Around the Web

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

  • In Ciraci v. J.M. Smucker Company, the Sixth Circuit held that a first amendment free-exercise claim could not be made by employees working for a federal contractor. The employees were denied a religious exemption from a Covid vaccine mandate but, because they were working for a federal contractor and not for the government itself, the court found that constitutional guarantees did not apply to them.
  • In Wrigley v. Romanick, the North Dakota Supreme Court declined to vacate a trial court’s preliminary injunction that barred enforcement of the state’s 2007 abortion ban, which went into effect when the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade last year. The court determined that a critical defect in the abortion ban was the absence of an exception for preserving the health of the mother.
  • Six Jewish parents and two Orthodox Jewish day schools filed a law suit in a California federal district court challenging the exclusion of sectarian schools from receiving funds made available to California user the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The complaint in Loffman v. California Department of Education alleges that the plaintiffs are entitled to equal treatment and should be afforded a portion of the generally available public funding necessary to provide education to students with disabilities.
  • A Christian preschool and the church that sponsors it filed a law suit in a Connecticut federal district court, challenging the removal of religious exemptions from Connecticuts’s statute requiring various vaccinations for preschool children. The complaint in Milford Christian Church v. Russell-Tucker alleges that the requirement violates free exercise, free speech, freedom of association, equal protection, and child rearing rights.
  • The governor of Utah signed HB467, which requires that all abortions performed after January 1, 2024 be performed in hospitals rather than abortion clinics. It goes on to create an exception for rape, incest, and for pregnant females under the age of 14. However, all these abortions are only allowed to be performed before 18 weeks of pregnancy. 
  • The article, Faith After the Pandemic: How COVID-19 Changed American Religion, published on the Survey Center on American Life website, discusses the post-Covid increase in the number of individuals identifying as religiously unaffiliated.

The Disintegration of Free Speech?

There is a growing consensus that the principle of free speech is in crisis, whether the dangers are coming primarily from government actors, or private actors intent on suppressing dissenting views, or both (matters on which there is considerable disagreement). There is also growing anxiety about the sustainability of academic freedom, as well as the associated structure of tenure. There is even doubt and intense disagreement about the basic function and purpose of the university. Here is a new book discussing these developments in historical perspective, The Collapse of Freedom of Expression: Reconstructing the Ancient Roots of Modern Liberty (Notre Dame Press) by Jordi Pujol.

The topic of free speech is rarely addressed from a historical, philosophical, or theological perspective. In The Collapse of Freedom of Expression, Jordi Pujol explores both the modern concept of the freedom of expression based on the European Enlightenment and the deficiencies inherent in this framework. Modernity has disregarded the traditional roots of the freedom of expression drawn from Christianity, Greek philosophy, and Roman law, which has left the door open to the various forms of abuse, censorship, and restrictions seen in contemporary public discourse. Pujol proposes that we rebuild the foundations of the freedom of expression by returning to older traditions and incorporating both the field of pragmatics of language and theological and ethical concepts on human intentionality as new, complementary disciplines.

Pujol examines emblematic cases such as Charlie Hebdo, free speech on campus, and online content moderation to elaborate on the tensions that arise within the modern concept of freedom of expression. The book explores the main criticisms of the contemporary liberal tradition by communitarians, libertarians, feminists, and critical race theorists, and analyzes the gaps and contradictions within these traditions. Pujol ultimately offers a reconstruction project that involves bridging the chasm between the secular and the sacred and recognizing that religion is a font of meaning for millions of people, and as such has an inescapable place in the construction of a pluralist public sphere.