An Eminent Liberal on Liberalism

In January 2014 (nearly 10 years ago!), Mark and I were fortunate to host Professor Michael Walzer at the Colloquium in Law and Religion (co-hosted, that year, with our friend, Professor Michael Moreland, at Villanova). If memory serves, Professor Walzer gave a very interesting paper on what the Jewish law of war could take from the Catholic “Just War” tradition of thought. The paper was filled with insights about religious law, and some important differences between the Catholic and Jewish intellectual and spiritual inheritance (one of which concerned the difference between the Natural Law Tradition and the Noahide Covenant). It was an honor to have him with us.

But, of course, Professor Walzer’s most notable contributions have been in the area of liberal political thought (see, for example, here). Liberalism has had a rather more contested legacy in the 10 or so years since we last met with Prof. Walzer than it had in the generation and more before that. And so it is that Walzer has a new book that seems to grapple with some of that recent contestation, in what looks like an important statement and recapitulation of his own views. The book is The Struggle for a Decent Politics: On “Liberal” as an Adjective (Yale University Press). Congratulations to him.

There was a time when liberalism was an ism like any other, but that time, writes Michael Walzer, is gone. “Liberal” now conveys not a specific ideology but a moral stance, so the word is best conceived not as a noun but as an adjective—one is a “liberal democrat” or a “liberal nationalist.”
Walzer itemizes the characteristics described by “liberal” in an inventory of his own deepest political and moral commitments—among other things, to the principle of equality, to the rule of law, and to a pluralism that is both political and cultural. Unabashedly asserting that liberalism comprises a universal set of values (“they must be universal,” he writes, “since they are under assault around the world”), Walzer reminds us in this inspiring book why those values are worth fighting for.

Around the Web

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

  • The Supreme Court denied certiorari in Keister v. Bell. In that case, the 11th Circuit rejected an evangelical preacher’s challenge to an Alabama law which required a permit for any speaker who sought to participate in expressive conduct on university grounds. The preacher set up a banner, handed out religious literature, and preached through a megaphone without a permit on campus grounds.
  • In Mack v. Yost, the 3d Circuit held that qualified immunity can be asserted by prison officers in a suit brought against them under the RFRA, but the defendants had not shown facts that they were entitled to that defense. The plaintiff was an inmate of Muslim faith who would pray during his shift breaks. He alleged that officers would interfere with his prayers, so he eventually stopped praying.
  • In Dousa v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Southern District of California held that U.S. immigration officials violated a pastor’s free exercise rights by urging the Mexican government to deny him entry into Mexico. The pastor married immigrant couples with children who were coming to the United States so that they would not be separated upon entry into the country.
  • In Edgerton v. City of St. Augustine, the Middle District of Florida found that when the City relocated a Confederate Civil War monument, it did not violate the Establishment Clause or plaintiff’s free exercise rights. The plaintiff alleged that he would pray at the monument, and the relocation was hostile and offensive to those who used the monument to pray.
  • In DeJong v. Pembrook, the Southern District of Illinois denied an Illinois University’s motion to dismiss a former student’s Free Speech claim. The student posted her religious, political, and social views to her social media, which led to a “no-contact” order that prohibited her from having any contact with three students who complained about the posts.
  • The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom held a virtual hearing to discuss the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on religious freedom in Ukraine. The Commission discussed how Russia’s control of certain areas in Ukraine has led to the suppression of religious communities such as the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Muslim Crimean Tatars, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.