The folks at Princeton’s James Madison Program have uploaded the video of my talk there last May on on the future of religious freedom in America. I discuss the rise of the Nones; the growth of the administrative state; our expanding notions of equality; even Tocqueville and pantheism. Oh, I also make some predictions about the then-undecided Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which were not too far off, actually. (That happens now and then). People who are interested can access the video on the Madison Program’s site, or here on our Videos page. Other panelists include John J. DiIulio, Jr. (Penn), Michael Stokes Paulsen (St. Thomas), and Katrina Lantos Swett (Lantos Foundation). Thanks again to the Madison Program for inviting me!
At the First Things site, I have an essay on the religious divide opening up in American politics, between Democrats and Republicans. Based on the increasing number of Nones among party members, Democrats are becoming the non-religious party, and Republicans the religious party. This divide would have been unknown at earlier periods of our history; Tocqueville, for example, famously commented on the absence of religious division in American politics. I predict what our new religious politics may mean for religious liberty. Here’s a snippet:
In short, a new sort of divide appears to be opening up in American politics: Republicans are the religious party, and Democrats are the non-religious party. This new divide may not be stable, of course. The racial and ethnic divisions among Democrats, which closely track the divide between the religious and the non-religious, may cause fissures within the party. African-Americans and Hispanics may press white progressives to make more room for traditional believers. And over time, Nones may make headway in the Republican Party. If current trends continue, though, religion will become a marker of political difference in a way it never has been before.
The new religious divide seems likely to make American politics even more bitter than it already is, particularly with respect to religious liberty. People’s commitment to religious liberty depends on whether they think religion is, on balance, a good thing for individuals and society. If people come to see religion as an obstacle rather than an aid to human flourishing, they are unlikely to sympathize with calls for the free exercise of religion. By definition, Nones reject traditional, organized religion as harmful or, at least, unnecessary. Their growing dominance in the party suggests that arguments in favor of religious freedom will have less and less appeal for Democrats. The divide is likely to be self-reinforcing, as Democrats come to see religious freedom as something only the other party cares about—and therefore something to be resisted. If Tocqueville came back to visit America today, he might not be so surprised.
You can read the whole essay here.
Just an FYI that I’ll be appearing at Princeton this weekend at the annual Madison Program conference, the theme of which this year is, “Taking the Measure of Where We Are Today.” I’ll be speaking on the panel, “Religious Freedom at Home and Abroad,” on Friday afternoon at 1:30, along with John DiIulio, Jr., Michael Stokes Paulsen, and Katrina Lantos Swett. Readers of the blog, stop by and say hello!
The semester’s winding down, but both Marc and I have been busy this week. This afternoon, I’ll be commenting on Brian Hutler’s paper, “Conscientious Objection or Political Protest, But Not Both,” at a conference on law and complicity at Princeton’s University Center for Human Values. I’m grateful to the conference organizer, Amy Sepinwall, for inviting me. L&R Forum readers, stop by and say hello! And yesterday, Marc and I participated in a worthwhile Dulles Memorial colloquium at First Things Magazine. The subject of the colloquium was Rick Garnett’s new paper on establishments. It was a great opportunity to think again about the compatibility of liberalism and state religions, and to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Thanks to Rusty Reno and the First Things team for inviting us!
For those who are interested, yesterday the Liberty Law site posted an essay I wrote on the possible future of religious freedom in the United States (“The Powerful Headwinds Confronting Religious Freedom“). In the essay, I describe the powerful cultural and political trends, especially religious polarization and an ever-expanding notion of equality, that make religious freedom increasingly problematic, especially for members of traditional religious groups. Here’s an excerpt:
The increasing religious polarization suggests that, unlike in the past, traditional believers cannot count on a widespread, if thin, cultural sympathy for their commitments. A large and growing percentage of Americans has no experience of traditional religion—and, to the extent it has had such experience, rejects it. Disagreements and misunderstandings are likely to be amplified by the fact that Nones overwhelmingly reject traditional teachings about sexuality, which they see as psychologically damaging and essentially unjust, an affront to the dignity of persons. It’s not coincidental that so many of our current disputes about religious liberty, like Masterpiece Cakeshop and Hobby Lobby, involve sexuality in some way.
Another cultural trend that should worry traditional believers is Americans’ expanding concept of equality. For many Americans, equality no longer means simply equality before the law. Rather, it means a rejection generally of distinctions among groups and individuals, including religious distinctions—a rejection of “difference per se.” Beliefs and practices that exclude outsiders from a religious community are presumptively suspect, because of the implicit judgments they suggest: some groups, apparently, think their beliefs and ways of life superior to others’. Such judgments seem impolite, ungenerous, and inconsistent with the spirit of true equality, which requires that each religion acknowledge the basic correctness of all the others.
The expansive notion of equality—equality as sameness—poses challenges for traditional religious groups, most of which continue to insist, as a matter of religious conviction, on maintaining boundaries with the followers of other religions. This doesn’t mean hostile relations, necessarily, only boundaries. For example, some evangelical student groups, while encouraging charity toward everyone, limit their membership to persons who share their faith commitments. Such limitations are apt to seem arbitrary and illegitimate to many Americans. In fact, a number of religious-liberty cases involve universities’ decisions to deny religiously “exclusive” student organizations access to campus.
You can read the whole essay here.
Just a note to thank Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions for hosting a faculty workshop yesterday on my current draft, “The Future of Religious Freedom.” I gained a lot from the discussion. Looking forward to dinner with the undergraduate fellows this evening!
I’m a little late posting this, but I’d like to thank Professor Philip Hamburger and the Morningside Institute’s Nathaniel Peters for inviting me to participate earlier this month in a session of Columbia Law School’s Reading Group in the American Constitutional Tradition. The Reading Group is a for-credit seminar for 2Ls, 3Ls, and LLM students at Columbia Law. For the session in which I participated, the students read excerpts from Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Among the issues we discussed in class were Tocqueville’s famous observation that lawyers form a sort of conservative aristocracy in America, a class of quasi-mystics with the ability to speak oracularly in the name of tradition. We still try around here. #TraditionProject
St. John’s has posted a news item on my visiting fellowship at Princeton University’s James Madison Program this semester:
Professor Movsesian, who is the director of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s Law, is devoting his time at Princeton to his current writing project, “The Future of Religious Freedom.” The project explores the cultural and political trends that make religious freedom increasingly problematic in American life, and shows how those trends are likely to affect constitutional law.
He presented an early version of the project, a paper on religion and the administrative state, at a conference at George Mason University Law School in March, and will present a revised version at a workshop at Princeton this month. Professor Movsesian will also participate in a panel, “Religious Freedom at Home and Abroad,” at the Madison Program’s annual conference in May.
“It’s a wonderful experience,” Professor Movsesian says of his fellowship. “I greatly appreciate the opportunity to spend time at Princeton and interact with so many serious scholars. I know my work will improve as a result.” Madison Program Executive Director Bradford Wilson adds, “Professor Movsesian brings to Princeton University his exceptional knowledge of the place of religious freedom in American constitutional and statutory law. His inquisitive and generous spirit has enlivened the never-ending dialogue in our Program on law and politics. We are honored to have him with us.”
I know we have some readers on the Princeton campus, so please stop by and say hello! I’m here through June.
Mark and I have this podcast on the oral argument in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which occurred last week at the Supreme Court. The podcast covers the central issues that the justices asked about and discussed.
For those who are interested, Fordham’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center has posted a video of last week’s panel on the the persecution of Mideast Christians, in which I participated, along with Sidney Griffith (Catholic University), James Skedros (Hellenic College/Holy Cross Seminary), and Samuel Tadros (Hudson Institute). Fordham’s George Demacopoulous served as moderator. Have a look: