Around the Web this Week

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

Invocatin’ Satan

The 2014 Supreme Court case Town of Greece v. Galloway is being used to permit Satanists to give invocations at public events. As this article explains, the case stands broadly for the proposition that invocations at public events such as town council meetings must be open to all faiths within the community, and the municipality cannot discriminate among them.

This being America, one person founded a “First Pompano Beach Church of Satan” and petitioned a number of towns to be included in the invocation list. Some have done away with invocation entirely to avoid having the Satanists there. Some have put him on a (long) waiting list but at least one is permitting him to speak. A self-described “minion of Satan,” the article describes his project as:

“Part political commentary, part performance art, Stevens’ “Satan or Silence Project” has presented 11 South Florida municipalities with some stark choices: Either drop the invocation that opens city commission meetings, or allow him, a self-described ‘minion of Satan,’ to lead a prayer to the prince of darkness.”

As a threshold matter, this may not even pass muster under Galloway, which was concerned about religious communities that actually existed within a political boundary being excluded.  Here the lack of a congregation or physical presence in some of the towns targeted might be enough to justify an exclusion.  But as silly as it may seem, this controversy raises some interesting questions about the connections between religion and society. From the article, the “church” seems more of a stunt than an actual belief system, and seems designed to criticize the notion of public prayer at all (the “minion” notes his invocations might “include beer, nachos and a mariachi band.”) But the case law is somewhat consistent that the sincerity of beliefs cannot be questioned by a court, though the evidence here seems pretty clear. But let’s assume he is a sincere believer in the Tempter.

Should the invocation nevertheless be allowed? That depends on what we want to get out of such an invocation. Christian invocations of this type typically ask for strength and wisdom in public deliberation, and guidance for judgment to do what is in the common good. But not all invocations would be appropriate – for example, an explicit call for unbelievers to convert. As the deputy mayor of Boca Raton says in the article, such invocations set “the proper tone” for deliberations. A mariachi band and an invocation to a being typically associated with deception and cruelty, would seem to be inappropriate.

An invocation then, is not merely ceremonial or rhetorical window dressing. An invocation, therefore, does have a civic purpose and municipalities may have a basis for distinguishing among the kinds of invocations they seek.

 

Ebel, “G.I. Messiahs”

In November, Yale University Press releases “G.I. Messiahs: Soldiering, War, and American Civil Religion,” by Jonathan H. Ebel (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).  The publisher’s description follows:

Jonathan Ebel has long been interested in how religion helps individuals and communities render meaningful the traumatic experiences of violence and war. In this new work, he examines cases from the Great War to the present day and argues that our notions of what it means to be an American soldier are not just strongly religious, but strongly Christian.

Drawing on a vast array of sources, he further reveals the effects of soldier veneration on the men and women so often cast as heroes. Imagined as the embodiments of American ideals, described as redeemers of the nation, adored as the ones willing to suffer and die that we, the nation, may live—soldiers have often lived in subtle but significant tension with civil religious expectations of them. With chapters on prominent soldiers past and present, Ebel recovers and re-narrates the stories of the common American men and women that live and die at both the center and edges of public consciousness.

Ali, “Islam and Colonialism”

In December, the University of Edinburgh Press will release “Islam and Colonialism: Becoming Modern in Indonesia and Malaya,” by Muhamad Ali (University of California, Riverside).  The publisher’s description follows:

Focusing on Indonesia and Malaysia, this book looks at how European colonial and Islamic modernising powers operated in the common and parallel domains of government and politics, law and education in the first half of the twentieth century. It shows that colonialisation was able to co-exist with Islamisation, arguing that Islamic movements were not necessarily antithetical to modernisation, nor that Western modernity was always anathema to Islamic and local custom. Rather, in distinguishing religious from worldly affairs, they were able to adopt and adapt modern ideas and practices that were useful or relevant while maintaining the Islamic faith and ritual that they believed to be essential.

In developing an understanding of the common ways in which Islam was defined and treated in Indonesia and Malaysia, we can gain a new insight to Muslim politics and culture in Southeast Asia.

Serajuddin, “Cases on Muslim Law of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh”

In September, Oxford University Press released “Cases on Muslim Law of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh,” by Alamgir Muhammad Serajuddin (University of Chittagong, Bangladesh).   The publisher’s description follows:

Muslim law is an integral part of the South Asian legal system, and case law plays a major role in its interpretation, application, and development. Through a selection of principal judicial decisions and significant fact situations from pre- and post-independent India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, this volume provides an easy access to the basic principles and rules of Muslim law, and shows how case law acts as a social barometer and an instrument of change.

The cases discussed cover such diverse areas as sources and interpretation of law, institution of marriage, polygamous marriages, dower, restitution of conjugal rights, talaq, khula, irreconcilable breakdown of marriage, legitimacy, guardianship, and maintenance of wives and divorced wives. Among the important legislations, it covers Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act 1939, Muslim Family Laws Ordinance 1961, and Muslim Women Act 1986.

The book also shows how religion-based rules of personal law have been interpreted by secular courts during certain epochs in history and how the trend of interpretation has changed over the last 150 years.