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.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

What is Caesar's and What is God's?

The 2015 Harvard Petrie Flom Center's Annual Conference on Law, Religion, and Health and America kicked off this evening with a pre-conference program titled After Hobby Lobby; What is Caesar's, What is God's?.  The panelists for the program were E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, Diane Moore, of the Harvard Divinity School, Professor Charles Fried from Harvard Law School and Frank Wolf, a retired member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

E.J. Dionne kicked things off with what he described as several provocations.  The first was his concern with what he termed the inflated scare language in the religious liberty debate, that is language the conflates challenges to religious liberty with religious persecution suffered by people in the world who are being killed for their faith.  In his words, having to bake a cake or provide flowers does not have the same urgency as being beheaded for one's faith.  His fear is that our religious liberty arguments are becoming so shrill that we forget that there are forms of persecution in the world that are more severe.  (This is a concern that resonates with me; see my Gianella lecture at Villanova last year, which you can read here.)

His second provocation was that we need to think  more about the distinction between religious accommodation and religious rights.  His concern is that there may be occasions when introducing rights language early on in the debate misses what are trying to do in a pluralist society, i.e, find ways to accommodate conflicting interests.  There may be reason to accommodate the interests of religious groups because of their social contributions or other reasons even if one does not believe they have a constitutional right to such protection.  His worry is that we may too quickly constitutionalize these questions rather than engage in what should be a  political conversation.

He went on in his remarks to talks more specifically about Hobby Lobby, which was also the focus of several of the other speakers.  I found Charles Fried's discussion of the evolution of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence on what we understand the religion clause to protect to be particularly interesting (and if I wasn't so tired I might more about that).  

The next two days promise to be an interesting array of papers and I will post more tomorrow.


May 7, 2015 in Stabile, Susan | Permalink

Monday, May 4, 2015

Law, Religion and Health in America

At the end of this week I will be speaking at the 2015 Annual Conference on Law, Religion and Health in America of the Harvard Law School Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics.  You can find the conference description and schedule here.   If you are in the area, please join us.  The conference runs all day Friday and Saturday, with a pre-conference program on the Supreme Court's decision in Hobby Lobby on Thursday in the late afternoon.  While I won't promise to be as faithful as Rick Garnett was in blogging our recent Scarpa Conference proceedings at Villanova, I will post as I can.



May 4, 2015 in Stabile, Susan | Permalink

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Evangelii Gaudium and Catholic Legal Theory

Thanks to Rick for his faithful posts of the presentations at Friday's Scarpa conference.  It was a wonderful gathering at so many different levels and I am grateful to Patrick Brennan and our other friends at Villanova for hosting us.

As Rick described in one of his posts, my contribution to the day was a talk on Evangelii Gaudium and Catholic Legal Theory.  As I said during my presentation, Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation offers a series of thoughts that I think help inform our effort to develop a Catholic Legal Theory and provides us with some  significant themes that can help us reflect on what should be our foci and how we engage in this task. 

I posted my remarks on my webpage, and you can read them here.  I always think I will have more time than I do when I present at conferences, so not everything that appears in the text made it into my talk. But hopefully those interested in our project who were not able to be with us might find something of benefit in it.

April 26, 2015 in Stabile, Susan | Permalink

Saturday, September 20, 2014

RALS: Religious Identity in a Time of Challenge for Law Schools

[cross-posted from Creo en Dios!

Yesterday I participated in the biennial conference of Religiously Affiliated Law Schools (RALS, for short), conveniently located this year at University of St. Thomas law school. The theme of the conference was Religious Identity in a Time of Challenge for Law Schools.

We covered many topics over the course of the day, including employment and student well-being, scholarship, and the relationship between justice and mercy.

Part of the joy of this conference is the fellowship among those of us who see our faith as an integral part of our lives of law professors, both in and and outside of the formal sessions of the conference. That leads to our deep concern with helping our students discern with God who they will be in the world after they graduate law school and our commitment to model for our students how our faith impacts our professional identity.

One of the statements made early in the day that troubled me is that evidence shows that people enter law school more other-oriented than they leave law school. IF that is the case, law school is doing something drastically wrong and we should be deeply troubled. (In fact, I said during my talk yesterday afternoon that if that is the case for religiously-affiliated law schools, then we should close our doors and stop what we are doing.)

I hope it is not the case that our law students leave more self-centered and with less concern for others than they arrive at law school. But evidence like that cited yesterday should cause all of us who train professionals to reflect on whether we are doing enough to help people grow in their other-orientation and how we might more effectively do so.

September 20, 2014 in Stabile, Susan | Permalink

Monday, August 18, 2014

Call For Proposals: Wisdom, Law and Lawyers

Here is the Call for Proposals for the annual Nootbaar Institute conference, confirmed speakers for which include several MOJ contributors.


Wisdom, Law, and Lawyers


FEBRUARY 27-28, 2015

 At a time when law is seen by many as purely a matter of power politics and the lawyer’s role as purely a matter of pursuing client economic interests, we want to consider how wisdom should influence deliberations in legislative chambers, courts, and lawyers’ offices.  Both theoretical wisdom and practical wisdom have much to say about law.  We hope to learn from many traditions, both religious and secular.  Please join us for the conversation. The following speakers are already confirmed:

William S. Brewbaker III, William Alfred Rose Professor of Law, University of Alabama School of Law

Jonathan Burnside, Professor of Biblical Law, University of Bristol, England

Alberto R. Coll, Professor of Law, Director, European and Latin American Legal Studies Program, Director, International Law LL.M. Program, DePaul University College of Law

Daisy Hurst Floyd, Dean and University Professor of Law and Ethical Formation, Mercer University School of Law

Samuel J. Levine, Professor of Law & Director, Jewish Law Institute, Touro Law Center

Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College 

Benjamin V. Madison III, Professor and Co-Director of Center for Ethical Formation and Legal Education Reform, Regent University School of Law

Rick Marrs, Provost, Pepperdine University

Russell G. Pearce, Edward & Marilyn Bellet Professor of Legal Ethics, Morality and Religion Fordham University School of Law

Ellen Pryor, Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, UNT Dallas College of Law

Michael Scaperlanda, Gene and Elaine Edwards Family Chair in Law and Professor of Law, University of Oklahoma College of Law

Brett Scharffs, Francis R. Kirkham Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Research and Academic Affairs, J Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University

Steven D. Smith, Warren Distinguished Professor of Law and Co-Executive Director, Institutes for Law & Religion and Law & Philosophy, University of San Diego

Susan Stabile, Professor of Law and Faculty Fellow for Spiritual Life, University of St. Thomas School of Law

Deanell Reece Tacha, Duane and Kelly Roberts Dean, Pepperdine University School of Law

David VanDrunen, Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics, Westminster Seminary, California

Cheryl Wattley, Professor of Law, UNT Dallas College of Law

R. George Wright, Lawrence A. Jegen III Professor of Law, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

 The conference will be organized around three general themes: 

1. The Nature of Wisdom – What do our traditions teach about the nature of wisdom?  Speakers are likely to address the conference topics from Greek, Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, and Confucian perspectives. 

2. Wisdom and Law - The Hebrew and Christian Bibles’ Wisdom Literature identify wisdom as both a source of law (by wisdom "lawgivers establish justice," Proverbs 8:15) and an end of law (God's ordinances "make wise the foolish, Psalms 19).  What is (and what should be) the relationship between wisdom and law? How might wisdom influence some of the issues that confront nations today? 

3. Wisdom and Lawyers – In recent decades, legal profession scholars have identified practical wisdom as the key lawyer virtue.  Have developments in the profession and the legal market made it more difficult for lawyers to exercise that virtue.  In today’s legal world, can lawyers or clients be, in Jesus’s phrase, both "wise as serpents and innocent as doves"?  How should wisdom influence a lawyer’s work?  Is it even possible for wisdom to influence a lawyer’s work in the current state of the legal profession? 

Feel free to propose any topic that would fit within this broad range of themes. 

If you would like to present a paper or organize a panel, please submit your proposal by Friday, September 19, 2014 via email to [email protected]. Proposals should be two pages maximum and should include a short abstract and a bio.

 If you have questions about the substance of the conference, contact Bob Cochran at [email protected]. For questions about the details of the conference, contact the Nootbaar Institute office by email, [email protected] or by phone, (310) 506-6978. 

For more information on the conference as we have it and to view details of past conferences, see:


 The conference will be co-sponsored by Pepperdine’s Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics and the Glazer Institute for Jewish Studies. 


August 18, 2014 in Stabile, Susan | Permalink

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Addressing the Concerns of Adjunct Faculty

Faced with demands by adjunct faculty to unionize, a number of Catholic colleges and universities have argued that they are not subject to NLRB jurisdiction, claiming an exemption as a "religious employer."  In a piece I wrote for Pepperdine's symposium on The Competing Claims of Law and Religions a couple of years ago, I suggested that, in the case of adjunct faculty, NLRB oversight was not likely to create the kind of entanglement that exemption was concerned with.  I also expressed concern about Catholic institutions of higher education attempting to use the exemption as a shield allowing them to tread adjuncts in ways inconsistent with Catholic social teachings.

Faced with efforts by adjunct faculty to unionize, the University of St. Thomas took a different approach.  University President Julie Sullivan, expressed sympathy for the position of adjuncts, but explained why she thought unionization was not the best way to promote the interests of adjuncts and the university.  Her arguments were apparently persuasive: The NLRB just certified the results of the election that was recently held: 136 opposed and 84 in favor of unionization.

In the immediate aftermath of the the certification, President Sullivan sent an e-mail to all adjunct faculty outlining her plans to address the top-level adjunct faculty priorities identified over the past year.  These include creation of a new Adjunct Faculty Task Force who will work toward better integrating adjunct faculty into the univesity and providing them with a variety of participation options, providing adjunct representation on the faculty Senate, develop proposals for increasing adjunct faculty salaries and working to provide ways for adjunct faculty to participate in the university's benefit programs.

Whether all of this comes to fruition remains to be seen, but it is an enormous step in the right direction.

July 30, 2014 in Stabile, Susan | Permalink

Thursday, July 3, 2014

State Law Contraception Coverage Mandates

One thing I have not seen very much discussion of in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision in Hobby Lobby is the question of the continuing impace of state laws mandating contraception coverage. (This is a subject Michael Moreland and I and other have discussed here in the past.)

 More than half of the states have so-called "contraceptive equity" statutes.  Such statute are different from the ACA in that (1)  there is no direct mandate imposed on employers (because of ERISA, they take the fom of insurance regulation requiring that insurance cover contraception) and (2) they do not prohibit cost-sharing. While it is less dirct than the ACA mandate, such laws still have the effect of forcing employers with opposition to contraception to have plans that provide for them.  

The ACA mandate made those laws seem unimportant, but given the decision in Hobby Lobby, they may matter again.

Since the federal RFRA does not apply to states, in states that do not have their own version of RFRA, presumably such laws will continue to operate.  Although many such statutes have exemptions for religious employers, some of those are fairly restrictive.

Thoughts from Michael Moreland and others?

July 3, 2014 in Stabile, Susan | Permalink

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

To Confess Our National Sins

[Cross-posted from my blog, Creo en Dios!]

Yesterday, Professor Robby George of Princeton quoted on his Facebook page a portion of Abraham Lincoln's March 30, 1863 Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day:

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Quoting that language, Professor George asked, "151 years later, is it not the case that the very same words could be said, the very same diagnosis offered, the very same remedy prescribed?"

I think there is enormous truth in Lincoln's words and agree with Robby that the very same words could be said today. We live in a world in which there is an absence of what the Beatitudes term "poverty of spirit" - our recognition of our absolute an utter dependence on God. And we live in a world in which runs rampant not only individual sin, but what in Ignatian terms we call "social sin" - institutional or structural sins. And it does behoove us to humble ourselves in the face of our sinfulness.

The difficulty with Lincoln and Robby's prescription that we confess our national sins is that we have no widespread agreement as to what those national sins are. (Not that there was any greater agreement on that subject in 1983.) I wonder if Robby and I (or any other two or more people for that matters) were asked to list the top five national sins of the day, how similar or different would our list be? (And I shudder to think how many would not have ever given thought to the question.)

In part this reflects the fact that our definition of social sin in this country is heavily tied to our political leanings, with the result that we don't have widespread agreement as to what are our national sins. Sadly, however, it also reflects the fact that our list of national sins is quite large.

16.2 million children in America don't get enough to eat.

Almost two-thirds of all US drone strikes in Pakistan target homes.

More than half a million people in the US are homeless on any given night.

US surveillance practices violate fundamental civil and political rights.

About 10.5 million Americans are working poor, that is people who spent 27 or more weeks of the year in the workforce but whose income still fell below the poverty line.

Our rhetoric on abortion has gotten so vitriolic that it can hardly be termed debate, with the result that seeking common ground seems an impossible task. And the same can be said about the tone of debate about contraception, medical care, climate change, and a host of other issues.

And those are just the things that come to mind off the top of my head.

That doesn't mean I disagree with indictment or the prescription. I think we take structural sin far less seriously than we ought to. But our inability to agree on what those are (and, increasingly, to demonize those with whom we disagree) is itself part of the problem. And it is a part that is worth thinking about.

May 28, 2014 in Stabile, Susan | Permalink

Thursday, March 6, 2014

In Search of Common Ground on Abortion

Ashgate Press has just published In Search of Common Ground on Abortion, edited by Robin West, Justin Murray and Meredith Esser.  The collection of essays, which includes chapters by Lisa Schiltz and by me, stems from a symposium that was held at Georgetown University Law Center in the fall of 2009.  The goal of the symposium was to "bring together pro-choice and pro-life scholars in an effort to explore the common philosophical, moral, or political ground that might be shared by thsee groups who so rarely come together."  The book does a good job of reflecting the  breadth of the symposium.

March 6, 2014 in Stabile, Susan | Permalink

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What's In Between the Roses

I had an absolutely wonderful day yesterday at the Seattle University Search for Meaning Book Festival. The two keynotes - one by journalist Katherine Boo, author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, and the second by Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns, were tremendously powerful; my own talk on Growing in Love and Wisdom played to a full room, went very well and, as usual, provoked some great questions; the other sessions I attended were great; and I got to spend time (and have a great Thai dinner) with my friend and former colleague Chato, who drove up from Vancouver, Washington to spend the day with me here at the festival. I also got to see my friend Joshua, who lives here in Seattle, as well as to meet a number of other authors with whom I share interests.

There is much I could write about the day, but there is one line that haunted and that continues to haunt me, and it came early in the day, during the morning keynote by Katherine Boo. Boo's book tells the stories of people living in Annawadi, a poor, makeshift settlement in the shadows of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. At one point, the brother of a Muslim teenager who is falsely accused of a crime describes himself and the other residents of the settlement in this way: "Everything around is roses and we are the shit in between."

"We are the shit in between." He wasn't being sarcastic. He wasn't trying to shock. He was simply expressing the truth as he saw it. This is how he viewed himself. This is how a beloved child of God thinks of himself!

The entirety of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church begins with the recognition of the inviolable dignity of the human person, a dignity that stems from our creation in the image of God. That all humans are created in the image and likeness of God makes them equally sacred and precious and invests them with a dignity which they cannot lose. In his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis wrote that “no one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by [God’s] boundless and unfailing love.”

No one can strip another of the dignity bestowed upon him or her, but what does it mean for some people to believe they have no dignity?

What does it do to someone's ability to flourish to believe that they are the shit between the roses?

And what does it say about how seriously we take our obligation to our brothers and sisters that we allow to exist the conditions that cause a young man view himself as so lacking in human dignity?

Note: The above is cross-posted from my blog, Creo en Dios! In response to my post, my friend John Donaghy, who works among the poor in Honduras, wrote this comment - a sad reminder that the feeling of the young man I quoted is not an isolated on:

Thanks for a post that touches the reality of the poor. In places like Mumbai and Honduras, the poor do see themselves as "the shit between the roses." This has been engrained in them by the society around them. In many ways I see that the role of the missionary and the church in general is to help the people see that they are not the shit in between the roses but that they are the rich fertile soil that makes possible roses and much more. Upholding the dignity of people is part of our mission, our way of accompanying the poor.

February 16, 2014 in Stabile, Susan | Permalink