I want to call a little notice to John Huleatt’s review of Luke Goodrich’s new book, Free to Believe: The Battle Over Religious Liberty in America. It’s a thorough, thoughtful, and positive review, and I’m especially pleased to record that Mr. Huleatt is a St. John’s Law graduate, class of 2002.
We close out the week with a new history of the religious left, Spiritual Socialists: Religion and the American Left, by historian Vaneesa Cook. Cook says it’s wrong to see the American left as hostile to religion. It’s just that the left has had its own religious tradition, which she calls “spiritual socialism.” The tradition is continued today, she says, by figures such as Bernie Sanders, Pope Francis, William Barber, and Cornel West. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
Refuting the common perception that the American left has a religion problem, Vaneesa Cook highlights an important but overlooked intellectual and political tradition that she calls “spiritual socialism.” Spiritual socialists emphasized the social side of socialism and believed the most basic expression of religious values—caring for the sick, tired, hungry, and exploited members of one’s community—created a firm footing for society. Their unorthodox perspective on the spiritual and cultural meaning of socialist principles helped make leftist thought more palatable to Americans, who associated socialism with Soviet atheism and autocracy. In this way, spiritual socialism continually put pressure on liberals, conservatives, and Marxists to address the essential connection between morality and social justice.
Cook tells her story through an eclectic group of activists whose lives and works span the twentieth century. Sherwood Eddy, A. J. Muste, Myles Horton, Dorothy Day, Henry Wallace, Pauli Murray, Staughton Lynd, and Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke and wrote publicly about the connection between religious values and socialism. Equality, cooperation, and peace, they argued, would not develop overnight, and a more humane society would never emerge through top-down legislation. Instead, they believed that the process of their vision of the world had to happen in homes, villages, and cities, from the bottom up.
By insisting that people start treating each other better in everyday life, spiritual socialists transformed radical activism from projects of political policy-making to grass-roots organizing. For Cook, contemporary public figures such as Senator Bernie Sanders, Pope Francis, Reverend William Barber, and Cornel West are part of a long-standing tradition that exemplifies how non-Communist socialism has gained traction in American politics.
One typically thinks of secularism as a Western phenomenon. A new collection of essays from Princeton argues that that perception is wrong: “a worldview based on rationalism and individual autonomy” is not simply a creation of Reformed Protestantism and the Enlightenment. Secularism appears in other religious cultures as well. Moreover, the discontents with secularism today, worldwide, reflect the failure of secularism to respond to people’s spiritual needs. The book is Formations of Belief: Historical Approaches to Religion and the Secular, edited by Princeton historians Philip Nord, Katja Guenther, and Max Weiss. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
For decades, scholars and public intellectuals have been predicting the demise of religion in the face of secularization. Yet religion is undergoing an unprecedented resurgence in modern life—and secularization no longer appears so inevitable. Formations of Belief brings together many of today’s leading historians to shed critical light on secularism’s origins, its present crisis, and whether it is as antithetical to religion as it is so often made out to be.
Formations of Belief offers a more nuanced understanding of the origins of secularist thought, demonstrating how Reformed Christianity and the Enlightenment were not the sole vessels of a worldview based on rationalism and individual autonomy. Taking readers from late antiquity to the contemporary era, the contributors show how secularism itself can be a form of belief and yet how its crisis today has been brought on by its apparent incapacity to satisfy people’s spiritual needs. They explore the rise of the humanistic study of religion in Europe, Jewish messianism, atheism and last rites in the Soviet Union, the cult of the saints in colonial Mexico, religious minorities and Islamic identity in Pakistan, the neuroscience of religion, and more.
Based on the Shelby Cullom Davis Center Seminars at Princeton University, this incisive book features illuminating essays by Peter Brown, Yaacob Dweck, Peter E. Gordon, Anthony Grafton, Brad S. Gregory, Stefania Pastore, Caterina Pizzigoni, Victoria Smolkin, Max Weiss, and Muhammad Qasim Zaman.
Here at the Forum, we’ve been following with interest Justice Neil Gorsuch’s developing religion clause jurisprudence, in cases like Trinity Lutheran, Masterpiece Cakeshop, and American Legion. This week, Penguin Random House releases a new collection of essays and other short pieces by the Justice, A Republic, If You Can Keep It, exploring his views on the Constitution and its principles. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
Justice Neil Gorsuch reflects on his journey to the Supreme Court, the role of the judge under our Constitution, and the vital responsibility of each American to keep our republic strong.
As Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention, he was reportedly asked what kind of government the founders would propose. He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” In this book, Justice Neil Gorsuch shares personal reflections, speeches, and essays that focus on the remarkable gift the framers left us in the Constitution.
Justice Gorsuch draws on his thirty-year career as a lawyer, teacher, judge, and justice to explore essential aspects our Constitution, its separation of powers, and the liberties it is designed to protect. He discusses the role of the judge in our constitutional order, and why he believes that originalism and textualism are the surest guides to interpreting our nation’s founding documents and protecting our freedoms. He explains, too, the importance of affordable access to the courts in realizing the promise of equal justice under law—while highlighting some of the challenges we face on this front today.
Along the way, Justice Gorsuch reveals some of the events that have shaped his life and outlook, from his upbringing in Colorado to his Supreme Court confirmation process. And he emphasizes the pivotal roles of civic education, civil discourse, and mutual respect in maintaining a healthy republic.
A Republic, If You Can Keep It offers compelling insights into Justice Gorsuch’s faith in America and its founding documents, his thoughts on our Constitution’s design and the judge’s place within it, and his beliefs about the responsibility each of us shares to sustain our distinctive republic of, by, and for “We the People.”
I am always struck by how accessible Augustine is to us today–I mean, compared to Aquinas, for example. (Don’t @ me). It’s not just his personal, confessional style, though that is part of it. I think his accessibility more reflects the fact that Augustine lived in a demi-pagan era in the West, like ours, in which Christianity was only one religious option among many, and not necessarily the most-favored option for many in the ruling class. Just as in Augustine’s day, Christianity cannot simply be accepted as the norm and taken for granted. One has to choose it, and choose to remain with it, notwithstanding the many other choices the religious marketplace provides.
A forthcoming book from Brazos, On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, by philosopher James K. A. Smith (Calvin College) looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the Brazos website:
This is not a book about Saint Augustine. In a way, it’s a book Augustine has written about each of us. Popular speaker and award-winning author James K. A. Smith has spent time on the road with Augustine, and he invites us to take this journey too, for this ancient African thinker knows far more about us than we might expect.
Following Smith’s successful You Are What You Love, this book shows how Augustine can be a pilgrim guide to a spirituality that meets the complicated world we live in. Augustine, says Smith, is the patron saint of restless hearts–a guide who has been there, asked our questions, and knows our frustrations and failed pursuits. Augustine spent a lifetime searching for his heart’s true home and he can help us find our way. “What makes Augustine a guide worth considering,” says Smith, “is that he knows where home is, where rest can be found, what peace feels like, even if it is sometimes ephemeral and elusive along the way.” Addressing believers and skeptics alike, this book shows how Augustine’s timeless wisdom speaks to the worries and struggles of contemporary life, covering topics such as ambition, sex, friendship, freedom, parenthood, and death. As Smith vividly and colorfully brings Augustine to life for 21st-century readers, he also offers a fresh articulation of Christianity that speaks to our deepest hungers, fears, and hopes.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- A federal judge in Texas granted a request for a religious accommodation, allowing two brothers who have grown a single braid in their hair since infancy as a religious promise to participate in sports and academic clubs at their high school as their lawsuit against the school district proceeds.
- In response to a lawsuit filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations on behalf of twenty-three Muslim U.S. citizens, a federal judge ruled that the FBI’s watchlist of more than 1 million people identified as “known or suspected terrorists” violates the due process rights of those placed on it.
- Federal prosecutors filed their first charges in a sweeping investigation of child sex abuse by clerics in Pennsylvania, accusing a former Catholic priest of lying to the FBI about whether he knew an accuser and his family.
- The Alaska Department of Corrections settled a lawsuit brought by the Council on American-Islamic Relations on behalf of two Muslim inmates, agreeing to policy changes to accommodate the inmates’ dietary needs during Ramadan and permit them to participate in religious services.
- A terminal cancer patient and his doctor are suing a health system in Colorado run by the Catholic Church, claiming hospital policy that bars doctors from participating in assisted suicide violates state law.
Years ago, when the media was filled with optimistic treatments of the Arab Spring, I remember reading a quote from a Mideast bishop, who remarked that there was no such thing as an Arab Spring, “only Winter.” Certainly the Arab Spring hasn’t worked out terribly well for the region’s Christians. It hasn’t been a great success for others, either. A new book from Yale, however, has a more optimistic assessment of the future of the movement. Readers can judge for themselves. The book is The Levant Express: The Arab Uprisings, Human Rights, and the Future of the Middle East, by University of Denver professor Michelene Ishay (international relations). Here’s the description from the Yale website:
The enormous sense of optimism unleashed by the Arab Spring in 2011 soon gave way to widespread suffering and despair. Of the many popular uprisings against autocratic regimes, Tunisia’s now stands alone as a beacon of hope for sustainable human rights progress. Libya is a failed state; Egypt returned to military dictatorship; the Gulf States suppressed popular protests and tightened control; and Syria and Yemen are ravaged by civil war. Challenging the widely shared pessimism among regional experts, Micheline Ishay charts bold and realistic pathways for human rights in a region beset by political repression, economic distress, sectarian conflict, a refugee crisis, and violence against women. With due attention to how patterns of revolution and counterrevolution play out in different societies and historical contexts, Ishay reveals the progressive potential of subterranean human rights forces and offers strategies for transforming current realities in the Middle East.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- Centura Health Corporation, a Christian-run health system in Colorado, fired a doctor after she joined one of her patients in filing a lawsuit alleging Centura’s faith-based policy against assisted suicide violates state law.
- Ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was accused of sexual abuse of a minor in 2018, stated in an interview last month that he does not believe he committed any acts of which he had been accused.
- An appellate state court in Minnesota found that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine precludes a civil court from determining whether an “arson-damaged church” is a “historical resource” that is protected by the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act.
- China’s government is “more intensively” enforcing a law that restricts the minimum age for religious conversions, prohibiting religious groups from either proselytizing or converting individuals younger than eighteen years old.
The University of Kansas press has long punched above its weight. Lately, it has been publishing books concerning the “political” (that is, non-judicial) Constitution by political scientists, political theorists, and constitutional theorists. Many of these are part of a sort of judicial restraint revanchism, which is itself largely out of vogue among many constitutional theorists. Here’s another book that fits into this general category: Reconsidering Judicial Finality: Why the Supreme Court is Not the Last Word on the Constitution (Kansas Press), by Louis Fisher.
“Federal judges, legal scholars, pundits, and reporters frequently describe the Supreme Court as the final word on the meaning of the Constitution. The historical record presents an entirely different picture. A close and revealing reading of that record, from 1789 to the present day, Reconsidering Judicial Finality reminds us of the “unalterable fact,” as Chief Justice Rehnquist once remarked, “that our judicial system, like the human beings who administer it, is fallible.” And a Court inevitably prone to miscalculation and error, as this book clearly demonstrates, cannot have the incontrovertible last word on constitutional questions.
In this deeply researched, sharply reasoned work of legal myth-busting, constitutional scholar Louis Fisher explains how constitutional disputes are settled by all three branches of government, and by the general public, with the Supreme Court often playing a secondary role. The Court’s decisions have, of course, been challenged and reversed in numerous cases—involving slavery, civil rights, child labor legislation, Japanese internment during World War II, abortion, and religious liberty. What Fisher shows us on a case-by-case basis is how the elected branches, scholars, and American public regularly press policies contrary to Court rulings—and regularly prevail, although the process might sometimes take decades. From the common misreading of Marbury v. Madison, to the mistaken understanding of the Supreme Court as the trusted guardian of individual rights, to the questionable assumptions of the Courts decision in Citizens United, Fisher’s work charts the distance and the difference between the Court as the ultimate arbiter in constitutional matters and the judgment of history.
The verdict of Reconsidering Judicial Finality is clear: to treat the Supreme Court’s nine justices as democracy’s last hope or as dangerous activists undermining democracy is to vest them with undue significance. The Constitution belongs to all three branches of government—and, finally, to the American people.”
An area of law and religion that has gotten a bit of attention relatively recently is the so-called “government speech” doctrine, which concerns the fairly liberal (in the non-political sense) rules about what the government may express about religion. So, for example, Summum v. Pleasant Grove City, in which a municipality rejected a privately donated monument by a religious group for display in a public park alongside several other monuments, including a Ten Commandments monument, was decided in favor of the municipality on the basis that the government has considerable latitude in deciding how to speak.
Here is an interesting new book that focuses on the doctrine of government speech in the law and religion context and elsewhere: The Government’s Speech and the Constitution (Cambridge University Press), by Helen Norton.
“When we discuss constitutional law, we usually focus on the constitutional rules that apply to what the government does. Far less clear are the constitutional rules that apply to what the government says. When does the speech of this unusually powerful speaker violate our constitutional rights and liberties? More specifically, when does the government’s expression threaten liberty or equality? And under what circumstances does the Constitution prohibit our government from lying to us? In The Government’s Speech and the Constitution, Professor Helen Norton investigates the variety and abundance of the government’s speech, from early proclamations and simple pamphlets, to the electronic media of radio and television, and ultimately to today’s digital age. This enables us to understand how the government’s speech has changed the world for better and for worse, and why the government’s speech deserves our attention, and at times our concern.”