Conference on Religious-Defamation Bans, Islamophobia, and the First Amendment (Nov. 4)

The Federalist Society’s International and National Security Law Practice Group is hosting an interesting-looking conference in Washington on November 4 on religious-defamation bans, Islamophobia, and the First Amendment. Speakers include Bruce Bawer, Naser Khader, Nina Shea, Paul Marshall, Paul Diamond, Jacob Mchangama, Mark Durie, Amjad M. Khan, David Forte, David Rivkin, and Samuel Tadros. A complete description is here. — MLM

Bartrum on the Ministerial Exception

Ian Batrum has posted Religion and Race: The Ministerial Exception Reexamined. The abstract follows. — MLM

This essay is a contribution to the Northwestern University Law Review’s colloquy on the ministerial exception, convened following the Supreme Court’s decision to hear arguments in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC.  I take the opportunity to consider the (sometimes) competing constitutional values of racial equality and religious freedom. I offer historical, ethical, and doctrinal arguments for the position that race must trump religion as a constitutional value when the two come into conflict. With this in mind, I suggest that the ministerial exception should not shield religious employers from anti discrimination suits brought on the basis of race.

Weddle & New on Religious Conservative Opposition to Anti-Bullying Legislation

Daniel B. Weddle (University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law) and Kathryn E. New (recent graduate of University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law) have posted What Did Jesus Do?: Answering Religious Conservatives Who Oppose Bullying Prevention Legislation. The abstract follows.—YAH

Conservative Christian organizations assert that anti-bullying programs are a stealth effort by gay activists to introduce into American schools an aggressive lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) agenda. They contend that legislation and bullying prevention programs that mention gays are an attempt to indoctrinate children to embrace homosexual lifestyles; tolerate homosexual behavior; and celebrate homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender identity. These voices are having an impact on state legislatures and the damage is immense. Educational research has made clear the devastating effects of bullying upon children, and LGBT students are among the most often targeted and least protected students. Given that schools are already failing to address bullying effectively, efforts to thwart protection of any group of students — especially one that is routinely targeted — is unconscionable. Yet these devoted Christians zealously interfere with protection of LGBT students from abuse by their peers and believe wholeheartedly that they are doing children and Christ a great service. We believe they fundamentally misunderstand three things: the dynamics of bullying, the law pertaining to student-on-student abuse, and the example and teachings of Christ. This Article addresses these misunderstandings. We propose a response to the distortions that are used to promote what is an anti-gay agenda that represents neither the teachings of the Bible nor the position of most Christians and evangelicals, whom these organizations purport to represent. Our hope is that, once the distortions are debunked, thinking Christians will reject the misguided efforts of a relatively few but influential individuals and organizations. If new voices can confront the misleading claims of anti-gay zealots with informed educational, legal, and Biblical responses, perhaps the distortions will be seen for what they are by Christians and non-Christians alike.

The Talking Cure Redux

In this post from a few weeks back, I registered some thoughts about the current media interest in taking religion seriously.  That post was about the rather low probability that media attention to a candidate’s references to religion, or about how a religious tradition has shaped the candidate’s political judgment, will enhance the voting public’s understanding of the candidate and his or her views.  Much more probable, I claimed, was that religion would be used strategically by the journalist or media member in a clownish fashion simply to reaffirm and harden the author’s pre-existing political views and opinions, or those of her audience.

I noted that one often hears two kinds of response to this claim, which I called Response One and Response Two.  Response One is to blame the candidate — the door was opened by the candidate, and the media and the rest of us went through.  In the rough and tumble of politics, religion can be either the candidate’s rhetorical armor or the sharp stick with which he can be gleefully gored by his opponents.  Response Two had to do with good faith and searching engagement with the candidate’s religious views to understand his political outlook.  Response One, I argued, far better represented the profound shallowness of our current political culture (with honorable exceptions, to be sure).  

I know that citations to Maureen Dowd’s work are generally met with dyspepsia, but she does write for the leading newspaper in the nation, and this column about Mitt Romney and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints seems to me to be an exemplar of Response One engagement with religion.  Note, first, the opening-the-door move at the end of the piece — that the candidate is fair game for the media hunter loaded for bear: “Republicans are the ones who made faith part of the presidential test.  Now we’ll see if Mitt can pass it.”  And the entire point of the column is to ridicule, to laugh, to dismiss, to giggle, to smear, and to lampoon — all in the service of scoring cheap and shallow political points.  What else?  That’s simply the nature of the game.

The surprising thing is not, of course, that Dowd would write a column like this.  Nor is it that Response One discourse is far and away the dominant form of public engagement with religion — in the nation’s leading newspaper perhaps even more than anywhere else.  The surprising thing is that we academics would ever think otherwise, that we would imagine that because Response Two sometimes (though not always) can be found in the academy, that it must also have traction in today’s political climate.  The surprise is that we would delude ourselves that Response Two might someday supplant Response One, or at least that we might eventually get more of Response Two engagement if we let loose the Response One dogs.  What we will get is what we largely always get from political speech-making and the media’s political reaction to it, whether religion gets sprinkled in or not: low-grade chatter.  — MOD