Around the Web

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

  • In Clark v. Governor of the State of New Jersey, the Third Circuit held that a challenge by two Christian congregations and their pastors to former Covid limits on in-person worship services is moot. The court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the suit. 
  • In Doster v. Kendall, the Sixth Circuit affirmed a district court’s grant of a class-wide preliminary injunction barring the Air Force from disciplining Air Force personnel who have sought religious exemptions from the military’s Covid vaccine mandate.
  • In Doe v. Rokita, the Seventh Circuit rejected First Amendment challenges to an Indiana statute that requires abortion providers to dispose of fetal remains either by burial or cremation. The suit was brought by two women who raise free exercise claims and by two physicians who oppose the requirement that they inform patients of the law’s provisions. 
  • In Pickup v. Biden, Plaintiffs petitioned the D.C. federal district court to declare two bills pending in Congress unconstitutional and enjoin their passage. Plaintiffs focused primarily on an Establishment Clause challenge; however, the court held that the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause bars Plaintiffs’ claims against the congressional Defendants, that the court lacks jurisdiction to enjoin a President from performing his official duties, and that Plaintiffs lack standing.
  • A former Boston police officer who is a Jehovah’s Witness filed suit in a Massachusetts state trial court after the Boston Police Department denied his request for a religious exemption from the Department’s Covid vaccine mandate. He was placed on administrative leave and subsequently terminated. The complaint in Colon v. City of Boston also alleges that he was ridiculed because of his religious beliefs. 
  • President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has called for lawmakers to prevent the branch of the Orthodox Church loyal to Moscow Patriarchate from operating in Ukraine on the ground that Russia is using the church to provide cover for Russian secret agents. Over the past month, Ukrainian security agencies have engaged in raids of monasteries – resulting in the arrest of at least thirty-three priests. 

Protestant Traditionalism?

It is a kind of commonplace that Protestantism is anti-traditionalist in orientation, preferring a view in which unmediated, personal relationships with God and scripture are what matter, while Catholicism is traditionalist, emphasizing the accretion of authorities that mediate the connection between religious source and the believer. This is a story often told in relation to America’s own famed Protestant founding to suggest something about the distinctiveness of American religiosity.

But not so fast, says a new book that questions key features of the usual story, The Old Faith in a New Nation: American Protestants and the Christian Past (Oxford), by Paul J. Gutacker.

Conventional wisdom holds that tradition and history meant little to nineteenth-century American Protestants, who relied on common sense and “the Bible alone.” The Old Faith in a New Nation challenges this portrayal by recovering evangelical engagement with the Christian past. Even when they appeared to be most scornful toward tradition, most optimistic and forward-looking, and most confident in their grasp of the Bible, evangelicals found themselves returning, time and again, to Christian history. They studied religious historiography, reinterpreted the history of the church, and argued over its implications for the present. Between the Revolution and the Civil War, American Protestants were deeply interested in the meaning of the Christian past.

Paul J. Gutacker draws from hundreds of print sources-sermons, books, speeches, legal arguments, political petitions, and more-to show how ordinary educated Americans remembered and used Christian history. While claiming to rely on the Bible alone, antebellum Protestants frequently turned to the Christian past on questions of import: how should the government relate to religion? Could Catholic immigrants become true Americans? What opportunities and rights should be available to women? To African Americans? Protestants across denominations answered these questions not only with the Bible but also with history. By recovering the ways in which American evangelicals remembered and used Christian history, The Old Faith in a New Nation shows how religious memory shaped the nation and interrogates the meaning of “biblicism.”