Abraham Lincoln, None?

Today is Presidents Day in the United States, a national holiday. Actually, that’s not quite right. Officially, the federal holiday is still called Washington’s Birthday, and that’s the official name here in New York, too. (Who knew?) But, unofficially, America uses this day to commemorate all its presidents–including, especially, two born in February, George Washington (February 22) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12).

I wasn’t surprised, therefore, when I saw in my twitter feed this afternoon Pew ‘s list of American presidents and their religious identities. About one-quarter have been Episcopalians; several have been Presbyterians; only one, John Kennedy, has been a Catholic. Pew lists three as having no religious identity: Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Johnson, and Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln, in particular, is an interesting case. People have been fighting over his religious identity since just after he died. He never formally joined a church. But some people who knew him said that, although he had been skeptical about organized religion in his youth, and may in fact have written an atheist pamphlet at one point, he became receptive to Christianity during his time in the White House, especially after the death of his son. One report says he was about to join the Presbyterian Church right before he was assassinated. Others who knew him, however, said they noticed no such transformation.

In his definitive 2003 study, Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power, historian Richard Carwardine surveys the evidence and, in the end, says that Mary Todd Lincoln probably had the best assessment. Her husband, she explained, was never “a technical Christian.” In particular, he seems not to have accepted the divinity of Christ. On the other hand, almost everyone who knew him agreed that he was “naturally religious.” Those lines in the Second Inaugural Address were not just for show. Lincoln believed that the universe was governed by an omnipotent God who worked things out for His own righteous, often inscrutable purposes. And Lincoln thought the better part of wisdom was to submit to God’s plan.

So, was the Great Emancipator a None? I leave it to you, gentle reader.

Boston, “Taking Liberties”

Next month, Random House will publish Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You The Right To Tell Other People What To Do by Taking LibertiesRobert Boston.  The publisher’s description follows.

Increasingly, conservative religious groups are using religious liberty as a sword to lash out at others. In this forcefully argued defense of the separation of church and state, Robert Boston makes it clear that the religious freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment is an individual right, the right of personal conscience, not a license allowing religious organizations to discriminate against and control others. The book examines the controversy over birth control, same-sex marriage, religion in public schools, the intersection of faith and politics, and the “war on Christmas,” among other topics. Boston concludes with a series of recommendations for resolving clashes between religious liberty claims and individual rights

Harrison, “Romantic Catholics”

This month, Cornell University Press publishes Romantic Catholics: France’s Postrevolutionary Generation in Search of a Modern Faith by Carol E. Roman CatholicsHarrison (University of South Carolina).  The publisher’s description follows.

In this well-written and imaginatively structured book, Carol E. Harrison brings to life a cohort of nineteenth-century French men and women who argued that a reformed Catholicism could reconcile the divisions in French culture and society that were the legacy of revolution and empire. They include, most prominently, Charles de Montalembert, Pauline Craven, Amélie and Frédéric Ozanam, Léopoldine Hugo, Maurice de Guérin, and Victorine Monniot. The men and women whose stories appear in Romantic Catholics were bound together by filial love, friendship, and in some cases marriage. Harrison draws on their diaries, letters, and published works to construct a portrait of a generation linked by a determination to live their faith in a modern world.

Rejecting both the atomizing force of revolutionary liberalism and the increasing intransigence of the church hierarchy, the romantic Catholics advocated a middle way, in which a revitalized Catholic faith and liberty formed the basis for modern society. Harrison traces the history of nineteenth-century France and, in parallel, the life course of these individuals as they grow up, learn independence, and take on the responsibilities and disappointments of adulthood. Although the shared goals of the romantic Catholics were never realized in French politics and culture, Harrison’s work offers a significant corrective to the traditional understanding of the opposition between religion and the secular republican tradition in France.

The Weekly Five

The Weekly Five highlights articles about abortion, neutrality in First Amendment jurisprudence; the difficult but necessary task of speaking about religion in legal language; Augustine; and religion and legal pluralism.

1. Michael Stokes Paulsen (Minnesota), Kermit Gosnell and ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Professor Paulsen argues that the events in the Gosnell case can serve the same function in the abortion context as did Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel for the abolitionist context.

2. Corey L. Brettschneider (Brown), Value Democracy as the Basis for Viewpoint Neutrality: A Theory of Free Speech and Its Implications for the State Speech and Limited Public Forum Doctrines. Professor Brettschneider tackles the problem of the baseline in neutrality doctrines, arguing for the protection of the rights of people to make up their minds and speak free from the threat of coercive punishment, in conjunction with the state’s obligation to  defend the values that underlie these rights and to criticize expressions of hate that oppose them. With implications for free speech and religion clause doctrine.

3. James Boyd White (Michigan), Talking About Religion in the Language of the Law: Impossible But Necessary. An older paper of Professor White that has just been posted and is well worth checking out. The piece discusses various reasons for the difficulty of speaking about religion in legal contexts, including some internal to American constitutional history and structure, and others that are more sociological or conceptual in nature.

4. James Boyd White (Michigan), The Creation of Authority in a Sermon by St. Augustine. Another paper by Professor White published as part of a symposium honoring the work of Professor Joseph Vining. The piece discusses a sermon in which Augustine explicates the Ten Commandments and the transformation of those Commandments by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. Professor White uses that transformation to reflect on the nature of authority as the giving of life to text.

5. Haider Ala Hamoudi (Pittsburgh), Decolonizing the Centralist Mind: Legal Pluralism and the Rule of Law. Professor Hamoudi criticizes the view that the rule of law must give exclusivity or even primacy to state law systems and argues that those who are intent on rule of law centralization in the state are pressing a fantastical program. Professor Hamoudi draws on the example (one with which he has great familiarity) of Shi’i dominated central and southern Iraq to make these points.