Meyerson on the Founders’ “Spiritual Public Vocabulary”

The last little period of lack of light has brought with it the consolation of catching up on some overdue reading.  One of the books I’ve been enjoying, and learning from, is Michael Meyerson’s recent book, Endowed by Our Creator: The Birth of Religious Freedom in America (2012).  Professor Meyerson focuses in large measure on Establishment Clause-related questions.  Here is an interesting passage toward the end:

…Washington was not content to use religious speech merely because it “was recognized across . . . a broad and diverse range of the population.”  His vision for the nation was far more inclusive.  “The bosom of America is open,” he wrote, “to receive the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct, they appear to merit the enjoyment.”

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to treat the religious language employed by Washington, Jefferson, and Madison as empty formality.  Their words were carefully chosen to be devout as well as inclusive.  Those in the framing generation were not trying to establish a ‘civil religion.’ . . . . Certainly, the framers never evinced a desire to construct a public religion that was distinct from traditional religions.  They were trying to create a spiritual public vocabulary that could be appreciated by the full range of individuals in a diverse population.  Those from orthodox religions could hear this language not merely as consistent with their prayers but as part of them.  They could recite the official religious language along with that of their own faith and not feel as if they had left their religion behind.

But the framers’ language was expansive enough to permit those who belonged to minority religions, along with those outside the mainstream of religious belief, to join in the experience of a conscientious communion with the rest of their nation.  Some will always decline this invitation, and that is their right.  But the framers’ language was designed to communicate to all, including the Deistic, agnostic, and atheistic, that they were valued members of the political community.  (269-70)

It’s a well-done passage, I thought, inasmuch as it tries to describe accurately the nuances in play in the historical use of religious language and symbolism in the American public context.

Reid, “Ritual Piety in Medieval Islamic Law”

This March, Cambridge University Press will publish Ritual Piety in Medieval Islamic Law by Megan H. Reid (University of Southern California). The publisher’s description follows.

The Ayyubid and Mamluk periods were some of the most intellectually fecund in Islamic history. Megan Reid’s book, which traverses three centuries from 1170 to 1500, recovers the stories of medieval men and women who were renowned not only for their intellectual prowess but also for their devotional piety. Through these stories, the book examines trends in voluntary religious practice that have been largely overlooked in modern scholarship. This type of piety was distinguished by the pursuit of God’s favor through additional rituals, which emphasized the body as an instrument of worship and the rejection of the temptation of worldly pleasures and even society itself. Using an array of sources including manuals of law, fatwa collections, chronicles and obituaries, the book shows what it meant to be a good Muslim in the medieval period and how Islamic law defined holy behavior. In its concentration on personal piety, ritual and religious practice the book offers an intimate perspective on early Islamic society.

10 Commandments Judge to Return to Alabama Supreme Court

The Mojave Desert cross is not the only Establishment Clause icon to make a comeback this week. Roy Moore, the former Chief Judge of the Alabama Supreme Court, who famously defied a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state courthouse, has won election to his old job. In 2003, a state judicial ethics panel removed Moore from office for failing to comply with the federal court order. This week, the voters of Alabama sent Moore back to his former position. Moore told his supporters that he would continue “to stand for the acknowledgment of God,” but has promised not to try to restore the monument.

Fitzpatrick, “Strange Gods: Legal Theology in a Modern Age”

This July, Routledge-Cavendish will publish Strange Gods: Legal Theology in a Modern Age by Peter Fitzpatrick (Birkbeck College, University of London). The publisher’s description follows.

Legal Theology provides a genealogy of modern law as a secular theology, calling into question the received ideas that modern law is radically different from its religious antecedents, and that modernity involved a repudiation of theological concepts. Peter Fitzpatrick charts the lineage of this secular theology through three ‘historicities’: the creation of the world’s imperium, of the modern world-system, in the sixteenth century; the time of revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; and the high modernism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Respectively condensed here in the writings of Vitoria, Hobbes and Nietzsche, Fitzpatrick documents the substitution of a monotheistic God by successive articulations of a persistently ‘deific’ law. Legal Theology thus questions the story of secularism’s triumph, by eliciting the essentially religious force of modern law: a force that is, moreover, recognisable in secularism’s contemporary imperial mission.

Mojave Desert Cross to Return on Veteran’s Day

The cross at one time placed on “Sunrise Rock” in the Mojave Desert and which formed the basis of the law suit in Salazar v. Buono is slated to be displayed again on Veteran’s Day.  Originally, the cross was displayed in 1934 by World War I veterans to honor veterans of that war; it now commemorates veterans of all wars.  The land swap organized by Congress some years ago, in which the property on which the cross stands was transferred to private hands (to the Veterans of Foreign Wars), was approved and the ACLU’s Establishment Clause objection seems for now to have been rejected by the district court.