This is rather silly. Inside Higher Ed reports that the International Studies Association–according to its website, “the most respected and widely known scholarly association dedicated to international studies”–has proposed a ban on personal blogging by editors of its journals. The proposal would allow editors to blog only at official sites affiliated with their journals. The ISA’s President says the association is concerned about the lack of professionalism at many academic blogs and that it doesn’t want readers to confuse editors’ personal posts with the association’s official products.
Maybe international studies blogs tend to tackiness, I don’t know. But I can’t see how a scholarly association would think to ban personal blogging in the year 2014. Leave aside for the moment concerns about academic freedom. Blogs serve a useful academic function. Sure, blogs aren’t the same thing as long-form scholarship; a writer can’t fully develop ideas in the blogging format. But blogs allow scholars to carry on helpful conversations with colleagues across the world and to engage the wider public as well. They can highlight current issues that merit further study. And blogs can be equalizers for scholars from smaller and less well-known institutions. Scholars who would never be asked on PBS’s News Hour can use blogs as a way to get their ideas out and influence debate. It would be wrong to lose these benefits because of a vague concern about professionalism. If the ISA is having trouble with editors who post childish comments on personal blogs–apparently, this is one of the reasons the association has proposed the ban–it ought to speak to those editors directly, rather than adopt a blanket prohibition. (H/T: Instapundit).
Read this brief authored by Douglas Laycock on behalf of the Christian Legal Society and several other groups. Professor Laycock was right in the center of the legislative debates over the meaning of RFRA in the 1990s. In exploring the meaning of RFRA and its application, the brief describes those debates in very helpful detail, and it also discusses the legislative history of the Religious Liberty Protection Act, a statute that was in the offing (but ultimately was never passed, though portions of it made their way into the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and portions were used to strengthen RFRA) after the Supreme Court struck down RFRA as applied against the states as in excess of Congress’s enforcement powers under section 5 of the 14th Amendment. Laycock demonstrates that Congress clearly intended RFRA (as well as RLPA) to apply to for-profit corporations, and reflected that intention in the words of the statute. There were many special interests that desired exemptions from RFRA. Those exemptions were rejected.
The Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases are, at bottom and after the swirling political fog is blown away, about the meaning of a statute. Professor Laycock’s brief is an important contribution in ascertaining that meaning. Here is the summary of the argument:
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides universal coverage. It applies to “all” federal law and to “all” cases where the free exercise of religion is substantially burdened.
The legislative history confirms the universality of the statutory text. The sponsors resisted all efforts to add exceptions to coverage. A definition in an early version of the bill, limiting coverage to “natural persons” and religious organizations, was eliminated in all later drafts.
After this Court invalidated RFRA as applied to the states, Congress sought to re-enact RFRA’s standard, in substantively identical language, for application to cases that could be reached under the Commerce and Spending Clauses. The debates on this bill, the Religious Liberty Protection Act (RLPA), reveal the public meaning of the nearly identical language in RFRA. The RLPA debate is highly probative because it was a serious fight on a live issue. It was not in any sense an attempt to make post enactment legislative history about RFRA, but it clearly demonstrates the public meaning of RFRA’s language.
Some interesting law & religion stories from around the web this week:
The Heritage Foundation held a panel on the plight of Syria’s Christians this week, featuring prominent Christian leaders from Syria who highlighted the dangers their communities are facing in the civil war
During the second half of the twentieth century, the American military chaplaincy underwent a profound transformation. Broad-based and ecumenical in the World War II era, the chaplaincy emerged from the Vietnam War as generally conservative and evangelical. Before and after the Vietnam War, the chaplaincy tended to mirror broader social, political, military, and religious trends. During the Vietnam War, however, chaplains’ experiences and interpretations of war placed them on the margins of both military and religious cultures. Because chaplains lived and worked amid many communities–religious and secular, military and civilian, denominational and ecumenical–they often found themselves mediating heated struggles over the conflict, on the home front as well as on the front lines.
In this benchmark study, Jacqueline Whitt foregrounds the voices of chaplains themselves to explore how those serving in Vietnam acted as vital links between diverse communities, working personally and publicly to reconcile apparent tensions between their various constituencies. Whitt also offers a unique perspective on the realities of religious practice in the war’s foxholes and firebases, as chaplains ministered with a focus on soldiers’ shared experiences rather than traditional theologies.
How do Muslims relate to Islam in societies that experienced seventy years of Soviet rule? How did the utopian Bolshevik project of remaking the world by extirpating religion from it affect Central Asia? Adeeb Khalid combines insights from the study of both Islam and Soviet history to answer these questions. Arguing that the sustained Soviet assault on Islam destroyed patterns of Islamic learning and thoroughly de-Islamized public life, Khalid demonstrates that Islam became synonymous with tradition and was subordinated to powerful ethnonational identities that crystallized during the Soviet period. He shows how this legacy endures today and how, for the vast majority of the population, a return to Islam means the recovery of traditions destroyed under Communism.
Islam after Communism reasons that the fear of a rampant radical Islam that dominates both Western thought and many of Central Asia’s governments should be tempered with an understanding of the politics of antiterrorism, which allows governments to justify their own authoritarian policies by casting all opposition as extremist. Placing the Central Asian experience in the broad comparative perspective of the history of modern Islam, Khalid argues against essentialist views of Islam and Muslims and provides a nuanced and well-informed discussion of the forces at work in this crucial region.
A serious campaign is underway in Scandinavia to ban the non-therapeutic circumcision of boys. A Danish doctors’ association says that, unless medically indicated, circumcision is a kind of child abuse. A Swedish medical association recommends setting the minimum age for the procedure at 12 and requiring the boy’s consent. Last September, the Nordic Ombudsmen for Children issued a joint statement declaring non-therapeutic circumcision of boys a violation of international human rights law. Although for now no country seems ready to outlaw the practice, surveys suggest large numbers of Scandinavians would favor a ban.
To put it mildly, a ban on the non-therapeutic circumcision of boys would cause some hardship for Jews and Muslims. At the very least, parents who wished to have their sons circumcised for religious purposes would need to have the circumcisions performed outside their countries–assuming a ban on circumcisions would not also prohibit parents from transporting children for such purposes. Most likely, a ban would simply cause Jews and Muslims to leave Scandinavia in large numbers. In fact, opponents of the ban allege that is its goal.
I doubt that religious bigotry, as such, has much to with it–though anti-Muslim sentiment, at least, is on the rise in Scandinavia, as in much of Europe. Rather, what we’re seeing is a clash of values between a secular worldview that has little patience for traditional religious expression, and the followers of the traditional religions themselves. To put it bluntly, the secular human rights community finds it increasingly difficult to take seriously the arguments traditional religion puts forward, especially when sex is somehow involved.
Here’s an example. Last week, The Copenhagen Post ran an op-ed by Morten Frisch, a doctor and sex researcher who favors a ban. Circumcision, Frisch writes, is problematic not only because it violates a boy’s bodily integrity when he is too young to consent. (Actually, any medical treatment would present that problem). What’s really bad is that circumcision decreases sexual pleasure later in life. “To most Europeans,” Frisch writes, “circumcision is an ethically problematic ritual that is intrinsically harmful to children: every child has the right to protection of his or her bodily integrity and the right to explore and enjoy his or her undiminished sexual capacity later in life.”
What about the fact that Judaism and Islam have required male circumcision for millennia? Isn’t that a factor to consider? You might think that practices that have lasted thousands of years come with some presumption of validity, even if you disagree with them. Millions of people across time have thought such practices important, even sacred. Frisch summarily dismisses these concerns. “Religious arguments,” he writes, “must never trump the protection of children’s basic human rights. To cut off functional, healthy parts of other people’s bodies without their explicit and well-informed consent can never be anybody’s right–religious or otherwise.”
Now, I don’t know whether exploring one’s undiminshed sexual capacity really qualifies as an international human right nowadays; I don’t follow the literature too closely. And this is the first I’ve heard that male circumcision leads to to a decrease in sexual pleasure later in life (I’m not speaking of female circumcision). But let’s assume what Frisch says is correct. The fact that he so impatiently dismisses any hardship a ban would cause traditional religious communities is striking. There is, it seems, simply nothing to be said for traditional practices that violate contemporary norms in this context; the sooner we get rid of them, the better. Frisch’s essay, like the proposed ban itself, is another indication that the clash between religious tradition and secularism is heating up, and that secularism is in little mood to compromise.
In the borderland between freedom and slavery, Gettysburg remains among the most legendary Civil War landmarks. A century and a half after the great battle, Cemetery Hill, the Seminary and its ridge, and the Peach Orchard remain powerful memories for their embodiment of the small-town North and their ability to touch themes vital to nineteenth-century religion. During this period, three patterns became particularly prominent: refinement, diversity, and war. In Gettysburg Religion, author Steve Longenecker explores the religious history of antebellum and Civil War–era Gettysburg, shedding light on the remarkable diversity of American religion and the intricate ways it interacted with the broader culture. Longenecker argues that Gettysburg religion revealed much about larger American society and about how trends in the Border North mirrored national developments. In many ways, Gettysburg and its surrounding Border North religion belonged to the future and signaled a coming pattern for modern America.
To Hutterites and members of other pacifist sects, serving the military in any way goes against the biblical commandment “thou shalt not kill” and Jesus’s admonition to turn the other cheek when confronted with violence. Pacifists in Chains tells the story of four young men—Joseph Hofer, Michael Hofer, David Hofer, and Jacob Wipf—who followed these beliefs and refused to perform military service in World War I. The men paid a steep price for their resistance, imprisoned in Alcatraz and Fort Leavenworth, where the two youngest died. The Hutterites buried the men as martyrs, citing mistreatment.
Using archival material, letters from the four men and others imprisoned during the war, and interviews with their descendants, Duane C. S. Stoltzfus explores the tension between a country preparing to enter into a world war and a people whose history of martyrdom for their pacifist beliefs goes back to their sixteenth-century Reformation beginnings.
I was pleased to join this amicus brief filed by several constitutional law scholars in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood litigation (thanks to Nathan Chapman for taking up the pen). The brief argues against the view that the Establishment Clause prohibits an accommodation of the religious claimants. My own views on the matter, reflected in various portions of the brief, are also contained here and here. A post by Kevin Walsh raising an important problem is here. Opposing views may be found here, here, and here. Here is the Introduction and the Summary of the Argument of the amicus brief:
This brief argues that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et seq. (RFRA), properly applied, complies with the Establishment Clause. The brief responds to the recent proposal by several scholars that the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from accommodating “substantial burdens” on religious exercise, as RFRA does, when the accommodation imposes “significant burdens on third parties who do not believe or participate in the accommodated practice.”2 This brief does not address the issues directly before the Court, i.e., whether RFRA protects for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, and whether either of those parties has a valid RFRA claim.3
The scholars’ proposed doctrine is contradicted by precedent, would needlessly require courts to analyze three speculative Religion Clause questions in most religious accommodation cases, and would threaten thousands of statutes that protect religious minorities.
First, precedent strongly supports the constitutionality of statutory religious accommodations, like RFRA, that allow courts to weigh the government’s “compelling” interests against claimant’s interests in religious exercise.
On January 27, Palgrave Pivot published Christianity in Chinese Public Life edited by Joel Carpenter (Calvin College) and Kevin den Dulk (Calvin College). The publisher’s description follows.
Today a quarter of all Chinese claim a major religious tradition, yet the state remains deeply concerned about religious activity. The West tends to view religion-and-state relations in China in bipolar terms: dissidents’ resistance and government repression. But as this work shows, the interaction of religion, society, and governance in China is much more subtle and complex than that. The contributors of this volume focus on Christianity in China to examine the prospects for social and political change. Students of democratization say that when citizens escape poverty, they seek more freedom of expression and they establish agencies to express those values. The resulting ‘civil society’ helps citizens mediate between their interests and those of the state and seek the public good through non-governmental means. Christianity in Chinese Public Life deftly explores the question: does an increase of religious activity in China amount to a nudging forward of democratization?