Sunday, March 27, 2022
There's a new issue of the Journal of Law & Religion available to read online for free, and it includes an intriguing article by friend of MoJ Mark Movsesian, "Law, Religion, and the COVID-19 Crisis." From the abstract:
As a comparative matter, courts across the globe have approached the problem in essentially the same way, through intuition and balancing. This has been the case regardless of what formal test applies, the proportionality test outside the United States, which expressly calls for judges to weigh the relative costs and benefits of a restriction, or the Employment Division v. Smith test inside the United States, which rejects judicial line-drawing and balancing in favor of predictable results. Judges have reached different conclusions about the legality of restrictions, of course, but doctrinal nuances have made little apparent difference. With respect to the United States specifically, the pandemic has revealed deep divisions about religion and religious freedom, among other things—divisions that have inevitably influenced judicial attitudes toward restrictions on worship. The COVID-19 crisis has revealed a cultural and political rift that makes consensual resolution of conflicts over religious freedom problematic, and perhaps impossible, even during a once-in-a-century pandemic.
Friday, March 18, 2022
Current threats to the rule of law in the United States emerge, at least in part, from a nationalism shaped by a distinctly American vision of Christianity. Defenders of the rule of law must therefore respond in terms that confront the religious dimension of the threat directly. Religiously affiliated law schools should be key contributors to this conversation, modeling a faith-shaped discourse that avoids invoking Christianity as a conversation-stopper, as a signal of self-righteousness, or as a means to stir up hatred of “the other.” How might the public witness of our faith support, rather than impede, the rule of law?
Sunday, February 20, 2022
Tuesday, February 1, 2022
Christian nationalism – i.e., the merging of Christian identity and American identity – concerns me, and I hope it concerns you too. When we treat our preferred political positions as matters of divine revelation that are not subject to rational debate with our fellow Americans, that’s a dangerous place for a democracy to be. However, I am also concerned by folks who portray Christian nationalism as a problem that belongs to white American evangelicals. It’s not that simple. Here’s why.
First, we have to be precise when we talk about “evangelicals.” Do we mean people who identify culturally as evangelicals or people who actually participate in evangelical Christianity? One of the unfortunate consequences of the great tribal sorting that has occurred between red and blue America over the past twenty years is that our political invocations of religion may have only a tenuous connection with actual religious practice. For example, last week Ryan Burge posted survey data showing that, in 2008, 18% of white self-identified evangelicals never attended church. In 2020, that had increased to 28%. And among self-identified evangelicals who never attended church, while 36% were Republicans in 2008, that had increased to 65% by 2020. For Republicans – who make up the majority of Christian nationalists – there are political and cultural reasons to identify as “evangelical” that have nothing to do with one’s religious beliefs or practices.
Second, a person who engages in Christian religious practices is less likely to embrace beliefs that correspond to Christian nationalism. Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry show that, while Christian nationalists are more likely to report negative attitudes toward racial and religious minorities, those attitudes have an inverse relationship with religious practice. For example, the more one adheres to Christian nationalist views, the less willing one is to acknowledge the existence of police discrimination against Black Americans. However, “as people more frequently attend church, pray, or read their sacred scriptures, they become more likely to recognize racial discrimination in policing.” The same pattern holds regarding attitudes toward immigration, the environment, refugees, and Muslims. In light of the data, Perry and Whitehead conclude that “the association between Christian nationalism and . . . attitudes toward racial and religious minorities tends to work in the opposite direction than the association between private religious practice and these same things.”
Is American evangelicalism blameless for the rise of Christian nationalism? Hardly. But we need to be precise in talking about the challenges our nation faces. Christian nationalism is a threat that is associated with white American evangelicals but is, in reality, mitigated by the actual practice of evangelical faith.
Thursday, January 6, 2022
Monday, November 1, 2021
Growing up, I thought my career choice – a singular choice, made only once – was a direct and public reflection of my relationship with God. If my faith in God was strong enough, it meant I should probably be a missionary or a pastor. One problem: I knew enough missionaries and pastors to know that I didn’t want to be either one. I contemplated attending graduate school for theology rather than going to law school, as if that might be closer to a true “Christian” vocation. When I moved from legal practice into the academy, I started writing about the intersection of law and religion. Not quite ministry, but close enough to count in God’s eyes?
Obviously, it’s taken a while for me to understand that vocation is more about becoming the person God has called me to be, less about my career choice. Or as Thomas Merton put it, “discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess.”
Which brings me to David Link, who died on Thursday. He was a tax attorney who left private practice to teach, eventually serving as Notre Dame Law School’s dean for nearly 25 years. He left Notre Dame to become the founding dean of St. Thomas Law, helping launch the school. Soon after Dave left St. Thomas, his wife Barbara passed away, and he went to seminary, becoming a Catholic priest at age 71. Fr. Link devoted the rest of his days to prison ministry, working primarily at a maximum-security prison in which most of the inmates were convicted of murder.
I wonder, if we could ask David Link to describe his vocation while he was sitting in his office at Winston & Strawn parsing new tax regulations, then pose the same question to Dean Link as he welcomed the inaugural JD class to St. Thomas, and to Fr. Link as he counseled an inmate serving a life sentence, would his answers have changed? Did his vocation shift at each new step of his career, or did his vocation actually remain constant? His perception of the ways his gifts could best help meet the world’s needs evolved over fifty years, no doubt. But his defining vocation was not tax attorney, law school dean, or even Catholic priest. His defining vocation, I suspect, was his heeding of the prophet Micah’s call “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
As we observe All Saints' Day, I encourage us to reflect on vocation, both in our own lives and in the lives of our students. What difference might it make if we view vocation less as a one-time career choice and more as a commitment to being the person God has created us to be?
Rest in peace, David Link – may your memory be a blessing.
Sunday, October 10, 2021
We are stewards of the rule of law, and that means we also have to be honest and unflinching students of our history. Under the gaze of previous generations, what does it mean – what should it mean – to be called to help form the next generation of lawyers and leaders? Are we being faithful to the witness of those who came before us?
Tuesday, October 5, 2021
A new issue of the Journal of Law & Religion has been published, and it's available for free (here) until November 15. The issue features an article from Nate Oman and book review contributions from Frank Ravitch, Cathy Kaveny, Robin Fretwell Wilson, Perry Dane, and many others. Definitely worth checking out.
Sunday, October 3, 2021
- 41% of Biden voters and 52% of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that red states / blue states should secede from the union to form their own separate country.
- 46% of Biden voters and 44% of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that it would be better for America if whoever is President could take needed actions without being constrained by Congress or the courts.
- 62% of Biden voters and 82% of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that “our country needs a powerful leader in order to destroy the radical and immoral currents prevailing in society today.”
- 56% of Biden voters at least somewhat agree that there’s no real difference between Republicans and Fascists, and 76% of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that there’s no real difference between Democrats and Socialists.
- 75% of Biden voters and 78% of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that Americans who strongly support the opposing party have become “a clear and present danger to the American way of life.”
- 80% of Biden voters and 84% of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that elected officials from the opposing party are a “clear and present danger to American democracy.”
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
St. Thomas Law opened its doors twenty years ago last month, and one way we are celebrating is by redoubling our commitment to live out our distinctive Catholic mission in ways that meet the needs of our society. Last week, we launched the Initiative on Restorative Justice & Healing, a coordinated effort to leverage our expertise and resources to help restore relationships fractured by injustice, with a particular focus on racial injustice, sexual abuse by clergy and institutional failures within the Catholic church, and societal polarization. Directed by my faculty colleague Fr. Dan Griffith, this project is a great example of our mission in action, demonstrating the importance of integrating legal acumen with empathy, concern for the whole person, and the transformative power of human connection. Fr. Griffith and Professor Hank Shea, a former federal prosecutor, have been co-teaching a course on restorative justice for several years, and we will look to expand those efforts to include a hands-on restorative justice practicum course, community partnerships, externships, lectures, conferences, training sessions, and broader visibility into ways that restorative justice practices can help bring healing to our communities.
With an understanding of justice as right relationships, we believe that this work can be a core component of Catholic legal education.
This video (created by Hunter Johnson) is a helpful introduction to the role that restorative justice has played in the resolution of clergy sexual abuse cases in our Archdiocese, and this video of last week's launch event provides a preview of the Initiative's potential impact. Restorative justice pioneer and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske will chair the Initiative's advisory board.