Another Unanimous Roberts Court Law and Religion Opinion

The Supreme Court today handed down Holt v. Hobbs, the RLUIPA case involving an Arkansas prisoner who complained of a state prison policy disallowing him to grow a beard in accordance with his understanding of his religious obligations.

The opinion was unanimous, with two separate, short concurrences by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. I’ll save analysis for a later moment (it was a rather straightforward application of RLUIPA in Justice Alito’s majority opinion, though with some interesting language about the individual components of the test).

For now, though, I’ll just note the fact of another unanimous opinion in this area from the Roberts Court. Holt v. Hobbs continues to follow the Roberts Court pattern of either unanimity or 5-4 outcomes in law and religion jurisprudence, as I discuss in greater detail at Part II of this article. The figures are now four unanimous law and religion decisions as against six 5-4 law and religion decisions. The article speculates about a few reasons that we might be seeing this particular voting pattern, contrasting it with the patterns of Supreme Courts past.

Mark and I will have a podcast on the decision in a few days.

Pope Francis on Charlie Hebdo: Not WEIRD

pope 2On a plane home from the Philippines yesterday, Pope Francis clarified remarks he made last week, on a plane to the Philippines, about the Charlie Hebdo massacre. (These papal plane trips are really good copy. The Vatican press corps must fight over passes). In last week’s remarks, while condemning the Paris murders, the Pope also cautioned against disparaging people’s religion in a way that leads, quite naturally, to a violent response. In a widely quoted remark, the Pope said that even a friend could expect a punch in the nose if he “says a swear word against my mother.”  That, the Pope said, is “normal.”

I was struck by the different reactions people I know had to the Pope’s remarks. Some Eastern Christians, who have more reason than most to resent Islamist brutality, told me the Pope was correct. The Paris massacre was horrible, but the magazine should have shown more respect for religious belief, Muslim and Christian. Most of my American friends, by contrast, thought the Pope was wrong. And many in the Western media, on both the left and right, quickly denounced his remarks. Was Pope Francis advocating censorship? Was he signaling a tacit alliance with Muslims to fight the Enlightenment and insulate religion from criticism?

Yesterday, the Pope explained his meaning. According to CBS News:

Pope Francis said he wasn’t justifying violence when he said a friend who had cursed his mother could “expect a punch” in return. Rather, he says he was only expressing a very human response to a provocation, and that greater prudence would have avoided such offense.… Francis said: “In theory we can say a violent reaction to an offense or provocation isn’t a good thing … In theory we can say that we have the freedom to express ourselves. But we are human. And there is prudence, which is a virtue of human coexistence.”

In other words, the Pope was not excusing the Paris murders or saying that religions can’t be criticized. He was making the rather sensible observation that people react badly when you insult their religion and that wisdom, not to mention civility, counsels a certain restraint. You have the legal right to say whatever you want, but why say whatever you want?

The example the Pope gave is suggestive. Most people have a special respect for their mothers. Other people’s mothers are not beyond criticism, of course, but there are limits to what you can say about them. This explains why the worst schoolyard curse–it used to be, anyway; based on what I hear on the sidewalks of New York, it isn’t any longer–involves someone else’s mother.

In most of the world, people view religion the same way, as a matter deserving special respect. It’s the so-called WEIRD societies–Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich and Democratic–that fail to do so. In WEIRD societies, individual rights, including the right to express oneself, have priority. (At least when it comes to insulting religion; other subjects, significantly, are off-limits). Autonomy, not divinity, is the key value; insults to religion have less moral valence than restrictions on liberty. These are generalizations, but social science research supports them and they seem intuitively correct. In fact, according to psychologist Jonathan Haidt, whose book on the subject, The Righteous Mind, is well worth the read, America is the WEIRDest society in the world, and America’s educated upper-middle class, the sort of people who make up our editorial pages, is the WEIRDest group in America. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Western media would find the Pope’s remarks incomprehensible.

The murders at Charlie Hebdo were not justified, and we oughtn’t surrender our values to placate Islamists. But it’s worth remembering that much of the world, not only Islamists, sees things rather differently from us.

“The Catholic Church in Ireland Today” (Cochran & Waldmeir eds.)

This February, Lexington Books  will release “The Catholic Church in Ireland Today” edited by David Carroll Cochran (Loras College) and John C. Waldmeir (Loras College).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Catholic Church in Ireland TodayFrom a Church that once enjoyed devotional loyalty, political influence, and institutional power unrivaled in Europe, the Catholic Church in Ireland now faces collapse. Devastated by a series of reports on clerical sexual abuse, challenged publicly during several political battles, and painfully aware of plunging Mass attendance, the Irish Church today is confronted with the loss of its institutional legitimacy. This study is the first international and interdisciplinary attempt to consider the scope of the problem, analyze issues that are crucial to the Irish context, and identify signs of both resilience and renewal. In addition to an overview of the current status and future directions of Irish Catholicism, The Catholic Church in Ireland Today examines specific issues such as growing secularism, the changing image of Irish bishops, generational divides, Catholic migrants to Ireland, the abuse crisis and responses in Ireland and the United States, Irish missionaries, the political role of Irish priests, the 2012 Dublin Eucharistic Congress, and contemplative strands in Irish identity. This book identifies the key issues that students of Irish society and others interested in Catholic culture must examine in order to understand the changing roles of religion in the contemporary world.

“The Shi’a in Modern South Asia” (Jones & Qasmi, eds.)

This March, Cambridge University Press will release “The Shi’a in Modern South Asia: Religion, History and Politics” edited by Justin Jones (University of Oxford) and Ali Usman Qasmi (Lahore University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Shia in ModernThe Shi‘i communities of South Asia, roughly 60 million people, represent, after those of Iran, the second largest grouping of Shi’as in the Muslim world. Until recently our knowledge of them has not matched their numbers. Indeed, they have suffered from the paradox of being both highly visible but in scholarly terms largely invisible. Where the Shi‘a live in South Asian towns and cities, arguably, no community has been more visible or more audible: visible because of their great processions at Muharram; and audible, certainly at Muharram, but also throughout the year in their majalis, as they recount the events of Karbala, often transmitting them by loudspeaker to the muhalla. The essays in this volume illustrate how scholars are beginning to develop a grasp of religious change amongst the Shi’as over the past two centuries to match that which has been achieved for the Sunnis. The following themes, all present to a greater or lesser extent in modern scholarship on the Shi‘a of South Asia, run through these essays: there is the role of political power, but also its lack, in establishing and shaping Shi‘i communities; there is the centrality of the tragedy of Karbala to Shi‘i identity and to the Shi‘i sense of community; there is the tendency, as time moves towards the present, for Shi‘i practices of pluralism and inclusiveness to weaken in favour of exclusiveness; then, associated with this development, there is the impact of religious reform, and significant religious change, which compares suggestively with religious change in the Sunni world; there is the enduring impact of Iran, the Shi‘i centres in Iraq and more recently Shi‘i activism in the Lebanon; and finally there is the specific role of women in fashioning Shi‘i devotion and community. The contributions to this volume add to the understanding of power and the shaping of Shi‘i communities.