Legal Spirits Episode 016: The New Wedding Vendor Cases

In this episode, we discuss recent court rulings in favor of wedding vendors who decline, from religious conviction, to provide services for same-sex weddings. After years of losing such cases, vendors like Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski of Phoenix’s Brush & Nib Studio (above) have won notable victories in the lower courts. We ask whether these victories reflect the changing membership of the judiciary–especially given the new Trump appointees to the federal appeals courts–and how the Supreme Court is likely to respond to them. Listen in!

Legal Spirits Episode 014: Requiring Clergy to Report Child Sex Abuse to State Authorities

Pope Francis Hears Confessions in Rome

In this episode, Center Co-Directors Mark Movsesian & Marc DeGirolami address state efforts to require clergy to report suspected child sex they learn about through confidential spiritual counseling–in traditional Christian terms, through Confession. Focusing on a recent California bill, SB 360, we explore what these efforts reveal about changes in American religion and predict whether such bills would violate the Free Exercise Clause. Listen in!

Legal Spirits Episode 012: Is Satanism a Religion?

Satan, Paradise Lost (illustrated by Gustave Dore)

In this podcast, we discuss several recent law and religion controversies concerning the “Satanic Temple.” We discuss what the Satanic Temple is and what its adherents say they believe, whether the Temple should count as a religion or a religious institution for legal purposes, and how the Temple has cleverly put pressure–legally and otherwise–on the principles of sincerity, neutrality, and equality that are said to animate the constitutional doctrine of religious freedom. Listen in!

Legal Spirits Episode 009: The “Anti-Vaxx” Controversy

In this podcast, Center Director Mark Movsesian and Associate Director Marc DeGirolami discuss the anti-vaccination controversy. What are the sources of the objections to compulsory vaccination laws–religious, secular, or both? What power does the state have to compel vaccination by law, and what exceptions have states made historically? What is the state of play of such exemptions? May the state take away religious exemptions from mandatory vaccination without violating the Constitution or other laws? Need it take away all exemptions to pass legal muster, or can it do so selectively? Finally, what does the “anti-vaxx” issue say about American society’s capacity to agree about what are truly compelling social interests? Listen in!

Legal Spirits Episode 008: Religious Hate Speech (Part II)

In this second episode of a two-part podcast, Center Director Mark Movsesian and Associate Director Marc DeGirolami discuss the private dimension of the control of “religious hate speech.” What, if anything, can public authorities do to intervene in the private arena? They focus on speech on private university campuses and discuss two basic constitutional rules: first, the rule governing the freedom of speech and associational freedom protecting private universities from government regulation; and second, the doctrine of “unconstitutional conditions” that affects the way in which the government can condition the granting of money dependent upon private universities’ compliance with government policies and interests. They also consider the social and cultural effects of the existing legal framework, discussing along the way some of the recent controversies on campuses involving disinvitations and exclusions of certain points of view and perspectives because of their allegedly “hateful” qualities. Listen in!

The City on a Hill

Shortly before departing from England for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Puritan leader John Winthrop delivered a sermon on what the Puritans hoped to accomplish in the new world. Adapting a famous Gospel passage, he said the colony would be “as a city upon a hill” and that “the eyes of all people are upon us.” The Puritan fervor lasted only a generation or two, but the sense of Boston as an exceptional place that would serve as a model for the entire world really never faded–either for Bostonians or for Americans as a whole.

A new book from Princeton describes the history of the city, from its Puritan founding through its decline in influence, which the author dates to the Civil War. Looks very interesting. The book is The City-State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, 1630-1865; the author is Yale historian Mark Peterson. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

A groundbreaking history of early America that shows how Boston built and sustained an independent city-state in New England before being folded into the United States

In the vaunted annals of America’s founding, Boston has long been held up as an exemplary “city upon a hill” and the “cradle of liberty” for an independent United States. Wresting this iconic urban center from these misleading, tired clichés, The City-State of Boston highlights Boston’s overlooked past as an autonomous city-state, and in doing so, offers a pathbreaking and brilliant new history of early America. Following Boston’s development over three centuries, Mark Peterson discusses how this self-governing Atlantic trading center began as a refuge from Britain’s Stuart monarchs and how—through its bargain with slavery and ratification of the Constitution—it would tragically lose integrity and autonomy as it became incorporated into the greater United States.

Drawing from vast archives, and featuring unfamiliar figures alongside well-known ones, such as John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, and John Adams, Peterson explores Boston’s origins in sixteenth-century utopian ideals, its founding and expansion into the hinterland of New England, and the growth of its distinctive political economy, with ties to the West Indies and southern Europe. By the 1700s, Boston was at full strength, with wide Atlantic trading circuits and cultural ties, both within and beyond Britain’s empire. After the cataclysmic Revolutionary War, “Bostoners” aimed to negotiate a relationship with the American confederation, but through the next century, the new United States unraveled Boston’s regional reign. The fateful decision to ratify the Constitution undercut its power, as Southern planters and slave owners dominated national politics and corroded the city-state’s vision of a common good for all.

Legal Spirits Episode 007: Religious Hate Speech (Part 1)

In this first episode of a two-part podcast, Center Director Mark Movsesian and Associate Director Marc DeGirolami discuss government regulation of “religious hate speech.” They break down the concept into three categories–speech that denigrates religion as such; speech that threatens imminent violence against believers; and speech that insults or denigrates believers on the basis of religion–and explain how our law currently addresses each of them. They explore the possibility that American courts will abandon their traditional hostility to hate-speech regulation and the line-drawing problems that would follow. Listen in!

Sheen, King, and Falwell

Later this spring, Penn Press will publish Religion in the Public Square: Sheen, King, Falwell, by Ave Maria politics professor James Patterson. The book covers three preachers–not often linked–who influenced American public policy in the 20th Century. I wonder about Patterson’s point about Falwell: did Falwell instigate a breakdown in the post-war Judeo-Christian consensus or did he simply reflect it? Anyway, looks interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description

In Religion in the Public Square, James M. Patterson considers religious leaders who popularized theology through media campaigns designed to persuade the public. Ven. Fulton J. Sheen, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Rev. Jerry Falwell differed profoundly on issues of theology and politics, but they shared an approach to public ministry that aimed directly at changing how Americans understood the nature and purpose of their country. From the 1930s through the 1950s, Sheen was an early adopter of paperbacks, radio, and television to condemn totalitarian ideologies and to defend American Catholicism against Protestant accusations of divided loyalty. During the 1950s and 1960s, King staged demonstrations and boycotts that drew the mass media to him. The attention provided him the platform to preach Christian love as a political foundation in direct opposition to white supremacy. Falwell started his own church, which he developed into a mass media empire. He then leveraged it during the late 1970s through the 1980s to influence the Republican Party by exhorting his audience to not only ally with religious conservatives around issues of abortion and the traditional family but also to vote accordingly.

Sheen, King, and Falwell were so successful in popularizing their theological ideas that they won prestigious awards, had access to presidents, and witnessed the results of their labors. However, Patterson argues that Falwell’s efforts broke with the longstanding refusal of religious public figures to participate directly in partisan affairs and thereby catalyzed the process of politicizing religion that undermined the Judeo-Christian consensus that formed the foundation of American politics.

A New Book on Yoga in the Public Schools

A few years ago, I wrote on this blog about controversial yoga program for elementary school students in California. Some parents complained that the program subtly indoctrinated their kids into Hinduism. The school district responded that its yoga program was just a stretching exercise, without religious content–which response led Hindu organizations to complain the the school had co-opted their religious tradition and transformed it into something else. It is a fascinating story that reveals how difficult it is to negotiate religion in the public schools.

A forthcoming book from the University of North Carolina Press, Debating Yoga and Mindfulness in Public Schools: Reforming Secular Education or Reestablishing Religion, discusses the controversy. The author is Indiana University religious studies professor Candy Gunther Brown. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Yoga and mindfulness activities, with roots in Asian traditions such as Hinduism or Buddhism, have been brought into growing numbers of public schools since the 1970s. While they are commonly assumed to be secular educational tools, Candy Gunther Brown asks whether religion is truly left out of the equation in the context of public-school curricula. An expert witness in four legal challenges, Brown scrutinized unpublished trial records, informant interviews, and legal precedents, as well as insider documents, some revealing promoters of “Vedic victory” or “stealth Buddhism” for public-school children. The legal challenges are fruitful cases for Brown’s analysis of the concepts of religious and secular.

While notions of what makes something religious or secular are crucial to those who study religion, they have special significance in the realm of public and legal norms. They affect how people experience their lives, raise their children, and navigate educational systems. The question of religion in public education, Brown shows, is no longer a matter of jurisprudence focused largely on the establishment of a Protestant Bible or nonsectarian prayer. Instead, it now reflects an increasingly diverse American religious landscape. Reconceptualizing secularization as transparency and religious voluntarism, Brown argues for an opt-in model for public-school programs.

Legal Spirits Episode 006: SCOTUS Hears Oral Argument in the Peace Cross Case

Peace Cross 5

The Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Maryland

In this episode of Legal Spirits, Center Director Mark Movsesian and Associate Director Marc DeGirolami recap last week’s oral argument in the Peace Cross case, The American Legion v. American Humanist Association. The Justices signaled that they’re likely to uphold the constitutionality of the cross, but it’s not clear what their reasoning will be. Mark and Marc discuss the various possibilities and predict how the votes may eventually line up.

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