Makowski, “English Nuns and the Law in the Middle Ages Cloistered Nuns and Their Lawyers, 1293-1540”

 This November, Boydell & Brewer will publish English Nuns and the Law in the Middle Ages Cloistered Nuns and Their Lawyers, 1293-1540 by Elizabeth Makowski (Texas State University). The publisher’s description follows

In late medieval England, cloistered nuns, like all substantial property owners, engaged in nearly constant litigation to defend their holdings. They did so using attorneys (proctors), advocates and other “men of law” who actually conducted that litigation in the courts of Church and Crown. However, although lawyers were as crucial to the economic vitality of the nunneries as the patrons who endowed them, their role in protecting, augmenting or depleting monastic assets has never been fully investigated. This book aims to address the gap. Using records from the courts of the common law, Chancery, and a variety of ecclesiastical venues, it examines the working relationships without which cloistered nuns could not have lived in fully enclosed but self-sustainingc communities. In the first part it looks at the six mendicant and Bridgettine houses established in England, and relates the effectiveness and resilience of their cloistered spirituality to the rise of legal professionalism in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It then presents cases from ecclesiastical and royal courts which illustrate the work of legal professionals on behalf of their clients.

Houge, “Stumping God: Reagan, Carter, and the Invention of Political Faith”

This August, Baylor University Press published Stumping God: Reagan, Carter, and the Invention of Political Faith by Andrew P. Houge (Baylor University). The publisher’s description follows.

For more than three decades, American presidential candidates have desperately sought the conservative Evangelical vote. With an ever broadening base of support, the Evangelical movement in America may now seem to many a very powerful lobbyist on Capitol Hill. As Andrew Hogue shows, however, this was not always the case.

In Stumping God Hogue deconstructs the 1980 presidential election, in which Ronald Reagan would defeat Jimmy Carter and John B. Anderson, and uncovers a disproportionately heavy reliance on religious rhetoric—a rhetoric that would be the catalyst for a new era of presidential politics. Until 1980, the idea that conservative politics was somehow connected with conservative theology was distant from the American imagination. Hogue describes the varying streams of influence that finally converged by the Reagan-Carter election, including the rapidly rising Religious Right. By 1980, candidates were not only challenged to appeal rhetorically to a conservative religious base, but found it necessary to make public their once-private religious commitments.

In compelling and illuminating fashion, Stumping God explains the roots of modern religious politics and encourages readers to move beyond the haze of rhetorical appeals that—for better or worse—continually clouds the political process.

Does the Name “Theophilus” Violate the Establishment Clause?

The name, Theophilus, means “Lover of God.”  And various important persons have been named Theophilus: Saint Theophilus of Antioch, Theophilus Parsons (about whom our friend Don Drakeman wrote), and the Romantic poet Théophile Gautier are three that come immediately to mind.  [UPDATE: Mark reminds me that the Gospel of Luke is addressed to someone named Theophilus: “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word, It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.”  Luke 1:1-4.] 

I was thinking of all of these theo-philes as I perused a recent decision by a Richmond County judge here in New York, in which the court denied a petition by a family which wanted to change its last name from Nwadiuko to ChristIsKing (a few years back, the father’s petition to change his son’s name to JesusIsLord had also been denied but it seems was later accepted; something similar happened with the father’s petition to change his daughter’s name to Rejoice).

The judge in this case denied the application for the reason that he believed it would violate the Establishment Clause. 

To permit this name change would be placing unwitting members of the public including public servants in the position of having to proclaim petitioners’ religious beliefs which may or may not be in agreement with that person’s own equally strongly held but different beliefs.

For instance, a calendar call in the courthouse would require the clerk to shout out “JesusIsLord ChristIsKing” or “Rejoice ChristIsKing.” Other litigants would not necessarily know whether the clerk was reading the calendar or making some religious statement in violation of the separation of church and state. A similar situation would occur in the classroom setting. Not only is the speaker being forced to say something which might be repugnant to the speaker but the general public would be subjected to this unwanted intrusion of the petitioners’ religious beliefs. What would be people’s reaction to hear the petitioners’ being paged at an airport or some other public event?

But how was this a violation of the Establishment Clause?  The court relied on the “inoffensiveness” test (the court may be forgiven for rechristening the endorsement test), citing to McCreary County v. ACLU, as well as to several other Establishment Clause cases, for the proposition that “permitting the petitioners to use the statutory process to effectuate a name change would involve the same prohibited entanglement especially because they could avoid the potentially offensive conduct by employing the equally available legally recognized common law right to achieve that purpose.”

The court also purported to distinguish first names like Jesus because such names do not state a contestable, and therefore offensive, religious proposition:

A review of those names however, reveals a significant difference between their origin and what the petitioners’ are advocating. Almost all of these names, most of which have “El or el” in them, a word which in Hebrew refers to “God,”or contain words that are accepted as the equivalent of “God” and both of which are modified by other words which describe what are accepted as the attributes of “God.” Just about every culture throughout history has had some concept of “God” or “gods.” What petitioners are advocating is a name that is a statement that a particular person is “Lord” or is the “King.” This is a position which is not only offensive to persons who are not Christians but also to those who look to God a being gender neutral and not a male figure.

Frankly, this reasoning is rather odd.  Why should the offensiveness to those who believe that God is gender neutral be a special concern of the Establishment Clause?  What is the distinction between calling someone God, or lover of God, or “bearer of Christ” (which is the meaning of Christopher) and calling them JesusIsLord?  Are not both contestable and possibly offensive propositions?  And is it really true that people would be offended as a matter of gender neutrality because somebody decided to call himself “JesusIsLord”? (I am reminded of Judge Posner’s cogent criticism that this whole area is bespattered with the random armchair empirical guesswork of judges who know next to nothing about what people actually find offensive).

It may well be that government ought to deny petitions like this — in fact, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to do so in certain circumstances that have absolutely nothing to do with the Establishment Clause.  Not everything that is silly and therefore eminently regulable needs to be unconstitutional too.  If there is a common law right to change your name, and the court does not wish to issue a judicial order with respect to the name change, then that ought to be sufficient to dispose of the case.