Thoughts on Conference on “Faith, Sexuality, and the Meaning of Freedom”

I am just back from a conference at Yale Law School organized jointly by Professors Robin Wilson and Bill Eskridge on “Faith, Sexuality, and the Meaning of Freedom,” and I offer here some general thoughts about the presentations and the nature of the conference. While the conference’s rules do not permit me to get into specifics about who said what, my overall impression is that it was a gathering of academics, politicians, religious leaders, and practitioners drawn from a comparatively broad spectrum of political, religious, and cultural opinion. Robin and Bill are to be commended, in my view, for that balance–always difficult to achieve to everyone’s satisfaction.

One of the conference’s launch points was the fairly recent report by the US Commission on Civil Rights entitled, “Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles With Civil Liberties,” but which did not contain, in my view, very much sound advice for achieving peaceful coexistence or reconciliation. All of the panels concerned the topic of achieving modus vivendi arrangements for the proper legal accommodation of rights of religious liberty and rights of sexual freedom and equality. This has been a large and important part of Robin’s own policy work over the last few years, and the so-called Utah Compromise was studied and considered in this respect.

Two things stood out for me in particular.

First, one of the more interesting debates among the group, and, it seems to me, going forward, is about the baseline question of what constitutes the sort of discrimination that the law ought to proscribe in the first place. Once a particular judgment is found to be proscribable discrimination (I suppose the term is “invidious”), the result is all but foreordained. Some argued that the motivation for a particular discrimination is irrelevant; so long as the effect is adverse action against a person within a designated protected category, that ought to be sufficient. Others returned that this was in effect stacking the deck. The first question must be whether somebody has engaged in invidious discrimination at all, and that this is not a question about motivation but about how we properly describe the discrimination that the person has made. Barronelle Stutzman’s case is one example of this sort of debate, and this brief authored by Professor Steve Smith addresses the question. But the larger issue of the baseline affects many sorts of discriminations that people make in other contexts. Suppose, for example, that a hospital refuses to perform a surgery to remove the healthy uterus of a woman who identifies as transgender and desires to become a man. Is that the sort of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation that the law should condemn? Or is it nothing of the kind–is it simply a judgment that hospitals do not remove healthy uteruses–and certainly nothing like a hospital’s refusal to perform heart bypass surgery on a woman who identifies as transgender?

Second, one of the pervasive themes of the conference was the conflict between perfectionist and anti-perfectionist accounts of liberalism, and whether perfectionist liberalism is in its ascendancy at the moment. As is well-known, Robin, in her work with others like Professor Douglas Laycock and some of our own MOJ colleagues, has worked tirelessly to hammer out compromises that reflect a judicious anti-perfectionist liberalism. But my sense, in some ways confirmed by this conference, is that perfectionist accounts of liberalism (indeed, perfectionist accounts of politics in general) cannot really ever be sidelined. My own inclinations have always been rather pessimistic when it comes to true pluralism in a liberal democratic nation, even as I deeply appreciate the work of Robin and others. I believe strongly that the expressive and symbolic power of the law is an extremely important feature of it–what the law says about its people, what its people are proud of it to say, always lurks as a sort of subtext beneath the surface of whatever modus vivendi arrangements we might achieve. It is a mistake to ignore that subtext, as it will otherwise only come frothing and bubbling up at unexpected moments.

My own presentation involved what is seemingly a somewhat esoteric topic–Article XI of the Treaty of Tripoli–which begins with the statement that “[T]he government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion.” Part of my talk involved the history of Article XI (which is fascinating) but part suggested that the fight over American identity that the phrase (and many phrases like it) has come to represent–and the symbolic and expressive force of the law–is both a substantial impediment to anti-perfectionist liberal democratic governance and an inevitable and important feature of any government worth the name. More on this soon, I hope.

How the US Hurt Mideast Christians

This month, I’m guest blogging at the Library of Law and Liberty. I’ve begun with a series of posts on the persecution of Christians in the Mideast. This persecution has many causes, including social attitudes formed by centuries of existence as dhimmis. In today’s post, though, I argue that the West bears some responsibility as well, including the US. Here’s a sample:

Finally, there are the recent actions of the United States. The Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, coupled with the precipitous withdrawal of American troops under the Obama Administration, has been a disaster for local Christians. The invasion exposed Christians to reprisals from Islamists; the withdrawal of troops allowed the reprisals to take place on a wide scale. In Syria, the Obama Administration’s signal that it would support the overthrow of Assad—recall the red line in the summer of 2013—encouraged a rebellion; its failure to back up its words with action has led to slaughter. This is not to say the US should have intervened militarily in Syria. But it shouldn’t have encouraged a rebellion it was not prepared to back, either.

You can read the whole post here.

Four Pieces on Culture Warring–Inevitable, Interminable, Permanent

For one reason or another, a number of people in the blogosphere have been writing culture war posts in the last few days. Perhaps it’s the end of the year, or the looming political changes, or exam avoidance, or just the holiday cheer. For those who are interested, have a look at Mark Tushnet’s recent post, Paul Horwitz’s response, and this rather grim comment by R.J. Snell–all of them culture war related.

But the piece I really want to highlight is alluded to in the Snell post–Philip Rieff’s “The Newer Noises of War in the Second Culture Camp: Notes on Professor Burt’s Legal Fictions,” published in 1991 and in response to Robert Burt’s then-recent book, “Two Jewish Justices: Outcasts in the Promised Land.” I cannot do justice to the entire piece, but here is a fragment that is, in its way, responsive to each of the three posts above:

Let there be fight? And there was. And there is. James Joyce’s pun, on the words of Jewish second world creation, Genesis 1:3, is more than mildly amusing; it gives readers the most exact and concise account I know of the sociological form of culture. Culture is the form of fighting before the firing actually begins. Every culture declares peace on its own inevitably political terms. Unless a culture is defeated politically, as the Jewish was from the Roman conquest to the founding of Israel, it will assert itself politically. A living culture, even one that imitates life by politicizing its cultural impoverishment, works for itself. That cultural work is the matter and manner of disarming competing cultures, inside and outside its previously bounded self. In its disarming manner, a culture makes the ultimate political means of enforcement, armed force, unnecessary….

12) Kulturkampf. The German compound word for the disarming force/form of culture has an awkward English equivalent: culture/struggle. As I remarked in the first note, the punning polemical genius of Joyce brought him closer than any sociologist I know to both the formal fighting sense of culture and its superordinate creative sense. It is in that both/and that the historical task of culture is always and everywhere the same: the creation of a world in which its inhabitants may find themselves at home and yet accommodate the stranger without yielding their habitus to him. Here and now, pluralism has its price: a united front of second against third world assaults [for Rieff’s discussion of first, second, and third worlds, see earlier in the piece], which are often mounted in the name of pluralism.

13) Origins of kulturkampf. Law is the ultimate weapon, before any turn to harder ware, in a kulturkampf. That word first appeared in common German use in the early 1870’s during the struggle of the National Liberal political party to disarm by law the moral/educational authority, and political pulpitry, of a triumphalist Roman Catholic hierarchy, revitalized as it then was by its dogma of papal infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The aim of the National Liberals was to shift the German Catholic imagination away from the church to the state. The Pope responded to newly restrictive laws by forbidding clerical conformity to them. In turn, the state dismissed clerical resisters from their duties and, moreover, suspended their state salaries. Elites of the kulturstaat, both Catholic and Protestant, then learned a fatally rational and enduring lesson: the high price of being other than indifferent to the temptation of opposing the machtstaat.

France: Guerres de Noel

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A Municipal  Christmas Creche in Nantes (Guardian)

 

At the First Things site, I have an essay (“Crèche Clash“) on the continuing Christmas Wars in France. The Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest administrative court, recently ruled on the legality of the Nativity scenes that many French municipalities display every December. Although it didn’t cite any American cases, the French court relied on the same test American courts have developed to determine the constitutionality of Christmas displays in this country, the so-called endorsement test:

The Conseil begins by stating that laïcité forbids “any display by public authorities of signs and symbols showing a public recognition or a preference for a given religion.” A Christmas crèche poses a difficult case. Although a crèche can convey a religious message, it also has a non-religious meaning as a familiar seasonal decoration. One message is forbidden for the state, the other acceptable. Display of a crèche by a public authority is therefore legal, the Conseil declares, “only” where the crèche “has a cultural, artistic or festive purpose, but not if it expresses” recognition of or preference for a religion. To determine the meaning of a display, one must consider the particular circumstances, “including the existence or the absence of local traditions and the location of the display.”

Readers familiar with the American case law will recognize this as a version of the “endorsement test” our own courts use to evaluate the constitutionality of public nativity scenes. Under the test, first proposed by Supreme Court Justice Sandra O’Connor in a 1984 case from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, a display violates the Establishment Clause if it amounts to an official endorsement of religion, that is, if it suggests that the government approves a particular religious message (or disapproves such a message, though that issue does not regularly arise). Official endorsements make non-adherents feel like second-class citizens, the reasoning goes—like less than full participants in the political community. As a consequence, such endorsements violate the Constitution.

In the essay, I argue that the French version of the endorsement test turns out to be just as confusing as the American, with many of the same deficiencies–including its tendency to outlaw traditional features of public life. You can read the essay here.

On Bach’s B minor Mass

Here’s a fun article on J.S. Bach’s magnificent Mass in B minor, one of the magisterial and final pinnacles of his oeuvre, and yet in some ways puzzling. What, after all, was a faithful Lutheran doing setting an entire Roman Catholic Mass–a Missa Tota?

And for performances, stay away from the trendy and the faux HIP (Historically Informed Performances). Someday I will write a rancorous essay entitled, “Historically Informed Performances: The Living (and oh so HIP) Originalism of Classical Music.”

Instead savor the magnificently moody and measured performances of Furtwängler and Scherchen. Or, if you can’t get ahold of those, this version conducted by Herbert von Karajan will do.

The Revival of Nationalism in 2016

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At the Library of Law and Liberty site this morning, I have a post on the elections of 2016. Across the West this year, the unthinkable has occurred again and again: Brexit; the election of Donald Trump; the popularity of the National Front in France and Euroskeptic parties like Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement in Italy. What explains these developments?

Although traditional conservatism, including religious conservatism, has had a role, I argue that the most important factor has been the revival of nationalism across the West:

In short, although traditional conservatism has been on the winning side in recent political contests, it has been a junior partner in a larger project: the revival of nationalism. Nationalism is a complicated phenomenon that takes different forms. A good working definition is the following: a political program that unites a people with a common ancestry or culture together with a sovereign state. Nationalism rejects attempts to subordinate the state to outside governance. Often, it seeks to protect local traditions from being diluted by an aggressive global culture. In its present iteration, it sets the nation-state against supranational, liberal regimes like the EU or NAFTA, and local customs and traditions, including religious traditions, against alien, outside trends….

One can easily perceive nationalism’s role in the politics of 2016. Repeatedly, the side advocating a recovery of sovereignty from supranational bodies and a limit on immigration prevailed. In the Brexit campaign, the “Leave” supporters argued that Britain must take back control from EU bureaucrats and assert authority over its borders. Here, Trump famously called for withdrawal from the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty and for renegotiation of other free-trade agreements, including NAFTA; for a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants; and for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.

In France, the National Front’s Marine Le Pen has proudly declared that “the time of the nation state is back” and calls for restrictions on immigration and an end to multiculturalism. She maintains that the EU should be reconceived as a loose collection of sovereign states and that France should withdraw from the common currency. The ideology of Italy’s Euroskeptics is more fluid; nationalism is weaker in Italy, too. But important elements within Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement express skepticism about the EU and seek to withdraw from the euro, and also disfavor allowing large numbers of immigrants into the country.

The rise of nationalism upsets the conventional wisdom, which for some time has been predicting its demise. But, in times of crisis, people return to the nation state. I explain more here.

The High Church Temptation

Among the many interesting features of church-state political and social relations probed by Anthony Trollope in his novels are the various temptations to which adherents of the several Anglican groupings in mid-19th century England might become prone. The following passage from “Barchester Towers,” which tells of the early scholarly and ecclesiastical career of one Reverend Francis Arabin (now rector of a small parish called St. Ewald’s), describes very effectively one of the chief temptations for High Churchmen…eventual collapse into Roman Catholicism. Note, in particular, Trollope’s reference to Sir John Henry Newman (and his favorable comments about schismatics!).

And what of Low Church temptations? In what might those consist? That is for another post. Here is Trollope on the Rev. Arabin (from Chapter XX):

He had been a religious lad before he left school. That is, he had addicted himself to a party in religion, and having done so had received that benefit which most men do who become partisans in such a cause. We are much too apt to look at schism in our church as an unmitigated evil. Moderate schism, if there may be such a thing, at any rate calls attention to subject, draws in supporters who would otherwise have been inattentive to the matter, and teaches men to think upon religion. How great an amount of good of this description has followed that movement in the Church of England which commenced with the publication of Froude’s Remains!

As a young boy Arabin took up the cudgels on the side of the Tractarians, and at Oxford he sat for a while at the feet of the great Newman. To this cause he lent all his faculties. For it he concocted verses, for it he made speeches, for it he scintillated the brightest sparks of his quiet wit. For it he ate and drank and dressed, and had his being. In due process of time he took his degree, and wrote himself B.A., but he did not do so with any remarkable amount of academical éclat. He had occupied himself too much with high church matters, and the polemics, politics, and outward demonstrations usually concurrent with high churchmanship, to devote himself with sufficient vigour to the acquisition of a double first. He was not a double first, nor even a first class man; but he revenged himself on the university by putting firsts and double firsts out of fashion for the year, and laughing down a species of pedantry which at the age of twenty-three leaves no room in a man’s mind for graver subjects than conic sections and Greek accents.

Greek accents, however, and conic sections were esteemed necessaries at Balliol, and there was no admittance there for Mr. Arabin within the lists of its fellows. Lazarus, however, the richest and most comfortable abode of Oxford dons, opened its bosom to the young champion of a church militant. Mr. Arabin was ordained, and became a fellow soon after taking his degree, and shortly after that was chosen professor of poetry.

And now came the moment of his great danger. After many mental struggles, and an agony of doubt which may well be surmised, the great prophet of the Tractarians confessed himself a Roman Catholic. Mr. Newman left the Church of England, and with him carried many a waverer. He did not carry off Mr. Arabin, but the escape which that gentleman had was a very narrow one. He left Oxford for a while that he might meditate in complete peace on the step which appeared to him to be all but unavoidable, and shut himself up in a little village on the sea-shore of one of our remotest counties, that he might learn by communing with his own soul whether or no he could with a safe conscience remain within the pale of his mother church.

Things would have gone badly with him there had he been left entirely to himself. Every thing was against him: all his worldly interests required him to remain a Protestant; and he looked on his worldly interests as a legion of foes, to get the better of whom was a point of extremest honour. In his then state of ecstatic agony such a conquest would have cost him little; he could easily have thrown away all his livelihood; but it cost him much to get over the idea that by choosing the Church of England he should be open in his own mind to the charge that he had been led to such a choice by unworthy motives. Then his heart was against him: he loved with a strong and eager love the man who had hitherto been his guide, and yearned to follow his footsteps. His tastes were against him: the ceremonies and pomps of the Church of Rome, their august feasts and solemn fasts, invited his imagination and pleased his eye. His flesh was against him: how great an aid would it be to a poor, weak, wavering man to be constrained to high moral duties, self-denial, obedience, and chastity by laws which were certain in their enactments, and not to be broken without loud, palpable, unmistakable sin! Then his faith was against him: he required to believe so much; panted so eagerly to give signs of his belief; deemed it so insufficient to wash himself simply in the waters of Jordan; that some great deed, such as that of forsaking everything for a true church, had for him allurements almost past withstanding.

Out with the old, in with the new!

I have said before that if you are interested in law and religion, you must read Anthony Trollope. I can’t think of many authors who are more intimately concerned with the quotidian working out of church-state arrangements. As Hawthorne once put it, “Trollope’s novels are solid, substantial, written on the strength of beef and through the inspiration of ale and just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily business and not suspecting they were being made a show of.”

Trollope’s Barsetshire Novels in particular are concerned with political and cultural change, or “evolution,” within the Anglican Church in English nineteenth century life. Here is a wonderful passage from “Barchester Towers” in which a “new man” representative of the progressively liberalizing episcopacy (Mr. Slope) informs an “old man” (Mr. Harding) about the changes coming to the Church and to English life more broadly:

“You must be aware, Mr. Harding, that things are a good deal changed in Barchester,” said Mr. Slope.

Mr. Harding said that he was aware of it. “And not only in Barchester, Mr. Harding, but in the world at large. It is not only in Barchester that a new man is carrying out new measures and casting away the useless rubbish of past centuries. The same thing is going on throughout the country. Work is now required from every man who receives wages; and they that have to superintend the doing of work, and the paying of wages, are bound to see that this rule is carried out. New men, Mr. Harding, are now needed, and are now forthcoming in the church, as in other professions.”

All this was wormwood to our old friend [Mr. Harding]. He had never rated very high his own abilities or activity; but all the feelings of his heart were with the old clergy, and any antipathies of which his heart was susceptible, were directed against those new, busy, uncharitable, self-lauding men, of which Mr. Slope was so good an example….

Mr. Harding was not a happy man as he walked down the palace pathway, and stepped out into the close. His preferment and pleasant house were a second time gone from him; but that he could put up with. He had been schooled and insulted by a man young enough to be his son; but that he could put up with. He could even draw from the very injuries, which had been inflicted on him, some of that consolation, which we may believe martyrs often receive from the injustice of their own sufferings, and which is generally proportioned in its strength to the extent of cruelty with which martyrs are treated….But the venom of [Mr. Slope’s] harangue had worked into his blood.

“New men are carrying out new measures, and are carting away the useless rubbish of past centuries!” What cruel words these had been; and how often are they now used with the heartless cruelty of a Slope! A man is sufficiently condemned if it can only be shown that either in politics or religion he does not belong to some new school established within the last score of years. He may then regard himself as rubbish and expect to be carted away. A man is nothing now unless he has within himself a full appreciation of the new era; an era in which it would seem that neither honesty nor truth is very desirable, but in which success is the only touchstone of merit. We must laugh at every thing that is established. Let the joke be ever so bad, ever so untrue to the real principles of joking; nevertheless we must laugh–or else beware the cart. We must talk, think, and live up to the spirit of the times, and write up to it too, if that cacoethes be upon us, or else we are naught. New men and new measures, long credit and few scruples, great success or wonderful ruin, such are now the tastes of Englishmen who know how to live.

No Protestants on the Court

At the Liberty Law site this morning, I have a post on the absence of Protestant Christians on the Supreme Court. In historical terms, the lack of Protestants is a striking anomaly–the large majority of the 112 men and women who have sat as Justices over time has been Protestant. What explains the current situation, and might it have an effect on American law?

With regard to the first question, I argue that the absence of Protestants as to to with larger social and cultural questions. With respect to the second question, I argue, it depends on what sort of Protestant, and what sort of legal issues, one has in mind:

If Reno is right about the transformation of Mainline Protestantism into a post-Protestant WASP ethos, then it shouldn’t matter whether actual Mainline Protestants are on the Court. Given the composition of the legal profession, most people likely to be appointed to the Court will have post-Protestant WASP values, whatever their particular faith tradition. Recall my example of the Catholic or Orthodox 1L at Harvard. Post-Protestant WASP values, in other words, will be represented even without actual Mainline Protestants.

On the other hand, the absence of Evangelicals might make a difference to the Court’s decisions, at least with regard to some issues—for example, questions regarding religious liberty. Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith, which abandoned the test for constitutional purposes, most hot-button religious liberty cases nowadays turn on some version of the “compelling interest” test. This test holds that the government cannot substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion unless it has a compelling interest for doing so and has chosen the least restrictive means. This is the test contained in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), for example—the statute at issue in the Court’s recent decisions regarding the contraception mandate in Obamacare.

The compelling interest test requires many judgment calls: What is a “substantial burden” on religious exercise? What is a “compelling interest”? Is there a “less restrictive means” available? (In fact, it was the necessity of such intuitive judgments that led the Smith Court to abandon the compelling interest test in the constitutional context). And judgment calls depend on the intuitions of the people doing the judging. An Evangelical Christian likely would have different intuitions about these matters than a post-Protestant WASP who views religions as more or less interchangeable, and anyway not all that important. Someone who views religion as a vital guide to behavior might be more skeptical of claims that a rule does not “substantially burden” religious exercise, or that the government has offered a “compelling” interest to justify the intrusion.

In short, on at least some questions, the religious background of the justices could well make a difference, and the absence of Evangelicals on the Court affect the course of the law. You can read the whole post here.

Meshugas About Chickens

That’s the title of this post I have over at the Liberty Law blog, discussing a recent controversy in California related to Yom Kippur. A bit:

As a society becomes more secular, what happens to religious rituals, customs, and ways of life that cannot be explained or justified in secular terms? When the freedom to engage in such practices is no longer presumed to be a good because of a firm commitment to religion as a social value, little stands in the way of its becoming just one more special interest. Religious freedom is then thrown into the bin of social oddities, to be haggled over and negotiated against whatever other idiosyncratic predilections one happens to find in there.

Witness the case of United Poultry Concerns v. Chabad of Irvine. The plaintiff is a California organization devoted to “promoting the respectful and compassionate treatment of domestic fowl” that leads protests, for example, against the use of eggs in the White House Easter-Egg Roll. Indeed, UPC seems to observe a fairly regular schedule of outrage, no doubt because many holidays, religious and otherwise, tend to involve an adversarial relationship with poultry. (With Thanksgiving on the horizon, the group’s web site is showcasing a book called More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality.)

Over the last two weeks, UPC has been involved in a legal effort to stop a Jewish practice called kaparot that is performed on the day before Yom Kippur. Only a small number of Jews in the United States perform this ceremony, and it involves a trained rabbi swinging a chicken in the air and then slaughtering the animal. (“Kaparot” means atonement.)

The tireless Josh Blackman, who has been involved with the case, has a very complete description of the proceedings. The long and short of it is that a federal District Court judge issued a temporary restraining order against the practice earlier this month, citing a California state animal-cruelty provision, though the judge would have been well advised to consider both the federal Humane Slaughter Act and the Supreme Court’s decision in Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (1993) before acting. The judge ordered pre-trial conferences, briefs, and hearings to be conducted and filed immediately thereafter, right smack dab during the most important week in the Jewish calendar.

Perhaps most telling of all was that the hearing on the temporary restraining order was scheduled for October 13, the day after Yom Kippur, which Professor Blackman amusingly analogizes to scheduling a hearing for December 26 on an order to prohibit a ceremony performed on Christmas day. The judge eventually lifted the order just hours before sundown on October 12, rendering it impossible as a practical matter for the synagogue’s members to perform the ceremony.

Indeed, as Professor Blackman notes, the timing of the legal proceeding was obviously calculated by the plaintiffs to cause as much disruption and distress as it possibly could (the lawsuit could have been filed really at any other time), respectful treatment of chickens being one thing and respectful treatment of religious believers quite another. The judge seems to have been either utterly unaware of these issues or utterly uninterested in them.

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