Movsesian on Religious Exemptions

For those who are interested, the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at BYU has posted a video of my presentation at the 2022 Religious Freedom Annual Review on the Smith case and the future of religious exemptions. I argue that the Court’s decision last term in Fulton greatly limits Smith and that claimants should have an easier time winning religious exemptions as a result. Thanks again to the kind folks at BYU Law for hosting me!

Next Month in Rome: “Liberalism’s Limits”

Next month in Rome, we’ll celebrate 10 years of cooperation with our colleagues at Universita LUMSA with the latest in our conference series on comparative law and religion: “Liberalism’s Limits: Religious Exemption and Hate Speech.” (Hard to believe we’ve been doing this for 10 years)! The conference description is below and details are here: If you’re in Rome, please stop by and say hello!

Liberal democracies historically have prized autonomy and freedom as fundamental political commitments. In doing so, they also have emphasized the individual’s freedom of religion and freedom of speech as sitting at the core of their political systems. Yet in religious exemption — the right of individuals to receive an accommodation from complying with generally applicable law on the basis of religious scruple — and in what some in these polities call “hate speech” – speech conveying deeply insulting, vilifying, discriminatory views against a target group – liberal regimes face serious challenges to their own core principles. This conference will examine the problems posed by these issues for the continuing viability of liberalism in Western democracies.

Movsesian on Legal Docket on Dobbs

For those interested, I sat down today (virtually!) with journalist Mary Reichard at the Legal Docket podcast (a feature of “The World and Everything In It”) to discuss the Dobbs leak and why it so damages the Supreme Court as an institution. Here’s an excerpt:

MOVSESIAN: I know that people will look at this and say the important thing is abortion, why do we care that the justices are embarrassed? And I think that’s because, you know, people who think that way may not appreciate just how much is being undone, when members of the court think they cannot deliberate in confidence, when members of the court think that they can’t engage in a good faith discussion of the issues with their colleagues on the court, I think that really does threaten to destroy the institution in a way that will have very bad consequences for our law.

You can listen to the whole episode here.

Movsesian at BYU Next Month

I’m looking forward to participating and catching up with friends next month at the 2022 Religious Freedom Annual Review, sponsored by the international Center for law and religion studies at BYU law. I’ll be speaking about the future of religious exemptions after Fulton. Details are available here: https://religiousfreedom.byu.edu/presenters. CLR friends, stop by and say hello!

“The New Disestablishments”

A new draft paper, building on some work I’ve done on the nature of “establishment” today, its relationship to free exercise and exemption from general law, and particularly the idea of establishment as “regime” in classical political theory. One of the more controversial claims in the paper is that inquiries about “religion” as a legal category are no longer worthwhile from a scholarly perspective (though they continue of course to be highly necessary from a practical, lawyerly perspective), except as a way to conceive the shifting dynamics of power within the regime. Here’s the abstract:

“The individual has complete autonomy of choice respecting matters of sex, gender, and procreation. The findings of science as established by the knowledge class, together with the preferences of that class in this domain, should be imposed on everyone. These views reflect two central creeds of the new establishment. They, or statements like them, are the basis for policies across the nation touching many walks of life, from business to education, media, advertising, health care and medicine, and more.

Whether these propositions and others like them constitute a “religious” establishment is irrelevant. To be sure, there are arguments that it is religious. But the hypertrophy of the concept of religion in American law has made the legal category “religion” so malleable as to render it useless as an analytical tool. And, at any rate, religious belief responds to the world in which it is situated. When that world tells dissenting citizens that their beliefs are irrational, anti-scientific, and benighted—and, indeed, that their objections to new establishment creeds are discreditable because they are religious—dissenters may be forgiven for taking the world at its word. If these dissenting views are religious, it is the new establishment that has made them so and, in consequence, entangled itself in religious controversy.

Free exercise exemption has been thought a way to resist the new establishment. Yet the dynamics of resistance are ambiguous. Individual exemption—unless connected to a larger strategy—can validate and strengthen the new establishment, entrenching the supplicant position of the exempted. Many advocates of exemption do not object to this state of affairs. They insist that they have no interest in disrupting the new establishment. They are committed to it, too. Yet partisans of the new establishment are not wrong to sense possible danger from expanding rights of free exercise. These rights, if synthesized and organized, could become broader pockets and sub-communities of disestablishment. There is a continuum between free exercise and disestablishment. Dissenting positions on the family, education, religion, sex and gender, and others might be stitched together from the disaggregated set of free exercise exemption micro-victories to constitute challenges to the new establishment. To do that, however, would demand concerted action involving some mechanism other than exemption, and it is not plain that advocates of religious exemption are interested in that project. But the project may be coming whether they like it or not. Unlike the new establishmentarians, some free exercise advocates have not adequately appreciated (or do not wish to see) that the real fight is not about an individual exemption here or there, but about the future shape of the American establishment.”

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!

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

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.

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!