Signing Off

Thanks so much to both Mark Movsesian and Marc DeGirolami for inviting me here to guest blog this month.  It’s been such a great opportunity to discuss some law & religion issues I’ve been thinking through, especially some of the back-and-forth on my Litigating Religion draft.  Looking forward to having future law & religion conversations somewhere in the blogosphere!

Cristiada / For Greater Glory

This is the opening weekend of a fascinating new film “For Greater Glory” (originally entitled “Cristiada”).  It concerns Mexico’s Cristeros War of 1926-29, in which that nation’s Catholic populace rebelled against government efforts to secularize the country.  You can view a preview / trailer here:

I intend to catch the film tomorrow, and will certainly report back with my impressions.

The film’s timing is quite fortuitous, as many are drawing parallels between its subject matter and the ongoing battles between the Catholic Church and the U.S. government today.  Although I would certainly not equate the massacres and executions of the Cristeros War with what’s happening now, at their cores both situations certainly implicate a very real contest between Church and State.  And more than a few serious clergymen I know foresee a period of “dry martyrdom” ahead – where lives are not taken, but where jobs are lost, careers are ruined, fines are levied, and prisons filled. 

I am interested in seeing whether the film lends itself to such comparisons.


Thank you to Mark and Marc for inviting me to join them on the CLR Forum this month!

Although my private practice experience has been in the field of corporate and securities litigation, I have long maintained an amateur’s interest in the First Amendment’s religion clauses (ever since my 1998 law school Note on the priest-penitent privilege). Since entering academia in 2006, I have wed the two areas to some extent, writing on the intersection of business law and virtue, and have attempted to apply natural law reasoning to issues of economic regulation.

I have looked forward to this opportunity for some time, and hope that the Forum’s readership finds my participation worthwhile.

Court Dismisses FFRF Nativity Scene Suit

A federal district court in Michigan has granted summary judgment to the City of Warren in an action involving the display of religious symbols on state grounds brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. 

Here’s a quick summary.  The City puts up a holiday display in the atrium of the Warren Civic Center each year, and the display includes “Christmas trees, ribbons, ornaments, a ‘Winter Welcome’ sign, a ‘Merry Christmas’ sign, nutcrackers, elves, reindeer, a Santa’s mailbox, snowmen, wreaths with lights, bushels of poinsettias, candy canes, wrapped gift boxes, a ‘prayer station,’ and a Nativity Scene.”  There was also a small plaque indicating that the display was “sponsored and provided by the Warren Rotary Club.”

FFRF sent several letters to the City objecting to the inclusion of the Nativity Scene and to its placement, and the mayor of Warren responded disagreeing with the objection and stating that the City did not endorse or favor any religion, and that any religion would be permitted to display “their religious holy seasons in our atrium.” FFRF then sought a permit to display a sandwichboard sign alongside the Nativity Scene containing what were claimed to be “nontheist” statements, including the following: “At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”  Finding that the sign was anti-religious and disparaging of religious believers, the City did not allow its display.  FFRF sued the City for violations of the Free Speech Clause, Equal Protection Clause, and the Establishment Clause.  The core of the Establishment Clause claim was that the City “approved” the Nativity Scene by displaying it but disapproved the sandwichboard by excluding it from the display.

The Court rejected the claim.  It found that the secular purpose of excluding the sandwichboard was the avoidance of disruption and the potential for confrontation at City Hall.  The sandwichboard was offensive and promoted ill will among members of the City, the Court concluded.  And the primary objective of the display was not religious but secular, consisting of numerous secular symbols and signs.  The inclusion of the Nativity Scene did not transform the overall effect to one of promoting religion.  As for endorsement, the Court noted that the holiday display, including the Nativity Scene, was displayed by a private group, and when the Nativity Scene was looked at within the full context of the display, it did not convey a message of endorsement to a reasonable observer, as it was a comparatively small feature of the display.

The case is Freedom From Religion Foundation v. City of Warren, 2012 U.S. Dist. Lexis 75464 (E.D. Mich. May 31, 2012).

Jones, “The Power of Oratory in the Medieval Muslim World”

Another book about the medieval period, this one dealing with the fascinating subject of the importance of oratory and preaching in early Islam — The Power of Oratory in the Medieval Muslim World (CUP 2012) by Linda Jones (Institucion Mila y Fontanals).  The publisher’s description follows.

Oratory and sermons had a fixed place in the religious and civic rituals of pre-modern Muslim societies and were indispensible for transmitting religious knowledge, legitimizing or challenging rulers, and inculcating the moral values associated with being part of the Muslim community. While there has been abundant scholarship on medieval Christian and Jewish preaching, Linda G. Jones’s book is the first to consider the significance of the tradition of pulpit oratory in the medieval Islamic world. Traversing Iberia and North Africa from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, the book analyzes the power of oratory, the ritual juridical and rhetorical features of pre-modern sermons, and the social profiles of the preachers and orators who delivered them. The biographical and historical sources, which form the basis of this remarkable study, offer abundant proof of cultural exchange between al-Andalus and the eastern regions of the Islamic empires, as preachers traveled back and forth between the great cities of Cordoba, Qayrawan, Baghdad, and Cairo. In this way, the book sheds light on different regional practices and the juridical debates between individual preachers around correct performance.

More on the Holy Sepulcher

Back in January, I wrote about the Status Quo at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the informal set of customs that governs the rights and responsibilities of the major Christian communities in the shrine. From a secular and theoretical perspective, the Status Quo is a fascinating answer to a collective action problem. But the church is a place of deep faith as well, a site that has drawn pilgrims for centuries. Yesterday, the Washington Post ran a piece that adds some human context to the subject, an essay on the nightly liturgies that take place in the church. It’s all very beautiful, but, in keeping with the Status Quo, there’s an undercurrent of watchfulness. “We keep almost awake at night here to see that things are done properly, on time, that no one will trespass the other’s right by doing things that he’s not supposed to do,” one priest explains.  “So we have to be careful and watch what we do or what they do.” Worth reading.

Eldevik, “Episcopal Power and Ecclesiastical Reform in the German Empire”

A very interesting examination of the practice of tithing as a political instrument of power in the early medieval period — Episcopal Power and Ecclesiastical Reform in the German Empire: Tithes, Lordship and Community , 950-1150 (CUP 2012) by John Eldevik (Hamilton College).  The publisher’s description follows.

Focusing on the way bishops in the eleventh century used the ecclesiastical tithe – church taxes – to develop or re-order ties of loyalty and dependence within their dioceses, this book offers a new perspective on episcopacy in medieval Germany and Italy. Using three broad case studies from the dioceses of Mainz, Salzburg and Lucca in Tuscany, John Eldevik places the social dynamics of collecting the church tithe within current debates about religious reform, social change and the so-called ‘feudal revolution’ in the eleventh century, and analyses a key economic institution, the medieval tithe, as a social and political phenomenon. By examining episcopal churches and their possessions not in institutional terms, but as social networks which bishops were obliged to negotiate and construct over time using legal, historiographical and interpersonal means, this comparative study casts fresh light on the history of early medieval society.

Thanks to Mike Helfand and Welcome to Ron Colombo

Thanks very much to Michael Helfand for his excellent posting in May.  Mike may stay on for a short bit to finish up some last posts, and we hope he’ll come back and blog with us again soon.

And welcome to our next guest blogger, Ronald Colombo, who will be posting with us in June.  Ron joins us from Hofstra, where he is Associate Professor of Law. He writes primarily in corporate law and law and regulation.   He has published widely, and I am hoping that he will talk a little with us about a couple of his recent pieces — Toward a Nexus of Virtue, forthcoming in the Washington & Lee Law Review, and his work in progress, The Corporation as a Tocquevillian Association.  Welcome, Ron!