At the First Things site today, I reflect on this week’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court. In my opinion, he’s likely to be a solid conservative–the sort of judge that any Republican administration in the last generation could have nominated. Here’s an excerpt:
He holds to originalism in constitutional interpretation and textualism in statutory interpretation—two positions that have been the foundation for judicial conservatism since the 1980s. His record in religion cases is reassuring. On the free exercise side, he has shown sensitivity to the right of believers to claim exemptions from laws that substantially burden their religious exercise. And he has done so not only in the famous Hobby Lobby case, in which the claimants were conservative Christians, but in a case involving a Native American prisoner. In fact, his opinion in the latter case, Youngbear v. Lambert, is a sophisticated, engaging essay on the law of religious exemptions generally. Gorsuch is a clear and accessible writer—something one cannot say for many judges.
His opinions on the Establishment Clause side, less well known, are also encouraging. Judge Gorsuch has signaled his opposition to the thirty-year-old “endorsement test,” which forbids state-sponsored displays that a reasonable observer would understand as an endorsement of religion. The test is famously malleable, and Judge Gorsuch has criticized the way his own circuit, in particular, has misinterpreted it to forbid some traditional public displays—including, notably, a Ten Commandments monument. His apparent dissatisfaction with the endorsement test bodes well for restoring a more sane Establishment Clause jurisprudence that honors American traditions.
You can read the whole post here.
In April, University of Chicago Press will release “Public Islam in Indonesia: Piety, Politics, and Identity,” by Noorhaidi Hasan (Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University). The publisher’s description follows:
In recent years, ongoing democratization in Indonesia has enabled the rise of a form of Islam that is more sympathetic to the basic democratic principle of individual freedom. As a result, many Islamic symbols have lost their strictly religious meanings in favor of new pragmatic and political undertones. Combining approaches from political science and anthropology, Noorhaidi Hasan explores this phenomenon and the extent to which public Islam could represent a new future for the nation, one that moves beyond the simple opposition of state versus religion.
This month, Princeton University Press releases “American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion from the Puritans to the Present,” by Philip Gorski (Yale University). The publisher’s description follows:
Was the United States founded as a Christian nation or a secular democracy? Neither, argues Philip Gorski in American Covenant. What the founders actually envisioned was a prophetic republic that would weave together the ethical vision of the Hebrew prophets and the Western political heritage of civic republicanism. In this ambitious book, Gorski shows why this civil religious tradition is now in peril—and with it the American experiment.
Gorski traces the historical development of prophetic republicanism from the Puritan era to the present day. He provides close readings of thinkers such as John Winthrop, Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Hannah Arendt, along with insightful portraits of recent and contemporary religious and political leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Gorski shows how the founders’ original vision for America is threatened by an internecine struggle between two rival traditions, religious nationalism and radical secularism. Religious nationalism is a form of militaristic hyperpatriotism that imagines the United States as a divine instrument in the final showdown between good and evil. Radical secularists fervently deny the positive contributions of the Judeo-Christian tradition to the American project and seek to remove all traces of religious expression from the public square. Gorski offers an unsparing critique of both, demonstrating how half a century of culture war has drowned out the quieter voices of the vital center.
American Covenant makes the compelling case that if we are to rebuild that vital center, we must recover the civil religious tradition on which the republic was founded.
This month, Oxford University Press releases “Purifying the Land of the Pure: A History of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities,” by Farahnaz Ispahani. The publisher’s description follows:
When Pakistan emerged as an independent state in 1947, it sought to provide a new homeland and safe harbor for South Asia’s Muslims, the largest religious minority in the subcontinent at the time. Yet this project was not exclusive. Taking its name from Pakstan, an acronym composed of the key letters of its constituent regions-Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan-Pakistan at first welcomed all of its new citizens, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Non-Muslims comprised 23 percent of the total population, and non-Sunnis comprised a quarter of the Muslim population.
Today, non-Muslims comprise a mere 3 percent of the population, and in recent years all non-Sunnis have been subjected to increasing levels of persecution and violence. What happened?
In Purifying the Land of the Pure, Farahnaz Ispahani analyzes Pakistan’s policies towards its religious minority populations, beginning from the time of independence in 1947. She notes the period of transition from an inclusive policy to an exclusive one, citing the influence of a number of religious and political leaders who invoked a new vision for Pakistan. The word “pakistan” is Urdu for “Land of the Pure”; thus, in their view, it followed that the objective for Pakistan’s creation should be more specific and narrow: to create an Islamic State. In 1949, Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly ratified this objective, which set the country on the path it was to follow. But as Ispahani carefully notes, the event that accelerated the pace towards intolerance of non-Sunnis was General Zia-ul-Haq’s forceful ascent to power in 1977. His military regime promoted Sunni Islam at the expense of other denominations so that by the end of his reign, Pakistan was no longer a welcome place for minorities. Many fled, but those who remained faced escalating persecution, from both state and non-state actors. Tens of thousands died in the ensuing “purifying” attacks. Ispahani traces this history, stressing how the contradictions at the heart of the Pakistani state-building project have fueled the intolerance.
Concise yet sweeping in its coverage, Purifying the Land of the Pure is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding why Pakistan remains plagued by radicalism and violence.