Tebbe on the Constitutionality of Witchcraft in South Africa

Nelson Tebbe (Brooklyn Law School) posted Witchcraft and the Constitution. The abstract follows. –JKH

Witchcraft beliefs and related practices are complex social phenomena that present difficult challenges for South African lawmakers who are bound by their constitution and committed to upholding its values. In this chapter of an edited volume from the University of Cape Town Press, I focus on certain constitutional questions raised by existing policies and current proposals. In some respects, the constitutional issues are easier than might be supposed. For example, Parliament may punish violence against suspected witches, even with laws that specifically address religiously motivated murder and assault. Also, citizens may believe that occult forces exist, and that those forces are being manipulated by jealous or malevolent neighbors. More constitutionally problematic are calls for educational campaigns that would “demystify” witchcraft beliefs, or proposals for laws that would prohibit certain rituals related to witch naming. Regardless of the resolutions, these sorts of constitutional issues deserve a place in the public debate.

9/11 Writers Roundtable (Sept. 21, 2011)

Professor Lawrence Joseph will read excerpts from his poems as part of the 9/11 Writers Roundtable, to be held at the St. John’s Manhattan campus on Wednesday, September 21, from 4-6 p.m.  This event will bring together internationally prominent writers to offer perspectives on 9/11.  Following the readings, there will be an in-depth Q&A session addressing the process of transforming a traumatic collective experience into a lasting work of art.

Einhorn on Family Unions in Israel

Talia Einhorn (Tel Aviv University) has posted Family Unions in Israel – The Tensions between Religious Law and Secular Law and the Quest for Coherent Law. The abstract follows. –JKH

In two decisions of the Israel Supreme Court concerning family relations, the meaning of traditional concepts has come to play a vital role in the debate. The first concerned a lesbian couple who were Israeli citizens. While residing for two years as students in Los Angeles, California, one of them gave birth following artificial insemination. The other spouse adopted the child. Both were entered in the LA civil register as the child’s parents. Upon their return to Israel, they each applied to be registered as ‘mother’ of the child (the Israeli civil register admits the registration of ‘father’ and ‘mother’ but has no neutral category of ‘parent,’ as in LA). The State authorities declined, arguing that they can enter the name of only one woman as being a child’s ‘mother’ in the civil register. Read more

District Judge Blocks City’s Land Transfer to Catholic High School

The Associated Press reported last week that U.S. District Judge Robert Miller held that the city of South Bend could not transfer real property to a Catholic high school.  The city was supposed to transfer the property to the new St. Joseph’s High School, scheduled to open in the fall of 2012, to be used as a football stadium. In exchange for the transfer, the high school was to make the stadium available for use by city schools and organizations for 10 years. Opposition to the transfer came from four city taxpayers who argued the transfer violated the Establishment Clause. Specifically, the taxpayers argued that the transfer of the $1.2 million property constituted direct and substantial aid to a religious institution. The judge agreed and concluded that a reasonable observer would think “the city is endorsing St. Joseph’s High School, the local Catholic community, or the Diocese that operates the school.” The South Bend Tribune reported that no decision has been made regarding what the city’s next step will be and whether there will be an appeal of the court’s decision. For now, construction on the high school will continue as scheduled. –YAH

Perry’s “The Pretenses of Loyalty”

John Locke is perhaps the most influential thinker on the American founding generation, one whose ideas permeated the construction of the Constitution.  He is also widely regarded as a vitally important figure in liberal political theory.  In this excellent looking book, The Pretenses of Loyalty: Locke, Liberal Theory, and American Political Theology (OUP 2011), John Perry (Oxford) confronts the intractability of “theo-political conflict” today by considering the complicated intellectual path followed by Locke.  The publisher’s description follows.  — MOD

In the face of ongoing religious conflicts and unending culture wars, what are we to make of liberalism’s promise that it alone can arbitrate between church and state? In this wide-ranging study, John Perry examines the roots of our thinking on religion and politics, placing the early-modern founders of liberalism in conversation with today’s theologians and political philosophers.

From the story of Antigone to debates about homosexuality and bans on religious attire, it is clear that liberalism’s promise to solve all theo-political conflict is a false hope. The philosophy connecting John Locke to John Rawls seeks a world free of tragic dilemmas, where there can be no Antigones. Perry rejects this as an illusion. Disputes like the culture wars cannot be adequately comprehended as border encroachments presided over by an impartial judge. Instead, theo-political conflict must be considered a contest of loyalties within each citizen and believer. Drawing on critics of Rawls ranging from Michael Sandel to Stanley Hauerwas, Perry identifies what he calls a ‘turn to loyalty’ by those who recognize the inadequacy of our usual thinking on the public place of religion. The Pretenses of Loyalty offers groundbreaking analysis of the overlooked early work of Locke, where liberalism’s founder himself opposed toleration.

Perry discovers that Locke made a turn to loyalty analogous to that of today’s communitarian critics. Liberal toleration is thus more sophisticated, more theologically subtle, and ultimately more problematic than has been supposed. It demands not only governmental neutrality (as Rawls believed) but also a reworked political theology. Yet this must remain under suspicion for Christians because it places religion in the service of the state. Perry concludes by suggesting where we might turn next, looking beyond our usual boundaries to possibilities obscured by the liberalism we have inherited.