The Roberts Court Has Contracted, Not Expanded, Religious Rights

Linda Greenhouse has a column purporting to reflect on the Roberts Court’s first nine years that doubles as an occasion to offer the hope that Chief Justice Roberts will “moderate” in the next decade–a hope then despaired of at the end of the column.

She also says this:

It has been an eventful nine terms for the court and its chief. Samuel A. Alito Jr., Justice O’Connor’s eventual replacement, is well to her right and has provided Chief Justice Roberts with a reliable if narrow majority for the court’s steady regression on race and its deregulatory hijacking of the First Amendment. Along with ever-expanding accommodation of religious interests, these are the areas in which the Roberts court has made its increasingly predictable mark.

But on the issue of religious interests, Greenhouse is, I believe, mistaken, at least insofar as constitutional law is concerned. As I show in this article, the defining mark of the Roberts Court in the area of religious rights has been contraction, not expansion. One of the very cases cited by Greenhouse herself involving the religion clauses–Town of Greece v. Galloway–is much more plausibly conceived as a contraction of the Establishment Clause, not an expansion. The Court’s exercise of judicial review, the range of views among the Justices about religious rights, and the substance of the Clauses themselves–all of these, contra Greenhouse, have contracted over the last decade.

Berkovitz, “Protocols of Justice”

This month, Brill Publishers releases “Protocols of Justice: The Pinkas of the Metz Rabbinic Court 1771-1789” by Jay R. Berkovitz (University of Massachusetts, Amherst). The publisher’s description follows:

Presented here to the public for the first time, the Pinkas of the Metz Beit Din is the official register of civil cases that came before the Metz rabbinic court in the two decades prior to the French Revolution. Brimming with details of commercial transactions, inheritance disputes, women’s roles in economic life, and the interplay between French law and Jewish law, the Metz Pinkas offers remarkable evidence of the engagement of Jews with the surrounding society and culture. The two volumes of Protocols of Justice comprise the complete text of the Metz Pinkas Beit Din, which is fully annotated by the author, and a thorough analysis of its significance for history and law at the threshold of modernity.

Through his painstaking and path-breaking treatment of this incredibly nuanced and rich text, Jay Berkovitz has placed before academics and all other interested readers a heretofore untapped resource of vast importance. His insightful and extensive introductory monograph beautifully sets the stage for scholars in a wide array of fields to mine this material, which will undoubtedly yield significant new results in the history of Jewish and non-Jewish society in eighteenth-century Europe and beyond. Ephraim Kanarfogel, E. Billi Ivry University Professor of Jewish History, Literature and Law, Yeshiva University

“Mediating Religion and Government: Political Institutions and the Policy Process” (den Dulk & Oldmixon, eds.)

In November, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Mediating Religion and Government: Political Institutions and the Policy Process” edited by Kevin R. den Dulk (Calvin College) and Elizabeth A. Oldmixon (University of North Texas). The publisher’s description follows:

The empirical study of religion and politics emerged as a strongly behavioral sub-discipline within political science within the late 20th Century. Particularly in the American context, scholars have placed tremendous emphasis on religion’s influence on political attitudes and behaviors. As a result, we have a much better understanding of the potency of religion in shaping voting patterns, party affiliation, and views of public policy, among other behavioral aspects of American politics.

In the context of a democracy, however, political institutions mediate the effect of religion on political attitudes and the policy process. In a Madisonian sense, institutions are at the fulcrum of mass politics and policy outputs. This volume investigates the influence of religion on and within political institutions. Each chapter provides a synthesis of the literature with respect to a particular institution and makes an original research contribution to the literature. By addressing the historical, contemporary, constitutional, and policy-based elements of religious interactions within politics, the volume creates a wide-ranging assessment of the sometimes contentious relationship between these two pillars of American culture.