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.
In this episode of Legal Spirits, Center Director Mark Movsesian and Associate Director Marc DeGirolami discuss the Court’s recent denial of cert in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, a case in which the Ninth Circuit ruled that a public high school football coach could be fired for praying on the 50-yard line after each game. Movsesian and DeGirolami explain why a seemingly offhand comment by Justice Alito might signal a change in the Court’s free exercise jurisprudence, and whether, even under current doctrine, the coach might have had a legal right to pray.
To close out the week’s books, here is a new collection from Routledge on early modern Europe, A Sourcebook of Early Modern European History, edited by Ute Lotz-Heumann (University of Arizona). Many foundational concepts in American church-state relations date from this period, and the book addresses a number of subjects that law and religion scholars will find interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A Sourcebook of Early Modern European History not only provides instructors with primary sources of a manageable length and translated into English, it also offers students a concise explanation of their context and meaning.
By covering different areas of early modern life through the lens of contemporaries’ experiences, this book serves as an introduction to the early modern European world in a way that a narrative history of the period cannot. It is divided into six subject areas, each comprising between twelve and fourteen explicated sources: I. The fabric of communities: Social interaction and social control; II. Social spaces: Experiencing and negotiating encounters; III. Propriety, legitimacy, fidelity: Gender, marriage, and the family; IV. Expressions of faith: Official and popular religion; V. Realms intertwined: Religion and politics; and, VI. Defining the religious other: Identities and conflicts.
Spanning the period from c. 1450 to c. 1750 and including primary sources from across early modern Europe, from Spain to Transylvania, Italy to Iceland, and the European colonies, this book provides an excellent sense of the diversity and complexity of human experience during this time whilst drawing attention to key themes and events of the period. It is ideal for students of early modern history, and of early modern Europe in particular.
The Seventh Ecumenical Council, Second Nicaea (787 AD), is famous for its rejection of iconoclasm, a question that roiled the Byzantine state in the eighth century. It’s the last council accepted as ecumenical by Eastern Orthodox Christians. (The Catholic Church has convened many since, including, most recently, Vatican II). All of which is to say that Second Nicea represents an important moment in church-and-state history.
Late last year, Oxford University Press published a new, two-volume English translation of the formal acts of the Council. Very few English translations exist, so this is an important addition to the scholarly literature. The book is The Acts of the Second Council of Nicaea (787), and the translator is Richard Price (University of London). Here’s the description from the Oxford website:
The Second Council of Nicaea (787) decreed that religious images were to set up in churches and venerated. It thereby established the cult of icons as a central element in the piety of the Orthodox churches, as it has remained ever since. In the West its decrees received a new emphasis in the Counter-Reformation, in the defence of the role of art in religion. It is a text of prime importance for the iconoclast controversy of eighth-century Byzantium, one of the most explored and contested topics in Byzantine history. But it has also a more general significance – in the history of culture and the history of art. This edition offers the first translation that is based on the new critical edition of this text in the Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum series, and the first full commentary of this work that has ever been written. It will be of interest to a wide range of readers from a variety of disciplines.
A new book from Yale University Press argues that Max Weber had it all wrong. Christianity, even in its Protestant version, doesn’t create a capitalist mentality. Rather, Christianity offers a direct challenge to capitalism. Seems pretty straightforward, actually. The book, Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism, by Yale theologian Kathryn Tanner, is one of many new works, from both the left and the right, that critique the easy association many American Christians make between their religion and market economics. Here’s the description from the Yale website:
One of the world’s most celebrated theologians argues for a Protestant anti-work ethic
In his classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber famously showed how Christian beliefs and practices could shape persons in line with capitalism. In this significant reimagining of Weber’s work, Kathryn Tanner provocatively reverses this thesis, arguing that Christianity can offer a direct challenge to the largely uncontested growth of capitalism.
Exploring the cultural forms typical of the current finance-dominated system of capitalism, Tanner shows how they can be countered by Christian beliefs and practices with a comparable person-shaping capacity. Addressing head-on the issues of economic inequality, structural under- and unemployment, and capitalism’s unstable boom/bust cycles, she draws deeply on the theological resources within Christianity to imagine anew a world of human flourishing. This book promises to be one of the most important theological books in recent years.
Here is a new book from Harvard on the history of Catholicism in Africa in the postcolonial period, African Catholic: Decolonization and the Transformation of the Church, by Tufts University historian Elizabeth A. Foster. The publisher’s description of the book, below, suggests an historical struggle in French Africa between conservative European clerics and liberation-minded Africans. Ironic, that–because nowadays the struggle in Catholicism, and other Christian communions, is between progressive European clerics and conservative African ones. Times change:
A groundbreaking history of how Africans in the French Empire embraced both African independence and their Catholic faith during the upheaval of decolonization, leading to a fundamental reorientation of the Catholic Church.
African Catholic examines how French imperialists and the Africans they ruled imagined the religious future of French sub-Saharan Africa in the years just before and after decolonization. The story encompasses the political transition to independence, Catholic contributions to black intellectual currents, and efforts to alter the church hierarchy to create an authentically “African” church.
Elizabeth Foster recreates a Franco-African world forged by conquest, colonization, missions, and conversions—one that still exists today. We meet missionaries in Africa and their superiors in France, African Catholic students abroad destined to become leaders in their home countries, African Catholic intellectuals and young clergymen, along with French and African lay activists. All of these men and women were preoccupied with the future of France’s colonies, the place of Catholicism in a postcolonial Africa, and the struggle over their personal loyalties to the Vatican, France, and the new African states.
Having served as the nuncio to France and the Vatican’s liaison to UNESCO in the 1950s, Pope John XXIII understood as few others did the central questions that arose in the postwar Franco-African Catholic world. Was the church truly universal? Was Catholicism a conservative pillar of order or a force to liberate subjugated and exploited peoples? Could the church change with the times? He was thinking of Africa on the eve of Vatican II, declaring in a radio address shortly before the council opened, “Vis-à-vis the underdeveloped countries, the church presents itself as it is and as it wants to be: the church of all.”
To start this week’s books, here is a new biography of Ronald Reagan from the University of Nebraska Press, Ronald Reagan: An Intellectual Biography, by David Byrne (California Baptist University). The book highlights the role that Christianity played in Reagan’s worldview, particularly, the author says, the Christian concept of “a universal kingdom of God.” This puzzles me: Christianity and universalism don’t really go together. I wonder if what the author means is the American tendency, which Tocqueville recognized, to downplay religious difference in the name of equality. The “Kingdom of Freedom” the author describes, in other words, might be a bit more American than Christian. But then, again to cite Tocqueville, Americans have always conflated Christianity and liberty. Readers can judge for themselves. Here’s the description of the book from the publisher’s website:
In this ambitious work David T. Byrne analyzes the ideas that informed Ronald Reagan’s political philosophy and policies. Rather than appraising Reagan’s personal and emotional life, Byrne’s intellectual biography goes one step further; it establishes a rationale for the former president’s motives, discussing how thinkers such as Plato and Adam Smith influenced him. Byrne points to three historical forces that shaped Reagan’s political philosophy: Christian values, particularly the concept of a universal kingdom of God; America’s firm belief in freedom as the greatest political value and its aversion to strong centralized government; and the appeasement era of World War II, which stimulated Reagan’s aggressive and confrontational foreign policy.
Byrne’s account of the fortieth president augments previous work on Reagan with a new model for understanding him. Byrne shows how Reagan took conservatism and the Republican Party in a new direction, departing from the traditional conservatism of Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk. His desire to spread a “Kingdom of Freedom” both at home and abroad changed America’s political landscape forever and inspired a new conservatism that persists to this day.
Roughly half of those Americans who marry today choose a spouse from a different religious tradition. The high rate of intermarriage, which both reflects and promotes a basic American tolerance of religious difference, has major implications for the future of religion in our country. It also poses canonical and pastoral problems for those traditions, like Orthodox Christianity, which discourage and, in some circumstances, prohibit mixed marriage. A new book from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Mixed Marriage: An Orthodox History, by church historian Anthony Roeber (St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary) offers some perspective on the question from an Orthodox perspective. Here’s a description from the publisher’s website:
Fr. Roeber’s excellent book offers a lucid and fascinating history of marriage and its relationship to the Church, the authority of the bishop, pastoral practice in relation to the administration of the Mysteries (how can a couple sharing in the sacrament of Orthodox marriage not be allowed thereafter to share in the Eucharist from which it flows?) and how that important, but often ill-defined term of oikonomia can address the issue of mixed marriage today. The study’s strength is that it looks to the historical documentation of what happened in relation to mixed marriage in Orthodox past history, rather than following what is vaguely ‘supposed’ to have happened. Brilliantly and elegantly written, with a calm and surefooted perspective, it offers great interest for the specialist and layperson alike. This book will surely become a standard work on the subject.
In this episode of Legal Spirits, Center Director Mark Movsesian and Associate Director Marc DeGirolami discuss Freedom from Religion Foundation v. Chino Valley Unified School District, a recent Ninth Circuit decision striking down the practice of prayer at public school board meetings in Chino Valley, California, outside Los Angeles. The Ninth Circuit ruled that prayers at school board meetings fall outside the “legislative prayer” exception and violate the Establishment Clause. Movsesian and DeGirolami review the decision and consider what it suggests about the meaning and significance of tradition in Establishment Clause cases more broadly.
This book note writes itself. Douglas Laycock is a leading scholar of religious freedom and a renowned Supreme Court advocate. He also gave the keynote at the very first symposium our Center sponsored, a comparative study of laïcité, at our Paris campus in 2010. The full set of his five-volume work on religious liberty in America is now available from Eerdmans. This is an obvious go-to source for all scholars of law and religion in the United States. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
One of the most respected and influential scholars of religious liberty in our time, Douglas Laycock has argued many crucial religious liberty cases in the US appellate courts and the Supreme Court. His noteworthy legal writings are being collected in five comprehensive volumes under the title Religious Liberty.
Volume 1: Overviews and History
Volume 2: The Free Exercise Clause
Volume 3: Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, Same-Sex Marriage
Legislation, and the Culture Wars
Volume 4: Federal Legislation after the Religious Freedom Restoration
Acts, with More on the Culture Wars
Volume 5: The Free Speech and Establishment Clauses