Legal Spirits Episode 044: Traditionalism Rising

In this episode, Mark interviews Marc about his new article, “Traditionalism Rising,” on an important, emerging method of constitutional interpretation embraced by the Supreme Court across the domains of constitutional law, including in law and religion, and especially so in the most recent term. Marc explains some of the basics of the method, which emphasizes the endurance of political and cultural practices over time as presumptive determinants of constitutional meaning. The two discuss some of the reasons to adopt this approach to understanding the Constitution and several objections that might be made to it, considering a few responses. Constitutional law and interpretation is, and has always been, fraught with political controversy, and Marc and Mark think through some of the political valences of traditionalism to conclude the discussion. Listen in!

Around the Web

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

  • In DeMarco v. Bynum, the Fifth Circuit upheld the dismissal of a suit brought by an inmate who contended that the confiscation of his religious materials violated his First Amendment rights. In part, the court reasoned that there were alternative ways for DeMarco to exercise his First Amendment rights and that even if Bynum had violated DeMarco’s constitutional rights, the district court correctly found that Bynum was entitled to qualified immunity. 
  • The Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments in Spell v. Edwards. In the case, a Louisiana federal district court dismissed a challenge to a now-expired COVID Order limiting the size of religious gatherings. The district court dismissed the case because the challenged restrictions had already expired, and the defendants had qualified immunity in the claim for damages. 
  • In Hile v. State of Michigan, a Michigan federal district court dismissed free exercise and equal protection challenges to a provision in the Michigan Constitution that prohibits the use of state funds, tax benefits, or vouchers to aid “any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or second school” or student attendance at such schools. The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ equal protection challenge. 
  • In Fitzgerald v. Roncalli High School, Inc., an Indiana federal district court invoked the ministerial exception doctrine to dismiss a suit brought by Michelle Fitzgerald, a Catholic high school guidance counselor who was fired after the school and the church that oversaw it learned that she was in a same-sex marriage. 
  • In Dollar v. Goleta Water District, a California federal district court held that the COVID vaccination policy for employees of the Goleta Water District did not discriminate on the basis of religion against employees who obtained a religious exemption. Plaintiffs contend that the District’s policy is discriminatory because it imposes special mask and testing requirements and requires authorization to enter certain buildings for plaintiffs because they have a religious exemption.
  • In State of Texas v. EEOC, a Texas federal district court held that Guidance documents issued by the EEOC and by the Department of Health and Human Services are unlawful. At issue are the HHS and EEOC applications of the Supreme Court’s Bostock decisionBostock held that sex discrimination in Title VII includes discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

An Intellectual History of Modern Legal Conservatism

The historian Johnathan O’Neill is the author of one of the best treatments of the history of originalism in law and politics in the 20th century. Here he is with a new, somewhat broader book on similar themes that looks more like an intellectual history and well worth picking up: Conservative Thought and American Constitutionalism Since the New Deal (Johns Hopkins Press).

The New Deal fundamentally changed the institutions of American constitutional government and, in turn, the relationship of Americans to their government. Johnathan O’Neill’s Conservative Thought and American Constitutionalism since the New Deal examines how various types of conservative thinkers responded to this significant turning point in the second half of the twentieth century.

O’Neill identifies four fundamental transformations engendered by the New Deal: the rise of the administrative state, the erosion of federalism, the ascendance of the modern presidency, and the development of modern judicial review. He then considers how various schools of conservative thought (traditionalists, neoconservatives, libertarians, Straussians) responded to these major changes in American politics and culture. Conservatives frequently argued among themselves, and their responses to the New Deal ranged from adaptation to condemnation to political mobilization.

Ultimately, the New Deal pulled American governance and society permanently leftward. Although some of the New Deal’s liberal gains have been eroded, a true conservative counterrevolution was never, O’Neill argues, a realistic possibility. He concludes with a plea for conservative thinkers to seriously reconsider the role of Congress—a body that is relatively ignored by conservative intellectuals in favor of the courts and the presidency—in America’s constitutional order. Conservative Thought and American Constitutionalism since the New Deal explores the scope and significance of conservative constitutional analysis amid the broader field of American political thought.

“Stealing My Religion”

I’ve been thinking about the Rise of the Nones, particularly, the significant percentage of Americans who are “unaffiliated believers.” Something like 20% of us, according to surveys, claim to have non-institutional religious commitments that draw from many different sources. This is an old story in America, going back at least as far as Thoreau, who drew heavily from Hinduism and Zoroastrianism. (About Christianity, he was much less enthusiastic). But eclectic, expressive individualism has now gone mainstream. There are a lot more Thoreaus than there used to be.

Not everyone loves the new eclecticism–including, especially, practitioners of the old traditions themselves, who sometimes feel wronged. For example, can one just “do” yoga, without accepting the spiritual commitments on which yoga is based? Is treating yoga as an exercise regimen an affront to Hindus for whom yoga has transcendental meaning? An interesting-looking new book from Harvard, Stealing My Religion, addresses these questions. The author is Northeastern religion professor Liz Bucar. Here’s the publisher’s description:

From sneaker ads and the “solidarity hijab” to yoga classes and secular hikes along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, the essential guide to the murky ethics of religious appropriation.

We think we know cultural appropriation when we see it. Blackface or Native American headdresses as Halloween costumes—these clearly give offense. But what about Cardi B posing as the Hindu goddess Durga in a Reebok ad, AA’s twelve-step invocation of God, or the earnest namaste you utter at the end of yoga class?

Liz Bucar unpacks the ethical dilemmas of a messy form of cultural appropriation: the borrowing of religious doctrines, rituals, and dress for political, economic, and therapeutic reasons. Does borrowing from another’s religion harm believers? Who can consent to such borrowings? Bucar sees religion as an especially vexing arena for appropriation debates because faiths overlap and imitate each other and because diversity within religious groups scrambles our sense of who is an insider and who is not. Indeed, if we are to understand why some appropriations are insulting and others benign, we have to ask difficult philosophical questions about what religions really are.

Stealing My Religion guides us through three revealing case studies—the hijab as a feminist signal of Muslim allyship, a study abroad “pilgrimage” on the Camino de Santiago, and the commodification of yoga in the West. We see why the Vatican can’t grant Rihanna permission to dress up as the pope, yet it’s still okay to roll out our yoga mats. Reflecting on her own missteps, Bucar comes to a surprising conclusion: the way to avoid religious appropriation isn’t to borrow less but to borrow more—to become deeply invested in learning the roots and diverse meanings of our enthusiasms.

Fall 2022 Reading Society Meeting: A Conversation with Tara Isabella Burton

Almost 30% of Americans today tell pollsters they have no religious affiliation. Yet the large majority of these “Nones” claim to be believers: they reject institutional religion, not faith. Drawing on her book, Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World, author Tara Isabella Burton will share her insights about the Nones: what they believe, why their numbers have grown, and the impact they will have on American life.

Date: Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Time: 6:30 p.m. (Pizza will be served)

Location: St. John’s University School of Law

Eliot’s Prose Works

“We can never, I mean wholly, explain the practical world from a theoretical point of view, because this world is what it is by reason of the practical point of view, and the world we try to explain is a world set out upon a table — there!”

Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F.H. Bradley

“Some one said: ‘The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.’ Precisely, and they are that which we know.”

Tradition and the Individual Talent

Just a couple of lines from two of T.S. Eliot’s essays, the second comparatively well-known and the first less so. Eliot’s prose work has been an important influence in some recent law and religion scholarship, including Steve Smith’s “Pagans and Christians in the City,” as well as in some recent reflections on politics and populism. It has also provoked forceful reactions and objections. Eliot’s prose, however, has been less carefully studied than his poems.

This new compilation in 8 volumes, therefore, is well worth looking at (I am celebrating a birthday soon, just in case anybody is thinking of giving me a $700 gift) and sure to stimulate many responses: The Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot: The Critical Edition (Johns Hopkins Press), edited by Ronald Schuchard.

This monumental eight-volume edition of modern literature brings together, for the first time in print, all of the vastly influential prose writings of Nobel laureate T. S. Eliot, the poet and dramatist whose theories and criticism shaped twentieth-century thought and literature around the world. This complete collection provides access to over 6,000 pages of Eliot’s nonfiction prose writings on literature, philosophy, religion, cultural theory, world politics, and other topics of urgent and enduring import. It includes all of the essays that he collected in his lifetime, but also more than 1,000 uncollected, unrecorded, or unpublished items, many of which were missing or inaccessible for decades. From the formative “Interpretation of Primitive Ritual” (1913), written in graduate school at Harvard, to the summative “To Criticize the Critic” (1961), the Complete Prose offers readers full access to the immense scope and variety of Eliot’s works in their biographical, historical, and cultural context.

The individual volumes have received the highest praise from prominent scholars: volume II won the Modernist Studies Association’s 2015 Book Prize for an Edition, Anthology, or Essay Collection, while volumes V and VI were jointly awarded the 2017 Prize for a Scholarly Edition by the Modern Language Association. They display “uniform excellence,” wrote the Awards Committee: “Their thorough textual introductions, sophisticated annotations merging intelligent commentary with brevity and completeness, make the volumes a pleasure to read… and enlarge our understanding of Eliot as the public intellectual at work.” Together with recent editions of the Poems, the eight volumes of Letters, and the sensational opening in 2020 of Eliot’s letters to Emily Hale, the Complete Prose brings us to the threshold of a new age for the study of Eliot and the modernist writers of his day.

Around the Web

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

  • In Keene v. City and County of San Francisco, a California federal district court dismissed a suit by two city employees who objected on religious grounds to the city’s COVID vaccine mandate. The court held that neither Plaintiff has demonstrated that their religious beliefs are sincere or that those beliefs conflict with receiving the vaccine. 
  • Suit was filed in a New Jersey federal district court by seven police officers and firefighters who were denied a religious accommodation to excuse them from a COVID vaccine mandate. The complaint in Aliano v. Township of Maplewood contends that the denial violates Title VII and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. 
  • Suit was filed in an Ohio federal district court by a University Heights, Ohio homeowner who was told by the city that he needed to obtain a special use permit in order to hold Jewish prayer services with ten friends in his home. The complaint in Grand v. City of University Heights, Ohio challenges, among other things, certain provisions of the city ordinances under the United States Constitution, RLUIPA, the Ohio Constitution, and Ohio common law. 
  • Suit was filed in an Indiana federal district court by The Satanic Temple challenging Indiana’s recently enacted law regulating access to abortion with limited exceptions. The complaint in The Satanic Temple v. Holcomb not only alleges that the ban violates Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it outlaws the Satanic Abortion Ritual, but also alleges other constitutional defects. 
  • In Adam Community Center v. City of Troy, a Michigan federal district court refused to dismiss RLUIPA and constitutional claims against the city of Troy, Michigan. Plaintiff alleged wrongful denial of necessary zoning variances so plaintiff could use its property for Muslim religious services and classes. The court previously concluded that the city had violated the equal terms and substantial burden provisions of RLUIPA, and now ordered a hearing on damages for those violations. 
  • In In re Ayad, the Texas Supreme Court held that the trial court should determine the validity and enforceability of an Islamic Pre-Nuptial Agreement before, rather than after, ordering the parties to arbitration by a Fiqh Panel pursuant to the agreement. In a divorce proceeding, the wife challenged the agreement’s enforceability on various grounds, including that the term “Islamic Law” is too indefinite and that the agreement is void as violating public policy.