe, and what they actually do believe. For example,

      Democrats ... estimated that four in 10 Republicans believe that “many Muslims are good Americans,” and that only half recognize that “racism still exists in America.” In reality, those figures were two-thirds and four in five.

      Unsurprisingly, Republicans are also prone to caricature Democrats. For example, Republicans approximated that only about half of Democrats are “proud to be American” despite the country’s problems. Actually, more than four in five Democrats said they are. Similarly, Republicans guessed that fewer than four in 10 Democrats reject the idea of open borders. Actually, seven in 10 said they do.

And education doesn't help--the study "found that the best educated and most politically interested Americans are more likely to vilify their political adversaries than their less educated, less tuned-in peers":

      Americans who rarely or never follow the news are surprisingly good at estimating the views of people with whom they disagree. On average, they misjudge the preferences of political adversaries by less than 10 percent. Those who follow the news most of the time, by contrast, are terrible at understanding their adversaries. On average, they believe that the share of their political adversaries who endorse extreme views is about 30 percent higher than it is in reality.

Finally, the intensifying effect of higher education is skewed--it makes Democrats caricature their opponents more than it makes Republicans do so:

      Perhaps because institutions of higher learning tend to be dominated by liberals, Republicans who have gone to college are not more likely to caricature their ideological adversaries than those who dropped out of high school. But among Democrats, education seems to make the problem much worse. Democrats who have a high-school degree suffer from a greater perception gap than those who don’t. Democrats who went to college harbor greater misunderstandings than those who didn’t. And those with a postgrad degree have a way more skewed view of Republicans than anybody else.

I can't vouch for the study's methodology. But the results are worth looking at: they are striking, even if not especially surprising.

June 24, 2019 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Saturday, June 22, 2019

"Religious Freedom and the Common Good" Symposium Papers

I've been away from blogging recently, for a variety of reasons: a heavy teaching semester, including an enjoyable two weeks teaching Hungarian and other law students in Budapest; a book manuscript in the editing and proofing stages; and acting in another Gilbert & Sullivan production (a thing I do).

The papers from the St. Thomas Law symposium on "Religious Freedom and the Common Good" are now published and online (here). They include contributions by sociologists of religion, political scientists, legal scholars, folks with government experience on religious-freedom matters, etc. 

We think the collection of papers will be important to future discussions about the common good both as one important justification for religious freedom and as a framework for its proper scope and boundaries. As challenges to religious freedom mount (around the world and here), it will be increasingly important (as I've previously argued here and here) to how religious freedom is not just a selfish assertion but a key contributor to a healthy, thriving community.

June 22, 2019 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Thursday, March 21, 2019

"Religious Freedom and Nondiscrimination" Article

I’ve published a new article, Religious Freedom and Nondiscrimination, based on an address at Loyola University-Chicago’s symposium on “The Question of Religious Freedom: From John Courtney Murray and Vatican II to the Present.” The symposium papers (vol. 50, issue 1) are from an excellent list of people, including MOJ-friend Kathleen Brady, the leading theological ethicist Robin Lovin, Loyola’s Miguel Diaz (who chaired the event), Leslie Griffin, and others.

My piece can be downloaded at SSRN; here is the abstract:

      This essay explores two theses about the relationship between religious freedom and nondiscrimination. First, nondiscrimination is a crucial component of religious freedom: such freedom must be equal for all religious positions. Religious freedom for some faiths more than others is not truly religious freedom: rather, it is a policy for advancing the favored faiths or their sociopolitical goals. We see this tendency operating today, for example, in that some conservatives speak strongly of religious freedom but oppose equal freedom for Muslims. The essay discusses (examining the Trump travel ban and other disputes) why that attitude is wrong in principle and misguided, as a matter of prudence, for social conservatives' own religious-freedom claims. The essay also discusses the prevalence of hostility toward conservative Christians.

       Second, religious freedom is a value independent of nondiscrimination. Equality for various faiths is little comfort without a baseline guarantee of actual freedom, including room to exercise religion aspects of life beyond worship: charitable work and daily life. Moreover, sometimes the values of religious freedom and nondiscrimination come in conflict: when they do, we must give weight to both of these important values, and in particular, not simply subordinate the value of religious freedom to the value of nondiscrimination. The essay gives reasons for protecting religious freedom as well as nondiscrimination, outlining parallels between the constitutional claims of LGBT persons and those of religious objectors to same-sex relationships. Finally, the essay suggests means for giving substantial protection to both rights.

March 21, 2019 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

"Freedom to Serve" Book Chapter

I’ve published a chapter in the excellent new book edited by William Eskridge and Robin Fretwell Wilson, Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and The Prospects for Common Ground (Cambridge University Press 2018). The chapter is titled “Freedom to Serve: Religious Organizational Freedom, LGBT Rights, and the Common Good.” The chapter can now be downloaded at SSRN; here is the abstract:

Recently, religious organizations seeking protection from government restrictions have emphasized that they seek “freedom to serve” others in their anti-poverty, social-service, healthcare, or educational work. The U.S. Catholic bishops have made that phrase central to their campaign for religious liberty in disputes over organizations’ objections to same-sex marriage, the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, and other rules. This argument, defending religious freedom based on its contribution to social good, is worth examining in detail. Although the “common good” argument raises complications, this Chapter asserts that when properly defined, the argument reflects a legitimate, indeed important strain in America's tradition of religious-freedom rights. In a roughly analogous way, the chapter asserts, constitutional rights to same-sex-marriage found support in considerations of the common good as well as individual autonomy. Recognizing this parallel, and others, between marriage rights and religious-freedom rights might encourage us to give weight to both. The chapter then catalogs the contributions of religion and religious organizations, responds to objections that may be raised, and suggests principles for the proper scope of religious freedom in light of other interests.

March 21, 2019 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Cert Petition Filed in Religious Accommodation Case

A cert petition has been filed in Patterson v. Walgreen Co., a potentially important case under the religious-accommodation provision, section 701(j), of Title VII. And St. Thomas Law's Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic, which I supervise, has filed an amicus brief on behalf of Christian and Muslim organizations supporting the petition.

Patterson, a trainer for workers on Walgreen's phone-assistance line, was fired after he was unable to do an emergency training session on Saturday, his Sabbath (he is Seventh-day Adventist). But his unavailability on that occasion caused no harmful consequences: the training session went forward the following Monday and Walgreen's met the schedule it had articulated for the new phone-call policies. Instead, Walgreen's articulated that it must fire Patterson because this one-off situation would start recurring more regularly in the future, since its other trainer (who had swapped shifts with Patterson in the past) was going to move to a different company because Walgreen's was planning to sell that division in a sale to take place several months down the line. As a result, Patterson was fired at that moment based on a projected set of circumstances beginning nine months later.

The cert petition argues for review on the ground, among others, that the circuits are split on whether the employer may use such speculative future harms to meet its burden of justifying a refusal of accommodation: i.e. showing the accommodation would cause "undue hardship [to its] business." More broadly, while the accommodation provision has sometimes provided protection for employees' religiously-based dress and grooming,  it's been ineffective at protecting varying Sabbath observances because the Supreme Court has interpreted the burden of showing "undue hardship" to require only a showing of a "more than de minimis harm." TWA v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977). As the third question presented, the cert petition calls for reconsidering Hardison's interpretation.

Our amicus brief for Christians and Muslims explains how "[a]llowing employers to rely on predicted future events creates at least three problems that undermine the effectiveness of the [accommodation] provision":

First, it allows employers to fire or otherwise adversely affect employees now based on events that might never occur—events that might never necessitate the firing. Second, reliance on future, hypothetical events makes it much more difficult to identify specific accommodations that might be available at the time the conflict arises. Third, reliance on speculative or hypothetical harms relieves the employer of the duty to search for reasonable accommodation—and at the worst, may incentivize employers to dream up scenarios of future hardship.

In addition, we support the petition's argument that the Hardison interpretation of "undue hardship" should be reconsidered, based on several grounds involving the statute's text and purpose:

      The ordinary meaning of “undue hardship” at the time the accommodation provision was enacted (1972) ...  is irreconcilable with a standard of mere “de minimis” cost....

      [T]he premise of the de minimis standard has been undercut by [the] Court’s recent decision in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 2028 (2015) ... [which] makes clear [unlike Hardison] that [the accommodation provision] requires protection against the effects of a religion-neutral employer policy....

      A weak interpretation of [the] accommodation provision is particularly harmful to religious minorities, who are particularly likely to come in conflict with formally neutral employer policies reflecting the majority’s norms.

Aaron Bostrom, class of 2020, did an excellent job drafting significant portions of the amicus brief.

October 21, 2018 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs | Permalink