Next Month in Rome: “Liberalism’s Limits”

Next month in Rome, we’ll celebrate 10 years of cooperation with our colleagues at Universita LUMSA with the latest in our conference series on comparative law and religion: “Liberalism’s Limits: Religious Exemption and Hate Speech.” (Hard to believe we’ve been doing this for 10 years)! The conference description is below and details are here: If you’re in Rome, please stop by and say hello!

Liberal democracies historically have prized autonomy and freedom as fundamental political commitments. In doing so, they also have emphasized the individual’s freedom of religion and freedom of speech as sitting at the core of their political systems. Yet in religious exemption — the right of individuals to receive an accommodation from complying with generally applicable law on the basis of religious scruple — and in what some in these polities call “hate speech” – speech conveying deeply insulting, vilifying, discriminatory views against a target group – liberal regimes face serious challenges to their own core principles. This conference will examine the problems posed by these issues for the continuing viability of liberalism in Western democracies.

Modernity’s Religious Inheritance

From the eminent philosopher, Michael Rosen, comes this fascinating looking intellectual history of religion’s profound and enduring influence on modernity–focusing especially on the 18th and 19th centuries, post-Kantian German Idealism, and the idea of “historical immortality.” The book is The Shadow of God: Kant, Hegel, and the Passage from Heaven to History (Harvard UP 2022).

Once in the West, our lives were bounded by religion. Then we were guided out of the darkness of faith, we are often told, by the cold light of science and reason. To be modern was to reject the religious for the secular and rational. In a bold retelling of philosophical history, Michael Rosen explains the limits of this story, showing that many modern and apparently secular ways of seeing the world were in fact profoundly shaped by religion.

The key thinkers, Rosen argues, were the German Idealists, as they sought to reconcile reason and religion. It was central to Kant’s philosophy that, if God is both just and assigns us to heaven or hell for eternity, we must know what is required of us and be able to choose freely. In trying to live moral lives, Kant argued, we are engaged in a collective enterprise as members of a “Church invisible” working together to achieve justice in history. As later Idealists moved away from Kant’s ideas about personal immortality, this idea of “historical immortality” took center stage. Through social projects that outlive us we maintain a kind of presence after death. Conceptions of historical immortality moved not just into the universalistic ideologies of liberalism and revolutionary socialism but into nationalist and racist doctrines that opposed them. But how, after global wars and genocide, can we retain faith in any conception of shared moral progress and, if not, what is to become of the idea of historical immortality? That is our present predicament.

A seamless blend of philosophy and intellectual history, The Shadow of God is a profound exploration of secular modernity’s theistic inheritance.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court denied review in St. Augustine School v. Underly, in which the Seventh Circuit remanded a suit challenging Wisconsin’s refusal to provide bus transportation to students at St. Augustine School.
  • In Al Saud v. Days, the Ninth Circuit rejected claims under RLUIPA and the First Amendment brought by a Muslim inmate who sought to be housed only with other Muslim inmates. Plaintiff contends he is currently unable to pray as required by his religion because inmates he is housed with harass him while he prays. 
  • In Tucker v. Faith Bible Chapel International, the Tenth Circuit held that interlocutory appeals from the denial of a ministerial exception defense are not permitted. In the case, a former high school teacher and chaplain contends that he was fired for opposing alleged racial discrimination by a Christian school. 
  • In In the Matter of United Jewish Community of Blooming Grove, Inc. v. Washingtonville Central School District, a New York state appellate court held that under New York statutory law, school districts are not required to provide bus transportation to private school students on days when private schools are in session, but public schools are closed. 
  • In McKinley v. Grisham, a New Mexico district court allowed plaintiffs to move forward with their Free Exercise challenge to restrictions on in-person gatherings at houses of worship. 
  • The EEOC announced that it has filed suit against Del Frisco’s of Georgia, an Atlanta restaurant, for refusing to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs.