Ben-Johanan, “Jacob’s Younger Brother”

I’m delighted to join Marc in re-starting our Scholarship Roundup feature here on the Forum. The feature highlights new books and articles on law and religion (generally speaking) that we think will interest our followers. A few of you have told us you miss the feature–so now it’s back!

Here’s a new book from Harvard, out this month, on Jewish-Catholic relations after Vatican II: Jacob’s Younger Brother: Christian-Jewish Relations after Vatican II, by Karma Ben-Johanan (Humboldt). The author suggests that, behind the scenes, each side of the relationship has continued to have reservations about exactly what the 20th-century rapprochement between these two great religions means. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A revealing account of contemporary tensions between Jews and Christians, playing out beneath the surface of conciliatory interfaith dialogue.

A new chapter in Jewish–Christian relations opened in the second half of the twentieth century when the Second Vatican Council exonerated Jews from the accusation of deicide and declared that the Jewish people had never been rejected by God. In a few carefully phrased statements, two millennia of deep hostility were swept into the trash heap of history.

But old animosities die hard. While Catholic and Jewish leaders publicly promoted interfaith dialogue, doubts remained behind closed doors. Catholic officials and theologians soon found that changing their attitude toward Jews could threaten the foundations of Christian tradition. For their part, many Jews perceived the new Catholic line as a Church effort to shore up support amid atheist and secular advances. Drawing on extensive research in contemporary rabbinical literature, Karma Ben-Johanan shows that Jewish leaders welcomed the Catholic condemnation of antisemitism but were less enthusiastic about the Church’s sudden urge to claim their friendship. Catholic theologians hoped Vatican II would turn the page on an embarrassing history, hence the assertion that the Church had not reformed but rather had always loved Jews, or at least should have. Orthodox rabbis, in contrast, believed they were finally free to say what they thought of Christianity.

Jacob’s Younger Brother pulls back the veil of interfaith dialogue to reveal how Orthodox rabbis and Catholic leaders spoke about each other when outsiders were not in the room. There Ben-Johanan finds Jews reluctant to accept the latest whims of a Church that had unilaterally dictated the terms of Jewish–Christian relations for centuries.

On the Leak in Dobbs

In First Things today, I argue that the leak of the Dobbs draft opinion this week differs from past SCOTUS leaks and poses a real danger for the Court. Here’s an excerpt:

Past leaks from law clerks typically have come after the Court has issued a decision. They often seem explained by desires to set the record straight for history or, perhaps, to demonstrate the leaker’s own significance (which, as a former clerk, I can attest to be typically little). If they come before a decision, leaks are usually spare and vague, hints at a likely vote tally or outcome. Such leaks do little to change the day-to-day workings of the Court.

But the leak of an entire draft opinion in the middle of deliberations in a vitally important case suggests something very different, a desire either to bully or destroy the Court as an effective institution. After this episode, justices will feel less secure about the confidentiality of their deliberations and think twice about what they put in drafts. The work of the Court will inevitably suffer. That is what makes this leak so damaging, however one feels about the ultimate issue at stake.

You can read the full essay here.

Happy Easter

The Resurrection (Ethiopian)

To all who celebrate today, a very Happy Easter. Christ is Risen.

Legal Spirits Episode 041: Learning in War-Time

In this episode of Legal Spirits, Center Co-Directors Mark Movsesian and Marc DeGirolami explore C.S. Lewis’s great essay on the calling of the Christian scholar, “Learning in War-Time.” Lewis wrote the essay at the start of World War II, but it continues to speak to students and faculty today–Christian and non-Christian. As Lewis observes, “human life is always lived on the edge of a precipice,” and the question why people should devote what little time they have on earth to academic pursuits when so many other things call for our attention is a perennial one. Lewis’s message is one of humility, courage, and controlled hope, even in the worst of times. Listen in!

Thanks to the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal

Just a note to thank the organizers of last week’s conference on religious liberty at the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal for hosting me. The event brought together a diverse group of scholars with truly differing points of view–something for which the organizers deserve a lot of praise. I presented a paper on the 50th anniversary this year of Wisconsin v. Yoder and received some very helpful comments. I look forward to seeing my essay in print in a forthcoming symposium edition of the Law Journal, and to reading the other participants’ papers!

Last Week’s Reading Society Meeting with Mark Lanier

Here’s a nice write-up of last week’s Reading Society session on C.S. Lewis’s “Learning in War-Time,” led by lawyer and scholar Mark Lanier of the Lanier Theological Library. Thanks to Mark for traveling to New York to lead the session and to and all who attended. The Reading Society will be back next semester. See you then!

Tradition and Strict Scrutiny

Over at the Volokh site, I have a post on last week’s decision in Ramirez v. Collier, in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a death-row inmate who argued that prison officials violated RLUIPA by refusing to allow him to have a clergy present at his execution. RLUIPA requires prison restrictions to meet strict scrutiny: the state must justify restrictions on religion by showing that it has chosen the least restrictive means of satisfying a compelling interest.

Strict scrutiny, which applies in many areas of constitutional law, in practice operates as a balancing test. Critics (including me) have pointed out that the test is inherently indeterminate, depending largely on the intuitions of the particular judges hearing a case. In a separate concurrence in Ramirez, Justice Kavanaugh argues that tradition can help make the test less subjective:

In Ramirez, for example, prison officials had concluded that the marginal benefit of excluding pastors from the execution chamber outweighed the burden on inmates’ RLUIPA rights. Chief Justice Roberts and the majority evidently disagreed. But how were they to know? “It is difficult for a court applying” strict scrutiny, Kavanaugh wrote, “to know where to draw the line—that is, how much additional risk of great harm is too much for a court to order the State to bear.” If the justices’ intuitive judgments are all that make the difference, that hardly seems legitimate.

Here, according to Kavanaugh, is where tradition can help. For centuries in American practice, clergy have been present at executions. And that practice continues today. The presence of clergy, in other words, is a living tradition. “Although the compelling interest and least restrictive means standards are necessarily imprecise,” Kavanaugh wrote, “history and state practice can at least help structure the inquiry and focus the Court’s assessment of the State’s arguments.” Kavanaugh wrote separately to emphasize this aspect of the Court’s reasoning.

Here’s a link to my post.

Tosato on Biblical Interpretation

Here is an interesting new book from the Pontifical Gregorian University’s press, The Catholic Statute of Biblical Interpretation by Fr. Angelo Tosato, newly translated into English by our friend and frequent academic collaborator, Prof. Monica Lugato of LUMSA. Fr. Tosato, who died in 1999, was a professor at the Lateran and the Gregorian Universities, specializing in Biblical interpretation. But the book is accessible to non-experts as well. Among the topics it covers are the concept of the Bible as a set of divinely inspired texts mediated through human authorship, and the distinction between what Tosato calls “the bishops’ judicial interpretation” of the Bible, which may be authoritative for Catholics at any given time, and the “authentic” interpretation, which is known fully only to God. Because a space inevitably exists between the judicial and authentic interpretation, Tosato argues, the former is always subject to rethinking–guided, of course, by Holy Tradition.

Here is the description of the book from the publisher:

A «rigorous and exhaustive study on the official Catholic doctrine in the realm of Biblical interpretation», this work is «defended by heavily equipped garrisons of quotations in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and fortified by walls of Church documents» and based upon a «a profound knowledge of juridical questions and problems». The Author begins by clarifying the definition of the Bible for the Catholic faith, then explores its nature, origin, purpose and functions in relation to its different addressees, finally analysing the prerequisites, criteria, and forms of accurate biblical interpretation. «One detail may draw the reader’s attention. Angelo Tosato asserts, with solid reasons, that the juridical authority of the Magisterium is limited to the actualised interpretation of biblical texts for our world, and has not to deal with the proper exegetical and scientific task of recovering the original meaning of these texts. The Magisterium’s decisions, moreover, can be modified, corrected, and rectified, as every human decision». But this is just one of the many components of the Catholic Statute of biblical interpretation, a Statute that seeks to reveal «the vast and gorgeous panoramas of a truthful interpretation of our Scriptures».

Upcoming Symposium on Religious Liberty at Loyola University Chicago

A programming note: I’m looking forward to participating in this upcoming symposium on religious liberty in Chicago later this spring. The editors of the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal have put together a great program and I’m honored to be among the contributors. Details below:

Movsesian on Courts’ Responses to COVID Restrictions

I’m happy to announce that my essay, “Law, Religion, and the COVID-19 Crisis,” is now available in the Journal of Law and Religion (Cambridge). The essay discusses courts’ responses to COVID restrictions on public worship worldwide, and what the response of American courts indicates about our deep polarization in this country. Here’s the abstract:

This essay explores judicial responses to legal restrictions on worship during the COVID-19 pandemic and draws two lessons, one comparative and one relating specifically to U.S. law. As a comparative matter, courts across the globe have approached the problem in essentially the same way, through intuition and balancing. This has been the case regardless of what formal test applies, the proportionality test outside the United States, which expressly calls for judges to weigh the relative costs and benefits of a restriction, or the Employment Division v. Smith test inside the United States, which rejects judicial line-drawing and balancing in favor of predictable results. Judges have reached different conclusions about the legality of restrictions, of course, but doctrinal nuances have made little apparent difference. With respect to the United States specifically, the pandemic has revealed deep divisions about religion and religious freedom, among other things—divisions that have inevitably influenced judicial attitudes toward restrictions on worship. The COVID-19 crisis has revealed a cultural and political rift that makes consensual resolution of conflicts over religious freedom problematic, and perhaps impossible, even during a once-in-a-century pandemic.