Around the Web This Week

Some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week:

Afsaruddin, “Contemporary Issues in Islam”

In August, Edinburgh University Press released “Contemporary Issues in Islam” by Asthma Afsaruddin (Indiana University). The publisher’s description follows:

Key ‘hot-button’ contemporary issues in Islam, often at the centre of public scrutiny, are the focus of this book. By placing the discussion of topics such as the Shari’a, jihad, the caliphate, women’s status and interfaith relations within a longer historical framework, Contemporary Issues in Islam reveals their multiple interpretations and contested applications over time.

Most public – and occasionally academic – discourses in the West present the Islamic tradition as unchanging and therefore unable to respond to the modern world. Such an ahistorical approach can foster the belief that Muslim-majority and Western societies are destined to clash. This book reveals instead the diversity and transformations within Islamic thought over time. Focusing on this internal diversity permits us to appreciate the scriptural and intellectual resources available within the Islamic tradition for responding to the challenges of modernity, even as this tradition interrogates and shapes modernity itself.

 

McMullen, “The Bahá’ís of America”

In November, NYU Press will release “The Bahá’ís of America: The Growth of a Religious Movement” by Mike McMullen (University of Houston). The publisher’s description follows:

The Bahá’í Faith had its origins in nineteenth century Shi’ite Islam, but embraces Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad—among others—as prophets, each seen as a divine messenger uniquely suited to the needs of his time. The Bahá’í community has spread to become the second most geographically widespread religion in the world. It has a 120 year history in the United States, where members have promoted their core belief that all people are created equal.

American Bahá’ís have been remarkably successful in attracting a diverse membership. They instituted efforts to promote racial unity in the deep South decades before the modern civil rights movement, and despite lip service to fostering multi racial congregations among Christian churches, over half of American Bahá’í congregations today are multiracial, in comparison to just 5 to 7 percent of U.S. Christian churches. This level of diversity is unique among all religious groups in the United States.

As the story of a relatively new religious movement, the history of the Bahá’ís in America in the 20th and early 21st centuries offers a case study of institutional maturation, showcasing the community’s efforts to weather conflict and achieve steady growth. While much scholarly attention has been paid to extremist religious movements, this book highlights a religious movement that promotes the idea of the unity of all religions. Mike McMullen traces the hard work of the Bahá’ís’ leadership and congregants to achieve their high level of diversity and manage to grow so successfully in America.

Scribes and Holidays

Thanks to Marc and Mark for asking me to blog with them for the next few weeks. As I am just a law-and-religion amateur, being able to exchange thoughts with scholars of their caliber is a real honor.

To get things started, I haven’t seen much about this dissent a couple of weeks ago by a group of five Tenth Circuit judges from a denial of an en banc hearing in cases involving the contraceptive mandate as applied to non-profits.  The tenth Circuit, sua sponte, considered whether to rehear the cases en banc; the plaintiffs, who were challenging the mandate, had lost before the initial panel. The full court denied rehearing en banc , but five judges were sufficiently disturbed to write a strongly-worded dissent. The core of their argument is as follows:

Put another way, the panel majority may be saying that it is the court’s prerogative to determine whether requiring the plaintiffs to execute the documents substantially burdens their core religious belief, regardless of whether the plaintiffs have a “derivative” religious belief that executing the documents is sinful. This is a dangerous approach to religious liberty. Could we really tolerate letting courts examine the reasoning behind a religious practice or belief and decide what is core and what is derivative?

This is the real danger, I think. You have what John McGinnis calls a “scribal” caste without much (as Mark rightly notes) personal connection to traditional religious thought or concepts determining what is “really” important to the religion of the litigants.  It is no surprise that in such cases, the judges favor the state, because how serious could religious people actually be about matters the scribes see as unimportant?

A second, non-legal topic. My wife and I have three grade-school children, and for the first time this year, I heard multiple conversations over the summer about the multitude of school holidays that need to be accommodated into the schedule. Not just Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Christmas and Easter, but also Eid and the Lunar New Year are now recognized in the New York public schools; the Hindu festival Diwali is also being considered. So on the one hand, legal scribes reject accommodation for beliefs not considered “core,” yet other arms of the state are increasingly conceding the centrality of expression of religious beliefs in a very public way. Since as a general matter, I believe culture eventually prevails over formal legal doctrine, this kind of contrast is something to watch.