Ledewitz’s “Church, State, and the Crisis in American Secularism”

Continuing our secular/post-secular book theme, I want to note Church, State, and the Crisis in American Secularism (Indiana University Press) by Bruce Ledewitz (Duquesne Law).  Bruce brings a unique perspective to these important issues.  The publisher’s description follows.  — MOD

Since 1947, the Supreme Court has promised government neutrality toward religion, but in a nation whose motto is “In God We Trust” and which pledges allegiance to “One Nation under God,” the public square is anything but neutral—a paradox not lost on a rapidly secularizing America and a point of contention among those who identify all expressions of religion by government as threats to a free society. Yeshiva student turned secularist, Bruce Ledewitz seeks common ground for believers and nonbelievers regarding the law of church and state. He argues that allowing government to promote higher law values through the use of religious imagery would resolve the current impasse in the interpretation of the Establishment Clause. It would offer secularism an escape from its current tendency toward relativism in its dismissal of all that religion represents and encourage a deepening of the expression of meaning in the public square without compromising secular conceptions of government.

NYC Bill on Religious Accommodations

The New York City Council passed a bill last week making it harder for employers, including the NYPD, to claim that accommodations for religious practice cause undue hardship. Section 8-107 of the New York City Administrative Code requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for the religious needs of their employees. The Code, however, adds that such accommodations shall not impose an “undue hardship” on the employer’s business.

The Sikh community has been among the prime advocates for this bill. In 2004, two Sikhs lost their positions with the New York City Police Department for wearing turbans on the job. Both men were reinstated, but pressures to amend the Administrative Code did not stop. Currently, the NYPD’s strict uniform requirements allow for Sikhs to wear patkas, smaller turbans usually worn by Sikh children. Read more

Religion As Class Consciousness

It’s not the class you think.  Although academics often assume that religion appeals primarily to less-educated, working-class types – “religion-clingers,” as it were – two new studies suggest that the reality is more complicated.  If anything, education correlates positively with religious participation.  Earlier this month, sociologist Philip Schwadel (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) published a study of American religious practice showing, among other things, that education has “a strong and positive effect on religious participation” in the United States.  With each additional year of education, Schwadel found, “the odds of attending religious services increased 15 percent.”  Education also correlates positively with more frequent Bible reading and, interestingly, more questioning of religion’s role in secular society.  Similarly, a study released by the American Sociological Association on Sunday reveals that less-educated American whites, defined as people without a high-school degree, have been dropping out of religious services at a much higher rate than their more educated counterparts. According to this study, 46% of college-educated whites attend religious services at least monthly, compared to 37% of those who have graduated high school and 23% of the least educated.  Religious participation is also associated with higher incomes and stable employment.

Of course, it’s not clear why religion should be more a part of upper- and middle-class than lower-class identity.  Bradford Wilcox (University of Virginia), one of the ASA study’s authors, suggests that religious institutions, which typically stress marriage and family, may be losing their appeal for less-educated Americans, who are less likely to marry and stay married than Americans with a college education.  Perhaps less frequent religious attendance reflects a deeper alienation of lower-class Americans from social institutions that have failed them.  In any event, these two studies are further indications that, as in other parts of the globe, religion in America today is a marker for education and upward social mobility. — MLM

Conference: The Future of the Establishment Clause in Context

As my colleague Marc notes, the proper definition of neutrality is very much an issue in Establishment Clause jurisprudence today, particularly with regard to state-sponsored religious symbols and expressions.   Neutrality will be one of the topics addressed at an interesting conference organized by Bruce Ledewitz (Duquesne), scheduled for November 3.  Participants include Christopher Lund, Zachary Calo, Samuel Levine, Richard Albert, and Mark Rahdert.  The conference announcement follows.  — MLM

The Future of the Establishment Clause in Context: Neutrality, Religion, or Avoidance?

The Establishment Clause of the Constitution prohibits Congress from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion”.  There is no agreement today on the Supreme Court, or in American law generally, as to what that command means.  This disarray has led to intractable controversies over such issues as “one Nation under God” and “In God We Trust”.  Government neutrality toward religion is now challenged by some members of a newly assertive, national religious majority.  Conversely, a growing number of nonbelievers, especially among the young, reject even generic references to God.  Disappointingly, the Supreme Court has responded to these developments by limiting standing to bring Establishment Clause challenges, rather than by a coherent reinterpretation of the text.

In conjunction with a symposium issue of The Chicago-Kent Law Review, six scholars will explore the future of the Establishment Clause in terms of this contested context at Duquesne University School of Law on November 3, 2011.  They will inquire into the possibilities set forth by the three paths open to us into the future of religion in the public square: a new government neutrality, a new relationship of government and religion and a new understanding of how the Establishment Clause is to be enforced.

After Secular Law (Sullivan et al. eds.)

Here’s a new book (available…today!), After Secular Law (Stanford UP), edited by Winnifred Fallers Sullivan (SUNY Buffalo), Robert A. Yelle (U. Memphis), and Mateo Taussig-Rubbo (SUNY Buffalo), with an interesting list of contributions (click on the table of contents).  The publisher’s description is below.  — MOD

Many today place great hope in law as a vehicle for the transformation of society and accept that law is autonomous, universal, and above all, secular. Yet recent scholarship has called into question the simplistic narrative of a separation between law and religion and blurred the boundaries between these two categories, enabling new accounts of their relation that do not necessarily either collapse them together or return law to a religious foundation.

This work gives special attention to the secularism of law, exploring how law became secular, the phenomenology of the legal secular, and the challenges that lingering religious formations and other aspects of globalization pose for modern law’s self-understanding. Bringing together scholars with a variety of perspectives and orientations, it provides a deeper understanding of the interconnections between law and religion and the unexpected histories and anthropologies of legal secularism in a globalizing modernity.