Sixth Session of the CLR Reading Society: Miller’s “Canticle” & MacIntyre’s “After Virtue”

Mark and I are pleased to announce the sixth session of our CLR Reading Society, an opportunity open to all St. John’s Law Students to discuss works of fiction and non-fiction raising law and religion themes.

Our choice for this gathering is somewhat unusual, as it combines a work of science-fiction/fantasy and another of moral philosophy: the first story in Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz and selected chapters of Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. A Canticle concerns a world ravaged by a series of environmental disasters, in which human knowledge and scientific achievement have not only been destroyed but are also blamed for the devastation by the Know-Nothing political power that survives. An order of obscure monks in the desert wasteland attempts to preserve and revive knowledge, but all its members have to go on are fragments of the past, disconnected from the theoretical structures of meaning and understanding within which they made sense. Miller’s tale about what recovery of learning in the ruins of such a civilization would look like was taken up by MacIntyre in After Virtue as the opening chapter’s inspiration for reflecting on the nature of moral and political disagreement today.

St. John’s Law students interested in the CLR Reading Society should contact Professor DeGirolami,, or Professor Movsesian, Books (both of them, for this session) are provided for free to students and all are welcome. We will meet on the evening of Tuesday, April 11, to discuss these works, so students who would like to join us and require books should write to us as soon as possible. Further details are forthcoming.

Around the Web

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

  • In Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Abbott, the Fifth Circuit held the FFRF’s lawsuit challenging the exclusion of one of its displays at the state capitol was moot, as the Texas State Preservation Board had repealed the law allowing private displays. The court stated that “the Foundation’s injury is premised on exclusion from expressing its message in a public forum, and because the public forum no longer exists, the permanent injunctive relief ordered by the district court cannot remain.”
  • In Alive Church of the Nazarene, Inc. v. Prince William County, Virginia, the Fourth Circuit rejected a church’s challenges to zoning restrictions that prevented the church from using its property for religious services. The Fourth Circuit rejected the church’s RLUIPA claims, as well as its Equal Protection, Free Exercise, and Peaceable Assembly challenges to the zoning restrictions.
  • In a Mississippi federal district court case, the parties in L.B. v. Simpson County School District have reached a settlement. As part of the settlement, the Simpson County School District has agreed to change its policy that prohibited a 3rd-grade student from wearing a face mask with the phrase “Jesus Loves Me” on it. Additionally, the school district will pay $45,000 and allow the student to wear her mask. 
  • The US Department of Health and Human Services has proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act that would eliminate the current exemption for employers and schools that have moral, as opposed to religious, objections to covering contraceptive services.
  • The chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities sent a letter to House and Senate sponsors of the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act” (H.R.7 and S.62) in support of the legislation. The act would make long-standing prohibitions on federal funding of elective abortion permanent and government-wide, rather than depending on various appropriations.
  • The Australian Law Reform Commission, an independent Australian government agency, has released a Consultation Paper on Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws. The Consultation Paper suggested proposals that would “make discrimination against students on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status, or pregnancy in schools and other religious educational institutions unlawful” while also allowing “religious schools to maintain their religious character by permitting them to . . . give preference to prospective staff on religious grounds where the teaching, observance, or practice of religion is a part of their role.” 
  • At the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C., Beth Van Schaack, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice, spoke regarding the “two contemporary genocides” of Muslims worldwide. Van Shaack voiced her support for the international community’s drafting of a crimes against humanity statute that would enable these crimes to be prosecuted in the International Crimes Court.  

The Disintegrating Conscience

Perhaps this notice comes slightly early, but I had the pleasure of reading Professor Steven Smith’s new book, The Disintegrating Conscience and the Decline of Modernity (University of Notre Dame Press), in its pre-publication draft, and I was delighted to offer this book blurb about it: “Steven Smith is the greatest law and religion scholar of his generation. Every book he writes is illuminating, and this one is no exception. The Disintegrating Conscience and the Decline of Modernity is far and away the most insightful, balanced, and convincing account of the religion clauses to appear in the last five years at least.” Here is the description:

Steven D. Smith’s books are always anticipated with great interest by scholars, jurists, and citizens who see his work on foundational questions surrounding law and religion as shaping the debate in profound ways. Now, in The Disintegrating Conscience and the Decline of Modernity, Smith takes as his starting point Jacques Barzun’s provocative assertion that “the modern era” is coming to an end. Smith considers the question of decline by focusing on a single theme—conscience—that has been central to much of what has happened in Western politics, law, and religion over the past half-millennium. Rather than attempting to follow that theme step-by-step through five hundred years, the book adopts an episodic and dramatic approach by focusing on three main figures and particularly portentous episodes: first, Thomas More’s execution for his conscientious refusal to take an oath mandated by Henry VIII; second, James Madison’s contribution to Virginia law in removing the proposed requirement of religious toleration in favor of freedom of conscience; and, third, William Brennan’s pledge to separate his religious faith from his performance as a Supreme Court justice. These three episodes, Smith suggests, reflect in microcosm decisive turning points at which Western civilization changed from what it had been in premodern times to what it is today. A commitment to conscience, Smith argues, has been a central and in some ways defining feature of modern Western civilization, and yet in a crucial sense conscience in the time of Brennan and today has come to mean almost the opposite of what it meant to Thomas More. By scrutinizing these men and episodes, the book seeks to illuminate subtle but transformative changes in the commitment to conscience—changes that helped to bring Thomas More’s world to an end and that may also be contributing to the disintegration of (per Barzun) “the modern era.”

Last Week’s Panel on “Law and Religion at the Supreme Court”

Here’s a nice writeup on the law school website of last week’s panel, “Law and Religion at the Supreme Court: New Directions,” with Judges Richard Sullivan (CA2) and Rachel Kovner (EDNY). Thanks to everyone who turned out on a rainy night!

Law Like Love?

It may seem a little strange to say it this way, given the fact that Christianity has been dealing with the subject for 2000 years, but lately the global legal academy has begun to show interest in Christian jurisprudence. Marc has written a couple of posts about the phenomenon, and our latest Legal Spirits podcast discusses it as well–specifically, what Marc has taken to calling the “Australian School.” Here is a new, interesting-looking collection of essays on Christian jurisprudence from Routledge, Christianity, Ethics, and the Law: The Concept of Love in Christian Legal Thought, edited by Zachary Calo (Hamad bin Khalifa University, Qatar), Joshua Neoh (Australian National University), and A. Keith Thompson (University of Notre Dame, Australia). The Australian School seems very much in evidence. The essays focus on how the central Christian virtue of love can influence law and legal philosophy:

This book examines how Christian love can inform legal thought. The work introduces love as a way to advance the emergent conversation between constructive theology and jurisprudence that will also inform conversations in philosophy and political theory.

Love is the central category for Christian ethical understanding. Yet, the growing field of law and religion, and relatedly law and theology, rarely addresses how love can shape our understanding of law. This reflects, in part, a common assumption that law and love stand in necessary tension. Love applies to the private and the personal. Law, by contrast, applies to the public and the political, realms governed by power. It is thus a mistake to envisage love as having anything but a negative relationship to law. This conclusion continues to govern Christian understandings of the meaning and vocation of law. The animating idea of this volume is that the concept of love can and should inform Christian legal thought. The project approaches this task from the perspective of both historical and constructive theology. Various contributions examine how such thinkers as Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin utilised love in their legal thought. These essays highlight often neglected aspects of the Christian tradition. Other contributions examine Christian love in light of contemporary legal topics including civility, forgiveness, and secularism. Love, the book proposes, not only matters for law but can transform the terms on which Christians understand and engage it.

The book will be of interest to academics and researchers working in the areas of legal theory; law and religion; law and philosophy; legal history; theology and religious studies; and political theory.