Collegium Institute Event on Catholics in America with Breidenbach, Bruenig, and Maier

Just a quick announcement for what looks like a very worthwhile Collegium Institute event at the Penn Club in New York: “How Catholics Became American,” discussing Professor Michael Breidenbach’s recent book, Our Dear-Bought Liberty: Catholics and Religious Toleration in Early America (HUP 2021). The event features Elizabeth Bruenig of the Atlantic, Francis Maier of the University of Notre Dame, and Prof. Breidenbach. The date is March 16 and further details are at the link.

Fourth Session of the CLR Reading Society: Lewis’ “Learning in War-Time”

Yesterday, a group of us from St. John’s gathered together to discuss C.S. Lewis’ famous sermon, “Learning in War-Time.” The event was one of the Center’s Reading Society gatherings, and we were lucky to speak together with Mark Lanier of the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, Texas. Mark brought up the original draft of Lewis’ sermon, hand-written and, in fact, only very lightly edited. I have attached the first page of the original below. One of many interesting insights one gains from the original is that at the very top, you can see a reference to “Deut XXVI:5 A Syrian ready to perish was my father.” This reference did not make it into the published lecture. But it is evocative of one of the themes of the sermon: the worth of seemingly frivolous or unwise activities (as learning and the pursuit of knowledge may at times seem to be) during a time of great danger, friction, and upheaval. The piece repays close and regular reading, for Christians and others alike. We were lucky to have the chance to reflect on it together.

The Australia School and Politico-Theological Inquiry: Joel Harrison Responds

[In response to some thoughts I had posted about interesting developments in law and religion in Australia, Professor Joel Harrison had these illuminating observations, which he has given me permission to post. MOD]

In his blog post, Professor DeGirolami raises a possible emerging ‘Australian School’ – Australian-based scholars who are interested in Christian theological concerns and justifying religious freedom in light of this. Professor DeGirolami’s post spurred a few initial thoughts in response; I’m grateful he invited me to share them here.

First, although developing a theological jurisprudence is certainly not something unique to scholars in one place, is there something about Australia that may allow this to grow? One possible angle for reflection is on a ‘trans-Atlantic’ difference, and its continuing relevance to Australia. 

The trans-Atlantic difference puts me in mind of the theologians Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank. Hauerwas the American is anti-Constantinian and sees the violence of the State as the primary thing to resist. Separation is necessary to maintain a prophetic difference – or even just survival of the Church as the Church. Although much indebted to Hauerwas, Milbank the Brit understands Christendom and Christianity as coterminous – Christianity means (complexly) instantiating a political-spiritual project. More broadly, and as generalisation, the boundaries of church and State discourse or what is a matter for theology and what is a matter for law are more blurred on one side of the Atlantic.       

Of course, Australia is not either country. It is a former colony and still part of the Commonwealth, but it also has a strong United States-flavour. Constitutionally it is sometimes described as having a ‘Washminster’ system, with its blending of federalism and responsible government. Culturally and politically, it can swing between looking to one country or the other.  

That said, I wonder whether it is still possible to have more of a ‘British’ sensibility in Australia and talk about cooperative arrangements between church and State, or even develop public debate in theological terms. We can add to this an ongoing relationship to First Peoples, who are partly recognised at State and federal level as maintaining a spiritual or metaphysical connection with the land, as judges of the High Court of Australia recently stated. Although Australia was not permitted to have an established church, this requirement was not opposed to a religiously infused culture and politics. That is not entirely dissimilar from the United States, but Australia perhaps historically went further – maintaining something of that British inheritance in a colonial context. To this day, for example, despite some voices in Australia saying otherwise, it is very difficult to claim a ‘Rawlsian consensus’ of public reason or even that this is something of significant debate.  

Second, this growth in theological concern takes place against an emerging culture war dynamic. Recent years in Australia have seen a remarkable shift. Matters that were previously uncontroversial – like a Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim school’s liberty to hire only members of the religious tradition – are now challenged. It is not difficult to find outright hostility to religious groups or at least non-comprehension. (In one example, an Australian rights group argued the State needed to protect nuns from the Catholic Church, which was infringing their right to private and family life.) This takes place against the backdrop of numerous parliamentary inquiries into religious liberty. Different lobby groups on both sides have sprung-up. With each new inquiry they have escalated their rhetoric, stating the opposing side poses an existential threat that demands immediate action (and presumably more funding and support). In this context, the turn to theological frames (often a version of postliberalism) can reflect an interest in finding resources beyond the culture war. 

It serves a critical function and a productive function. 

Critically, the turn to theology helps to unmask any continuing claims to neutrality. Most notably in the context of religious liberty debates, it helps us to understand how the appeal to autonomy as promoted within liberal frames is not divorced from a theological view – what it means to be free and how this understanding came to be, what the role of civil authority is in relation to this. A theological turn offers insight into our current context: different groups engaging in an agonistic discourse of incommensurable claims to liberty. 

Productively then, the turn to theology looks for an alternative. Thus, we see language of the common good, duty, virtue, solidarity, peace, and charity developed in aid of asking what the shape of a complex, good society should be. 

This raises a final important point that I think should shape any apparent ‘school’ interested in theological jurisprudence. Often religious liberty claims are framed as simply protecting a particular community’s own backyard: my liberty, my autonomy, my freedom from x. However, this turn to theology aims at something more – contemplating the future of our shared life. This is not a question simply for Australian-based scholars, of course.  But I’m certainly glad we splendidly named ‘young upstarts’ can make a contribution (and await criticism).

The Australia School

I’m back from a superb conference orchestrated by Professor Helen Alvaré at the Liberty & Law Center at George Mason Law School on some of the current and future challenges and prospects in law and religion. I’ll have more to say about my paper, “The New Disestablishments,” by and by, but for the present I will note that I was grateful for improving and insightful criticisms from the group, including those of Professor Fred Gedicks, who was my commenter.

One of the things that occurred to me at the conference was that it seems a new school of thought about religious liberty is emerging in some young upstart scholars, in Australia. I’m only just coming to learn of The Australia School, and so I am going to miss what are new and interesting scholars in it. Indeed, calling it The Australia School assumes some kind of unity of thought, and I am certainly not suggesting there is such unity. But at the very least, The Australia School will include scholars like Professor Joel Harrison and his Post-Liberal Religious Liberty: Forming Communities of Charity; Professor Alex Deagon (who presented at the conference) and his From Violence to Peace: Theology, Law and Community; and Professor Neil Foster, who has written about when it is and is not appropriate for courts to decide matters that impinge on religious doctrine. I am missing many, I’m sure (and apologize preemptively to those I have not discussed). I don’t want to overgeneralize, but this is a blog post, and it would be boring not to offer at least some thematic observations about The Australia School. So are there any discernible themes? 

Both Harrison and Deagon are deeply interested in Christian theological concerns, and both offer justifications for religious freedom rooted in theological considerations. Both rely on the work of John Milbank–not identically, but substantially. Indeed, I have a review over here of Harrison’s book, trying in summary form to describe the way Harrison reimagines religious freedom and devises justifications for it that are new and represent a different direction (with words of praise, though there was a criticism or two also!). Foster also is interested in the issue of the relationship of religious doctrine to civil power. And Deagon emphasizes issues of the unity of peaceful co-existence, also through a theological lens. Both the influence of Milbank on these scholars and their theological orientation are notable; I can discern only very few similarly oriented projects over in our corner of the world. One question I’ve been thinking about is just why. 

As I say, I’m just learning about The Australia School and there are likely many differences and disagreements already emerging within it. But it’s a fresh and interesting development in the law and religion world.

Announcing the Sixth Biennial Colloquium in Law & Religion (Fall 2022)

The Center for Law and Religion is delighted to announce the lineup for the sixth biennial Colloquium in Law and Religion, scheduled for Fall 2022. The Colloquium brings outside scholars and jurists to St. John’s to teach a seminar for selected students. Speakers present drafts on law and religion; students are graded on the basis of response papers and class participation.

This year’s Colloquium speakers are Judge Richard J. Sullivan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Professors J. Joel Alicea (Catholic University School of Law), Nathan Chapman (University of Georgia School of Law), Nicole Stelle Garnett & Fr. Pat Reidy (Notre Dame Law School and Yale Law School student), Anna Su (University of Toronto Faculty of Law), and Nelson Tebbe (Cornell Law School).

For more information about the Colloquium, please contact Center Co-Directors Mark Movsesian and Marc DeGirolami.

Conference: “Beyond ‘Defensive Crouch’ Religious Freedom”

I’m happy to be participating in this conference hosted by the Liberty & Law Center at George Mason Law School. I’ll present a paper called “Traditionalist Disestablishments,” a first step in combining my research interests in traditionalist constitutional interpretation with some of the developments occurring in law and religion at the moment. More soon on that. Here is the conference description:

In the United States today, religious individuals and institutions increasingly find themselves seeking exemptions from a wide array of laws and regulations burdening their free exercise. In this environment, it is important to ask about religion’s positive contributions to individuals and to society.  The Liberty & Law Center is therefore hosting a two-day conference on March 24 & 25, 2022 at the Antonin Scalia Law School in order to explore several urgent questions: what goods and values does religious exercise further, including institutional exercise; how religious exercise can not only serve but sometimes better promote the values of equality, dignity, and freedom valorized by the state; and how religious institutions might better understand and communicate the social worth of religion and religious freedom.

Findings will be presented in four panels over the course of two days. To view the agenda and detailed list of speakers, click here. For questions about the event, please email liberty@gmu.edu. We hope you’ll join us!

Conference on Catholic Perspectives on Criminal Justice Reform at the University of Wisconsin

I’m just back from an excellent conference organized by Professor Cecelia Klingele at the University of Wisconsin on Catholicism and Criminal Law and Justice. The conference was sponsored jointly by the Lumen Christi Institute and Wisconsin’s Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy.

Together with fellow MOJ-er Patrick Brennan, we had a day of reflection and presentation of work concerning the theme. John Stinneford and I are having fun co-authoring a paper on “The Common Law, the Catholic Tradition, and the Criminal Law.” We discuss the idea of tradition in Catholicism and the common law, the important concept of “culpa” or blameworthiness within both traditions, and its evolution across time. More soon on this paper.

Legal Spirits Episode 040: Raising the Christian Flag at City Hall

Boston City Hall (Brutalist architecture)

In this episode, Center Co-Directors Marc DeGirolami and Mark Movsesian explore another law and religion case recently argued at the Supreme Court, Shurtleff v. City of Boston, concerning whether a municipality can decline a private group’s request to fly a religious flag on a city hall flagpole pursuant to a policy where it flies flags at the request of other private constituencies. The case involves issues of free speech and religious freedom, as well as raising some questions about broader themes or patterns in the religion cases the Supreme Court seems to be taking–particularly as respects the Establishment Clause. Listen in!

“The End of the Affair”

I have a little review essay just published by the American Journal of Jurisprudence with this title (Graham Greene, apologies) reviewing Professor Joel Harrison’s recent book, Post-Liberal Religious Liberty: Forming Communities of Charity (CUP 2020). A portion:

“[A]s Joel Harrison observes in his new book, the price extracted from traditional religion for these thawing relations with liberalism was steep. First, the substratum of Christian culture and historical connection with Western nations had to be systematically stripped away to clear a path for the new civil religion of the liberal regime—as Harrison says, a new “true religion” of the modern civic sphere to replace the old one. (24) Second, because traditional religion was always perceived as a threat to the liberal egalitarian political order, it was expanded by that order to encompass an increasing range of phenomena connected to one of liberalism’s own master commitments, individual autonomy. Religion was in this way at once domesticated and subsumed by liberalism, “contained” and trivialized by hypertrophy. (55) Institutional religion, Harrison continues, was “flattened” to what liberalism regards as the most basic constituent fragment, the individual believer. (55) Third, this new capaciousness had the effect of subjecting religion to an assortment of balancing tests at law, in which religion’s importance was perpetually weighed against sundry other quotidian interests. Religion was reduced to one more consideration, no more intrinsically weighty than any other, that the liberal authority could horse-trade and dole out as it pleased. Fourth, it was deemed out of order for government officials and even ordinary citizens to make public appeals to religious authority as a transcendent source of meaning and worth in the activities of the polity. These claims instead had to be translated into the “secular” argot of liberal commitments—“reconceived as just like any other claim of ethical freedom”—to gain admission to the liberal courts of law and politics. (11) If they could not be, they were cordoned off to the “private” sphere. (13)”

Breen and Strang Reply to Interlocutors on Catholic legal education

In 2020, the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies and the Center for Law and Religion co-hosted a symposium on a draft book by Professors John Breen and Lee Strang: “A Light Unseen: A History of Catholic Legal Education.” Deans of several Catholic law schools, as well as other learned academics, offered comments on the manuscript. Those comments were published by JCLS last year.

Professors Breen and Strang have now offered this thorough and very interesting reply, in the new issue of JCLS. Their remarks are well worth your time.