On a New Christian Humanism (in Education)

Last spring, I gave a talk called “Notes on a New Humanism in Legal Education,” organized by the Center for Law and the Human Person at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. In it, I argued that one possible model for the future of legal education might be take inspiration from the Christian humanist tradition of education pressed by various late medieval and early Renaissance thinkers (and ably described by Professor James Hankins, for example here and here).

So I was very interested to see this new book out in December, The Wisdom of Our Ancestors: Conservative Humanism and the Western Tradition (Notre Dame Press), by Graham James McAleer and Alexander S. Rosenthal-Pubul. The book presents an interesting intellectual reconstruction of the humanist tradition, offering up something the authors call “conservative humanism.” A book worth engaging.

In this book, Graham McAleer and Alexander Rosenthal-Pubul offer a renewed vision of conservatism for the twenty-first century. Taking their inspiration from the late Roger Scruton, the authors begin with a simple question: What, after all, is the meaning of conservatism? In reply, they make a case for a political orientation that they call “conservative humanism,” which threads a middle way between liberal universalism and its ideological alternatives. This vision of conservatism is rooted in the humanist tradition (that is, classical humanism, Christian humanism, and secular humanism), which the authors take to be the hallmark of Western civilizational identity. At its core, conservative humanism attempts to reconcile universal moral values (rooted in natural law) with local, particularist loyalties. In articulating this position, the authors show that the West—contra various contemporary critics—does, in fact, have a great deal of wisdom to offer.

The authors begin with an overview of the conservative thought world, situating their proposal relative to two major poles: liberalism and nationalism. They move on to show that conservatism must fundamentally take the form of a defense of humanism, the “master idea of our civilization.” The ensuing chapters articulate various aspects of conservative humanism, including its metaphysical, institutional, legal, philosophical, and economic dimensions. Largely rooted in the Anglo-Continental conservative tradition, the work offers fresh perspectives for North American conservatism.

Around the Web

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

  • In In re Parks v. Commissioner of Labor, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court upheld the denial of unemployment compensation to a medical center security guard who was terminated for refusing to comply with a Covid vaccine mandate. The court ruled that the state mandate did not allow for a religious exemption, and the security guard’s religious beliefs did not excuse compliance with a valid, religion-neutral law of general applicability. The court held that when employment is terminated due to noncompliance with such a law, even when the motives for noncompliance are religious in nature, the First Amendment does not prevent the denial of unemployment insurance benefits if the mandate has a “rational public-health basis” and is justified by a compelling government interest.
  • New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a new initiative allowing mosques to broadcast the call to prayer on Fridays and during Ramadan without requiring a permit. The initiative comes with new legal guidance from the NYPD, emphasizing that the call to prayer is permitted in the city despite sound restrictions in neighborhoods. Mosques can now broadcast the call to prayer on Fridays from 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM and during the sunset prayers throughout Ramadan, with collaborative efforts between the NYPD Community Affairs Bureau and Muslim faith leaders to ensure compliance with noise regulations.
  • In Rutan-Ram v. Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee reversed the decision of a trial court that held a Jewish couple did not have standing to sue the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. The couple sued because they were denied foster training by a state-subsidized child-placement agency because they did not share the agency’s religious beliefs. The court held that there was an injury in fact because the Tennessee statute that protected faith-based agencies from providing services to those that did not share their belief made it more difficult for members of one group to obtain services.
  • In Lax v. City University of New York, the New York Kings County Supreme Court allowed five Orthodox Jewish faculty members at Kingsborough Community College to proceed with their religious hostile work environment and retaliation claims against the school. The Jewish faculty members allege that they have been subjected to pervasive discrimination by another faculty group called the Progressive Faculty Caucus (PFC). 
  • The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in a case regarding whether, consistent with the Second Amendment, the government may prohibit firearm possession by a person with a domestic violence restraining order. The brief states that the bishops support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer.
  • Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia all signed an amicus brief supporting certiorari in a case challenging a New York law that bars counseling within a hundred feet of an abortion clinic, including on public sidewalks. The Second Circuit upheld the law based on Hill v. Colorado (2000).