Ledewitz on The Morality of Capital Punishment

Bruce Ledewitz (Duquesne University – School of Law) has posted The Morality of Capital Punishment: An Exchange. The abstract follows. – ARH

During the month of December, I participated in a debate about the death penalty with Dr. Ernest van den Haag. The debate was sponsored by the newly-formed Duquesne Law School chapter of the Federalist Society. During this debate, I expressed the view that secular society lacks “permission” to impose the death penalty. Dr. van den Haag responded at the time that “we give ourselves permission.” Later, Dr. van den Haag agreed to a brief, further exploration of this theme in the pages of the Duquesne Law Review. What began for me as an exploration of God’s permission for the death penalty in a secular state, has evolved into a consideration of the religious assumptions underlying the death penalty in a secular state. In order to identify these assumptions, it is first necessary to examine the secular justifications for the death penalty given by Dr. van den Haag.

Another Problematic European Law

In addition to the Paris street prayer ban, Religion Clause blog discusses a situation in Lancashire, in which the police told the owner of a private business, the Salt and Light Coffee House, that the display of various Bible verses on a TV screen at the back of his cafe violates an ordinance which prohibits, among other things, “distress[ing]” or “alarm[ing]” displays.  — MOD

Paris Bans Prayer in Streets

Here’s an under-reported story: starting this month, Paris has banned praying in the streets. The ban apparently results from concerns about crowds routinely overflowing mosques and blocking traffic during Friday prayers. Surprisingly, from an American perspective, the  government is not justifying the ban as a neutral time, place, and manner restriction applicable to all public gatherings.  Rather, according to news reports, the government is justifying the ban as a necessary restriction on religious expression as such. Public prayer “hurts the sensitivities of many of our fellow citizens,” Interior Minister Claude Guéant is quoted as saying. “Praying in the street is not dignified for religious practice and violates the principles of secularism.” The Minister vows that force will be used on Muslims — and adherents of other faiths — who violate the new rule.

I wonder whether the Minister is being quoted out of context. Although it’s certainly reasonable to keep the streets clear, it doesn’t seem reasonable to single out religious gatherings in particular. And, notwithstanding the Minister’s comments, I’m not sure that French secularism, or laïcité, requires such a ban. Laïcité is a complex concept, but both the Conseil d’État and the Conseil Constitutionnel have indicated that, as a legal matter, laïcité does not generally require bans on public religious expression. (For helpful discussions of laïcité as a legal concept, see CLR’s recent symposium, Laïcité in Comparative Perspective, in the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies). Wouldn’t it have made more sense to ban all crowds that block public streets without a permit? One irony: notwithstanding the concern for secularism, the government is allowing one large Muslim congregation that was blocking the streets to use a public fire station for prayers until the congregation can build a bigger mosque. — MLM

Wiebe on Oaths in a Religious and Legal Context

Virgil Wiebe (University of St. Thomas School of Law) has posted Oath Martyrs. The abstract follows. – ARH

Taking oaths, or refusing to take them, or being prevented from taking them, or breaking them, have been critical matters, even life and death matters, for centuries. Why do lawyers and others in official proceedings swear oaths? What do oaths mean? Why are there provisions for affirmations rather than swearing? How can long forgotten stories of oath martyrs inform law students and lawyers today?

Part I of this article presents a short slide backwards into the long history of oaths, with emphasis placed on the role of religious belief in oaths. Infidels, the infamous, the indiscreet, the insane, interested parties: all were barred at various points from testifying under oath. As I teach and practice in Minnesota, some extra attention is paid to the evolution of oaths in Minnesota, placed in larger Anglo-American legal context. Read more

October 4: Hosanna-Tabor Discussion at St. John’s

On October 4 (next Tuesday), CLR and the Catholic Law Student Society at St. John’s University School of Law will co-host an event devoted to Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC.  The Supreme Court hears oral argument in this case on October 5, so it could not be more timely.  I will be talking about the case — one of the most important religious liberty cases to come before the Court in at least two decades — and the doctrine of the ministerial exemption generally.  There will then be a period of questions, discussants to include my colleagues David Gregory and Mark Movsesian as well as Mr. Peter J. Johnson, Jr., president of Leahy & Johnson, P.C.  I hope to record my thoughts about the discussion here.

The event will occur in the 4th floor Atrium at 5:30 pm.  All are welcome.  If you are in the area, please stop by to say hello.  — MOD

UPDATE: Just after I posted this, I noticed this article about the case.  Likely there will be many similar pieces in the coming days.  In my view, this article is misleadingly titled.  The case is not about religious institutions’ power to “declare” that their employees are exempt from “federal protections.”  It is about whether and in which circumstances (if ever) the Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, limits the reach of anti-discrimination law.  It may or it may not; but in either case, little turns on anybody’s individual declarations (though conceivably if an institution explicitly waived its rights, that might be relevant).