Miller, “The Religious Roots of the First Amendment”

This year, Oxford University Press will publish The Religious Roots of the First Amendment: Dissenting Protestants and the Separation of Church and State (forthcoming May 2012) by Nicholas P. Miller (Seventh–Day Adventist Theological Seminary).  The publisher’s description follows.

Traditional understandings of the genesis of the separation of church and state rest on assumptions about ‘Enlightenment’ and the republican ethos of citizenship. Nicholas Miller does not seek to dislodge that interpretation but to augment and enrich it by recovering its cultural and discursive religious contexts – specifically the discourse of Protestant dissent. He argues that commitments by certain dissenting Protestants to the right of private judgment in matters of Biblical interpretation, an outgrowth of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, helped promote religious disestablishment in the early modern West. This movement climaxed in the disestablishment of religion in the early American colonies and nation. Miller identifies a continuous strand of this religious thought from the Protestant Reformation, across Europe, through the English Reformation, Civil War, and Restoration, into the American colonies. He examines seven key thinkers who played a major role in the development of this religious trajectory as it came to fruition in American political and legal history: William Penn, John Locke, Elisha Williams, Isaac Backus, William Livingston, John Witherspoon, and James Madison. Miller shows that the separation of church and state can be read, most persuasively, as the triumph of a particular strand of Protestant nonconformity – that which stretched back to the Puritan separatist and the Restoration sects, rather than to those, like Presbyterians, who sought to replace the ‘wrong’ church establishment with their own, ‘right’ one. The Religious Roots of the First Amendment contributes powerfully to the current trend among some historians to rescue the eighteenth-century clergymen and religious controversialists from the enormous condescension of posterity.

Helfand on Litigating Religion

Michael A. Helfand (Pepperdine University School of Law) has posted a very interesting article, Litigating Religion.  In an earlier liveblogging post, Professor DeGirolami discussed Professor Helfand’s talk drawn from the paper at the Religious Legal Theory Conference.  The abstract of the article follows.

This article considers how parties should resolve disputes that turn on religious doctrine and practice – that is, how people should litigate religion. Under current constitutional doctrine, litigating religion is generally the task of two types of religious institutions: first, religious arbitration tribunals, whose decisions are protected by arbitration doctrine, and religious courts, whose decision are protected by the religion clauses. Such institutions have been thrust into playing this role largely because the religion clauses are currently understood to prohibit courts from resolving religious questions – that is, the “religious question” doctrine is currently understood to prohibit courts from litigating religion. Read more

Neocons, Christians, and Syria

Robert Wright has an interesting post in the Atlantic on an emerging split between Neocons and Christians over American intervention in Syria. Although Neocons and conservative Christians joined in supporting a war to oust Saddam Hussein  in 2003, he writes, this time, conservative Christian journals, both Evangelical and Catholic, have been running articles warning of the danger to Syria’s Christians if the Assad regime should fall. Wright wonders whether Christian solidarity — “are we really ready to go to war against two million Christians?” – will stop conservative Christians from supporting American intervention this time. It’s a very interesting point. One should never discount the role that Christianity plays in American foreign relations, including America’s relations in the Middle East. And Syria’s Christians are definitely in danger. I’m not sure how much fellow-feeling there is, though. American Christians do not typically identify with the Christian communities of the Middle East, most of which, like the Copts in Egypt, are Orthodox rather than Catholic or Protestant. And fellow feeling for Iraq’s Christians did not stop conservative Christians from supporting the Iraq war, which has led to a catastrophe for Christians in that country. I’m sure that Christian solidarity plays some role, as Wright argues, but conservative Christian wariness about an incursion in Syria likely has much more to do with alienation from the current American President — with whom they certainly don’t identify.

Inazu on Hauerwas and Dworkin

CLR Forum friend John Inazu has posted a sophisiticated piece on Ronald Dworkin’s legal and political theory (they are distinct but related), The Limits of Integrity.  John relies on the writing of Stanley Hauerwas to ground his critique of Dworkin.  The article is of a piece with some of John’s other efforts at integrating theological and legal argument.  An excellent read.  The abstract follows.

This article draws upon the work of theologian Stanley Hauerwas to demonstrate how Ronald Dworkin’s theory of law as integrity relies upon secular liberal presuppositions. Dworkin’s constraint on “religious convictions or goals” not only inhibits theological argument in our discussions about law and legal interpretation, but also neutralizes what may be the strongest objections to Dworkin’s normative views. The juxtaposition of Hauerwas and Dworkin is particularly apt because both hold similar interpretive commitments that hang in the balance between a fixed textualism and an unbounded pragmatism. Both justify their epistemic practices by a kind of faith — they do not and cannot know what comes next in their interpretive traditions.

Part I sketches Dworkin’s interpretive theory, and Part II notes its limitations. Part III introduces Hauerwas’s views on interpretation and suggests commonalities between Dworkin and Hauerwas. Parts IV and V illustrate the exclusionary effects of Dworkin’s premises on Hauerwas’s arguments by comparing the ways in which both thinkers approach the abortion controversy. Hauerwas’s arguments show that Dworkin has either imported his own normative commitments into his interpretive premises or failed to distinguish law as integrity from the constraints of public reason. Put differently, either Law’s Empire or Life’s Dominion has overreached. Dworkin hasn’t told us which it is, but Hauerwas shows us why the question cannot go unanswered.

Broadwater, “James Madison”

Students of the religion clauses know that one of the most important figures in their drafting and adoption was James Madison.  Here is a new intellectual biography of Madison by Jeff Broadwater (Barton College), James Madison: A Son of Virginia and a Founder of the Nation (UNC Press 2012), which focuses in part on his contributions to American constitutional religious liberty.  The publisher’s description follows (though the description of Madison as a “systematic political theorist” doesn’t seem quite right to me).

James Madison is remembered primarily as a systematic political theorist, but this bookish and unassuming man was also a practical politician who strove for balance in an age of revolution. In this biography, Jeff Broadwater focuses on Madison’s role in the battle for religious freedom in Virginia, his contributions to the adoption of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, his place in the evolution of the party system, his relationship with Dolley Madison, his performance as a wartime commander in chief, and his views on slavery. From Broadwater’s perspective, no single figure can tell us more about the origins of the American republic than our fourth president.

In these pages, Madison emerges as a remarkably resilient politician, an unlikely wartime leader who survived repeated setbacks in the War of 1812 with his popularity intact. Yet Broadwater shows that despite his keen intelligence, the more Madison thought about one issue, race, the more muddled his thinking became, and his conviction that white prejudices were intractable prevented him from fully grappling with the dilemma of American slavery