Movsesian on the Barrett Nomination

In First Things today, I have an essay on the Barrett nomination. I argue that Republicans and Democrats both play politics, but that Barrett deserves to be confirmed. Here’s an excerpt:

Another objection is that Judge Barrett will be an activist. Here the argument seems to be that, as a faithful Catholic and member of an ecumenical charismatic group, she will inevitably decide cases on the basis of her religious convictions rather than the law—“the dogma lives loudly within you” and so on. But no evidence of this sort of thing exists in her record as an appeals judge, though that record is, admittedly, brief. In her one essay that raises the subject, Judge Barrett suggests that in cases of conflict she would recuse herself rather than impose her Catholic convictions in place of the law, a position that arguably should concern Catholics more than non-Catholics. And, as my colleague Marc DeGirolami has explained, her writings about stare decisis—the idea that judges should stick to decided cases and not overrule them, even if judges think those cases are wrong—are well within the American legal tradition.

Moreover, as Judge Barrett pointed out in a speech at Hillsdale College last year, keeping one’s ideology out of judging is not a problem limited to Catholics, or believers generally. When “you think about the debate about whether someone’s religion has any bearing on their fitness for office,” she told the students, “it seems to me that the premise of the question is that people of faith would have a uniquely difficult time separating out their moral commitments from their obligation to apply the law.” But that isn’t true. “People who have no faith, people who are not religious” also “have deeply held moral convictions,” she said. “And it’s just as important for those people to be sure . . . to set aside . . . personal moral convictions . . . and follow the law.”

The extent to which judges can and should keep personal moral convictions out of the law is of course a matter of debate. Some constitutional doctrines invite judges to import their convictions into the law, or at least make it difficult for judges to avoid doing so. One example is the “compelling interest test” in free-exercise law, which asks judges to evaluate whether the state has a compelling interest that justifies a burden on religious freedom. But there is no reason to think Judge Barrett would have a harder time setting aside her personal convictions than a secular justice would have setting aside his or hers. Besides, progressives have been arguing for decades that the bench should reflect diverse life experiences, which help judges apply the law in empathetic ways. It’s a little late in the day to argue such a thing is unthinkable.

You can read the whole essay here.

Movsesian Interviewed about Karabakh on Catholic Radio

I enjoyed appearing yesterday on Ave Maria radio’s “Kresta in the Afternoon” show to discuss the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Karabakh. The host, Al Kresta, was most interested in talking about the effect the war is having on Christians in Karabakh. The effect is substantial. Just today, in fact, Azeri forces shelled the Armenian Orthodox cathedral in the town of Shushi, which I had an opportunity to visit years ago.

My interview with Al is linked here. I appreciate his having me on to discuss this vital topic.

“Law, Religion, and Coronavirus in the United States”: Zachary B. Pohlman

On October 2, 2020, the Center co-hosted a webinar, “Law, Religion, and Coronavirus in the United States: A Six-Month Assessment.” Center Co-Director Mark Movsesian moderated one of the webinar’s panels, “Religious Organizations.” The following post, by Zachary B. Pohlman, Editor-in-Chief of the Notre Dame Law Review, was one of the panel presentations. For other Webinar presentations, please check out the websites of BYU’sInternational Center for Law & Religion Studies and Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.

“Churches” in a Time of Coronavirus

By Zachary B. Pohlman

Regular in-person gatherings at churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship came to a grinding halt in mid-March.  Six months later, religious attendees are returning to the pews—but in significantly fewer numbers.  Whether churchgoers ultimately return to their pre-pandemic levels of in-person worship remains to be seen.  Regardless of whether they do, the coronavirus-induced, steep decline in church attendance—even if only for the short term—could have lasting effects for how we conceive of “churches” from both external and internal perspectives.  That is, how we understand churches as both a legal and religious matter could be shaped by the unique challenges presented by the pandemic.  (For purposes of this blog post, “churches” refers to houses of worship of all types, including churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples.)

As a legal matter, it has never been easy to pin down what exactly should count as a “religion” or “church.”  Coronavirus only complicates things further.  Despite the prominence of the First Amendment’s religion clauses in law and society, definitional disputes over these terms have not been litigated first and foremost as a matter of constitutional law.  As former IRS Commissioner Jerome Kurtz noted, “Our tax law places the I.R.S. near the forefront in making delicate decisions involving the definitions of ‘religion’ and ‘church’ . . . .”  That’s because churches enjoy a number of tax benefits beyond those enjoyed by all other 501(c)(3)’s.  The IRS is thus left with the task of deciding what counts as a church for tax-benefit purposes—decisions it makes using a flexible fourteen-factor test.

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“Law, Religion, and Coronavirus in the United States”: Adelaide Madera

On October 2, 2020, the Center co-hosted a webinar, “Law, Religion, and Coronavirus in the United States: A Six-Month Assessment.” Center Co-Director Mark Movsesian moderated one of the webinar’s panels, “Religious Organizations.” The following post, by Adelaide Madera, Professor at Università degli Studi di Messina, was one of the panel presentations. For other Webinar presentations, please check out the websites of BYU’sInternational Center for Law & Religion Studies and Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.

The Impact of Coronavirus on Public Funding of Religious Organizations

By Adelaide Madera

Since Everson v. Board of Education, access to public  funding for religious organizations has been a controversial issue and fiercely litigated. During the pandemic crisis lockdown, the enactment of the CARE Act that established the Paycheck Protection Program, raised new challenges for religious charities.

The PPP appeared attractive to many organizations and businesses, both religious and secular, which  needed to maintain their employees on their payroll. However, many concerns arose as to whether religious nonprofits were eligible for government funding, whether accepting PPP loans implied that religious organizations were federal contractors, and to what extent access to public funding could affect their religious identity. On April 3, the SBA issued guidelines to clarify some key points. First, receiving the loan has no implications on church autonomy, religious identity, internal governance, or on the exercise of rights guaranteed by federal statutes (RFRA, section 702 of Title VII, First Amendment). Accepting a PPP loan “constitutes Federal financial assistance” and implies “certain nondiscrimination obligations,” even though they “are not permanent.” The only limitation applies to all beneficiaries: 75% of the loan must be used to cover payroll costs. The SBA’s frequently asked questions underlined that the SBA’s nondiscrimination rules, as Title VII provisions, include an exemption allowing religious organizations to employ staff sharing their religious beliefs “to perform work connected with [the organization’s] religious activities.” The crucial question is whether this exemption allows religious organizations to select employees who also share their standards of behavior. Certain academics incline toward a narrow reading of this provision,[1] and a textualist reading of the expression “because of sex” of Title VII resulted in the Supreme Court’s inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation under  the protection offered by Title VII.

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“Law, Religion, and Coronavirus in the United States”: Christopher Lund

On October 2, 2020, the Center co-hosted a webinar, “Law, Religion, and Coronavirus in the United States: A Six-Month Assessment.” Center Co-Director Mark Movsesian moderated one of the webinar’s panels, “Religious Organizations.” The following post, by Christopher Lund, Professor of Law at Wayne State University Law School, was one of the panel presentations. For other Webinar presentations, please check out the websites of BYU’sInternational Center for Law & Religion Studies and Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.

Quarantines, Religious Groups, and Some Questions About Equality

By Christopher Lund

When the government imposes quarantine orders for public safety, shutting some places down and leaving other places open, how should it treat religious organizations and religious services?  A natural answer is that religious organizations should be treated equally.  And that makes sense.  Equality is a solid moral principle, with wide-ranging appeal and deep roots in history and in law.

But equality is not self-executing.  And the deeper one goes into these quarantine orders, the more that becomes apparent.  We are trying to treat religion equally, but we don’t quite know how.  I’m planning a longer piece that will go into more details.  But for this blog post, let me simply try to demonstrate two things to you.  First, quarantine schemes require judgments about the value of religious exercise—which is uncomfortable in a system like ours, which tries to keep the government out of such questions.  And second, by insisting that all gatherings of all religious organizations be treated the same way, quarantine schemes become blind to genuine religious differences.  We are deciding how much to restrict religious organizations in general by imagining what happens in a religious service, but our imagined religious service ends up looking a lot like a Sunday morning Christian worship service. 

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“Law, Religion, and Coronavirus in the United States”: Mary Anne Case

On October 2, 2020, the Center co-hosted a webinar, “Law, Religion, and Coronavirus in the United States: A Six-Month Assessment.” Center Co-Director Mark Movsesian moderated one of the webinar’s panels, “Religious Organizations.” The following post, by Mary Ann Case, the Arnold I. Shure Professor of Law at University of Chicago Law School, was one of the panel presentations. For other Webinar presentations, please check out the websites of BYU’s International Center for Law & Religion Studies and Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.

Covid and Egalitarian Catholic Women’s Movements

By Mary Anne Case

In his March 27, 2020 extraordinary message Urbi et Orbi, Pope Francis insisted that the time of coronavirus was “not the time of [God’s] judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.” The injunction “to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing” offered by the Pope came at what may have been a providential time for egalitarian Catholic women’s movements.  As the pandemic closed church buildings worldwide, and both the women and the priests went home and on line, the effect was to energize and unite the former while isolating the latter.  As priests celebrated mass alone, women organized worldwide mixed sex, women-centered participatory Zoom liturgies, and worshipped in house churches and in communities of nuns without benefit of clergy.   The choices made during the pandemic may have lasting consequences for both the clergy, who may find it increasingly difficult to overcome their isolation and reconnect with their flock, and the women and their supporters, who seem increasingly disinclined to go back rather than forward.

Two video images capture for me the stark choice offered to Catholic feminists in this time of choosing.  The first is of Pope Francis, alone in the middle of a vast, fenced-off, rain-drenched St. Peter’s Square delivering the afore-mentioned Urbi et Orbi blessing to the city of Rome and to the world.  He is flanked by a holy icon of the Virgin and a crucifix, and accompanied only by a handful of male clergy. The singing that accompanies him consists exclusively of male voices, reminding the listener of longstanding bans on women’s singing in church.  Visible in the distance, pressed up against the gates, are a small number of the faithful (or merely curious) sheltering under umbrellas.  This brought back the memory of other occasions when women were literally as well as figuratively fenced out.  For example, in 2018, during the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, several dozen women and men protesting the failure to grant voting rights to any woman at the synod stood outside the gates that led to the synod hall, chanting  “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “More than half the church.”  Their protests attracted the direct attention of more police than synod fathers.

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Judicial Supremacy: Not So Bad

At the Law & Liberty site today, I have a review of Louis Fisher’s new book on judicial supremacy, Reconsidering Judicial Finality. Contra Fisher, I argue in favor of judicial supremacy, properly understood as a rebuttable presumption that Court rulings are binding on other political actors and the people as a whole. Here’s an excerpt:

But the better view, and the one most scholars would take, is that Court judgments are presumptively binding in this broader sense. In the great sweep of our constitutional history, resistance to Court rulings has been comparatively rare. The strength of this presumption is impossible to state in categorical terms. Richard Fallon offers a good way to think about it. Judicial supremacy means that “judicial rulings must be obeyed as long as they are intra rather than ultra vires”—that is, as long as they are plausibly “within a court’s authority to render”—and “not unreasonable as judged from the perspective of the President and a majority of the American people.” If our constitutional democracy is tolerably functional, occasions for resisting Court rulings will arise relatively infrequently.

Note that, on a proper view of judicial supremacy, the Court remains free to change its mind and rule differently in subsequent cases. And political actors, as well as the public at large, remain free to try to persuade the Court to do so. After all, unless some litigant brings a challenge, the Court will never have an opportunity to revisit an earlier decision. Lincoln put it well in responding to the Court’s disastrous ruling in the Dred Scott case (1857), in which the Court held that the Constitution did not allow African-Americans to be citizens or Congress to outlaw slavery in federal territories. The Court’s decisions on constitutional questions, Lincoln conceded, “should control, not only the particular cases decided, but the general policy of the country.” Nevertheless, “[w]e know the Court . . . has often overruled its own decisions, and we shall do what we can to have it overrule this.” . . .

Fisher is unfortunately dismissive of arguments in favor of judicial supremacy. “No matter what evidence is presented,” he writes, “some scholars and courts will continue to rely on and promote the doctrine of judicial finality.” But it is not simply obstinance. Good arguments exist for judicial supremacy, including the desirability of settling legal questions and promoting reliance on the part of citizens, who need to know what the law requires at any particular time. Besides, the logic of judicial review itself suggests some sort of judicial supremacy. The Constitution is not simply what the Court says it is; but if the Court’s decisions are not broadly authoritative, constitutional impasses will occur much more frequently—not the end of the world, but not the best situation, either.

You can read the whole review here.

At SCOTUS, a Compromise on Religious Liberty

At the First Things site this week, I have an essay on last term’s Religion Clause cases at the Supreme Court. I argue that the cases reflect the Court’s attempt to reach a modus vivendi in the culture wars between progressives and the traditionally religious on issues of sexuality, gender, and equality. Taken together, the cases suggest the Court is prepared to acquiesce to the dominant progressive consensus while allowing religious institutions some space to dissent. 

Here’s an excerpt:

Bostock suggests the Justices, including conservatives like Gorsuch and Roberts, are prepared to accede to the progressive view of sexuality and gender. But the Court’s hints about lingering free exercise issues imply it will afford religious institutions space to dissent. Other decisions from last Term confirm this reading. Take Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Blaine Amendment case. The Court held, 5-4, that the Montana Constitution’s Blaine Amendment, which prohibits state funding for private religious schools, violated the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. A state may not exclude schools from a funding program simply because of the schools’ religious “status” or “character,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “A State need not subsidize private education,” he explained. “But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

Espinoza is a case about equality, but also has implications for debates surrounding sexuality and gender. It’s no secret that many, if not most, private religious schools hold to traditional understandings of sexuality and gender. In fact, parents often choose to send their children to religious schools precisely to avoid the progressivism that pervades public education. Allowing religious schools to receive public assistance on an equal basis with secular schools could make it easier for the traditionally religious to pass on their values to the next generation. 

The Court’s holding that in principle the state must afford benefits to private religious schools on an equal basis with private secular schools is thus important for the traditionally religious. Still, the Court’s focus on a school’s religious “status” raises some questions. Even if discrimination on the basis of a school’s religious affiliation is illegal, it remains unclear, under the Court’s decision, whether a state may restrict funding because the school’s program is at odds with progressive understandings of equality. The Espinoza Court left that question open, though it hinted that discrimination based on a school’s religious “use” of state funds also could be constitutionally problematic.  

You can read the full essay here.

Tocqueville on the American and French Revolutions

The American and French Revolutions are often thought of as entirely distinct types. But was there a connection? Here’s a little cold water thrown on the claim of distinctiveness by Tocqueville, from The Old Regime and the Revolution (201, Furet & Melonio, eds):

Our revolution has often been attributed to that of America: in fact, the American Revolution had a lot of influence on the French Revolution, but less because of what was then done in the United States than because of what was being thought at the same time in France. While in the rest of Europe the American Revolution was still nothing but a new and unusual fact, among us it only made more evident and more striking what we thought we already knew. It astonished Europe; here, it completed our conversion. The Americans seemed merely to apply what our writers had thought of: they gave substantial reality to what we were dreaming about….

The writers not only furnished their ideas to the people who made the Revolution; they also gave them their own temperament and disposition. Under this long training, in the absence of any other directors, in the midst of the profound practical ignorance in which they lived, the whole nation ended up adopting the instincts, the attitudes, the tastes, and even the eccentricities of those who write; with the result that when the nation finally had to act, it brought all the habits of literature into politics.

When we study the history of our Revolution, we see that it was carried out in precisely the same spirit in which so many abstract books on government are written. The same attraction for general theories, for complete systems of legislation and exact symmetry in laws; the same contempt for existing facts; the same confidence in theory; the same taste for the original, the ingenious, and the new in institutions; the same desire to remake the whole constitution all at once, following the rules of logic and according to a single plan, rather than trying to fix its various parts. A frightening sight! For what is merit in a writer is sometimes vice in a statesman, and the same things which have often made lovely books can lead to great revolutions.

Happy Independence Day…

Deferring to Local Authorities in a Public Health Crisis

At the First Things site today, I have an essay on the current round of church closures cases. To understand these cases, one has to cut through doctrinal details and focus on the factor that most drives the judges’ decisions: the need to defer to public health authorities during a crisis. That’s usually sensible. Judges are not epidemiologists, and they are not accountable if they get things wrong. But local authorities have begun acting in ways that betray that trust:

In the last couple of weeks, local authorities have squandered much of their credibility. For months, public health authorities have told Americans that gatherings of more than a few people, even outdoors and with social distancing, should not take place because of the grave risk of contagion. Families could not even have funerals for loved ones. Now, however, many of those same public health authorities say (while others remain silent) that mass protests can and should go forward, given the issues involved. Combatting racism and police brutality is profoundly important. But that’s a separate question from whether the gatherings pose a public health risk. As Ross Douthat wrote, the virus doesn’t care why someone is protesting. 

Moreover, in making these arguments, some local officials have expressly disparaged religion. Here in New York, Mayor de Blasio used dismissive terms to explain why the city has permitted protests but forbidden Hasidic funerals: Religion, the mayor said, was simply not as important. The mayor is entitled to his opinion; probably most New Yorkers agree with him. But his statements—and those of other elected officials—should make courts skeptical about deferring to the judgment of local authorities.

You can read the essay here.

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