Around the Web

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

  • In West v. Radtke, the Seventh Circuit held that a Muslim inmate’s rights under RLUIPA were violated when prison authorities refused to exempt him from strip searches conducted by transgender men. The court rejected the prison’s Title VII and equal protection defenses and remanded the case for further development of the inmate’s Fourth Amendment claims.
  • In Maisonet v. Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a suit by a Muslim volunteer chaplain who claimed that his free exercise rights were infringed when he was prevented from being in the execution chamber when two inmates to whom he ministered were executed. 
  • A Christian rescue mission filed suit in a Wyoming federal district court by a challenging interpretations by the EEOC and the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services (“WDWS”) of the employment discrimination provisions of state and federal law. The complaint in Rescue Mission v. EEOC contends that the Rescue Mission’s free exercise and free expression rights were violated when the EEOC and WDWS found probable cause that the Mission engaged in religious discrimination in refusing to hire non-Christians as associates in its Thrift Stores. 
  • Four former employees of a continuing care retirement community filed suit in an Alabama federal district court alleging that they were wrongly fired for refusing the COVID vaccine on religious grounds. The complaint in Hamil v. Acts Retirement-Life Communities, Inc. contends that plaintiffs were subjected to a hostile work environment, harassment, and wrongful termination based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. 
  • Suit was filed in a South Carolina state trial court contending that a state budget appropriation to Christian Learning Centers of Greenville County violates the provision in South Carolina’s constitution that bars the use of public funds “for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” The complaint in Parker v. McMaster asserts that the appropriation also contravenes the state constitution’s Establishment Clause.
  • The Hindu American Foundation (“HAF”) has sued the California Department of Civil Rights for alleged misrepresentation of Hindu beliefs and practices. HAF’s lawsuit claims that the Department of Civil Rights wrongly asserts that the caste system and caste-based system are integral parts of Hindu teaching and practices, and that in doing so, the California Department of Civil Rights violated the First Amendment rights of Hindus. 

Freedom in the Classical and Christian Traditions

When I taught my Jurisprudence course last spring, one of the many striking moments was in reading Aristotle’s discussion of freedom in The Politics with my students. Toward the end of Book V, Chapter 9 (1309a33-1310a38), Aristotle says that two criteria are generally countenanced for judging the efficacy of democratic regimes: the sovereignty of the majority and freedom. In democracies, he writes, “freedom is seen in terms of doing what one wants.” But this conception of freedom is a pathology of democracy for Aristotle. To focus entirely on the state as a coercive power, a force that demands obedience, and to ask why we should obey, is to look at only one aspect of politics. Citizenship is not just about being ruled, but about ruling well and about being ruled well. Freedom, like the accumulation of wealth, is not the purpose of politics. I tell my students that Aristotle could never endorse the view, stated by a famous American president, that the business of America is business. Freedom, wealth, property—these exist for the sake of virtue, in Aristotle’s account, not virtue for the sake of them.

A new book by the political theorist, D.C. Schindler, looks like a superb new intellectual and political history of classical conceptions of freedom, as adopted and modified by various figures (some of whom I confess not to have known about) in the Christian tradition: Retrieving Freedom: The Christian Appropriation of Classical Tradition (Notre Dame Press).

Retrieving Freedom is a provocative, big-picture book, taking a long view of the “rise and fall” of the classical understanding of freedom.

In response to the evident shortcomings of the notion of freedom that dominates contemporary discourse, Retrieving Freedom seeks to return to the sources of the Western tradition to recover a more adequate understanding. This book begins by setting forth the ancient Greek conception—summarized from the conclusion of D. C. Schindler’s previous tour de force of political and moral reasoning, Freedom from Reality—and the ancient Hebrew conception, arguing that at the heart of the Christian vision of humanity is a novel synthesis of the apparently opposed views of the Greeks and Jews. This synthesis is then taken as a measure that guides an in-depth exploration of landmark figures framing the history of the Christian appropriation of the classical tradition. Schindler conducts his investigation through five different historical periods, focusing in each case on a polarity, a pair of figures who represent the spectrum of views from that time: Plotinus and Augustine from late antiquity, Dionysius the Areopagite and Maximus the Confessor from the patristic period, Anselm and Bernard from the early middle ages, Bonaventure and Aquinas from the high middle ages, and, finally, Godfrey of Fontaines and John Duns Scotus from the late middle ages. In the end, we rediscover dimensions of freedom that have gone missing in contemporary discourse, and thereby identify tasks that remain to be accomplished. Schindler’s masterful study will interest philosophers, political theorists, and students and scholars of intellectual history, especially those who seek an alternative to contemporary philosophical understandings of freedom.

Podcast on the Situation in Armenia

Last Friday, I sat down (virtually) with Geoff Shullenberger to record an episode of “Compact Conversations,” Compact Magazine’s podcast series. Geoff and I discussed my recent essay in Compact on Azerbaijan’s invasion of Armenia–specifically, on how the West’s indifference to the invasion of this aspiring democracy by a dictatorship reflects a combination of hypocrisy, cynicism, and shortsightedness. Here’s the link. Listen in!