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.

Philos Project Briefing on the Karabakh Crisis

The Philos Project, a think tank that promotes positive Christian engagement in the Middle East, hosting a briefing last week on the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. I participated, along with the Project’s Founder and Executive Director, Robert Nicholson, Research Fellow Van Der Megerdichian, and Armen Sahakyan, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America. I covered the history of the Karabakh conflict, its religious implications, and why Christians in the West should care. A link is now available:

Movsesian Teaches Class at Moscow State University

I had a wonderful time this morning, teaching a (virtual!) class at Lomonosov Moscow State University on the COVID epidemic and religious exemptions under the US Constitution. Thanks to Professor Gayane Davidyan for inviting me and to her students for their wonderful, thoughtful questions. Lomonsov will post the class on YouTube soon, and I’ll link it when it appears.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the class. It was a lot of fun!

Center Papers & Activities in 2019

Here is a retrospective list of some of our papers and activities in 2019, with links where available. A warm thanks to our readers, and best wishes for the new year!

Papers

DeGirolami, The Traditions of American Constitutional Law (forthcoming, Notre Dame Law Review 2020).

Movsesian, Masterpiece Cakeshop and the Future of Religious Freedom, 42 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 711 (2019).

DeGirolami, First Amendment Traditionalism (forthcoming, Wash. U. L. Rev. 2020).

Movsesian, The Armenian Genocide Today, First Things, November.

DeGirolami, The Sickness Unto Death of the First Amendment, 31 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 751 (2019).

Movsesian, Tertullian and the Rise of Religious Freedom, University Bookman, August.

DeGirolami, Notes on a New Fusion, Liberty Fund, July.

Movsesian, Interpreting the Bladensburg Cross Case, First Things, June.

DeGirolami, Cross Purposes, Public Discourse, June.

Movsesian, The Devout and the Nones, First Things, April.

DeGirolami, Jurisprudence as an Expression of Character, Liberty Fund, January.

Activities

Conversation with Hon. Kyle Duncan (5th Circuit) and Hon. Richard Sullivan (2d Circuit) on church-state issues at the Supreme Court.

Legal Spirits (podcast series concerning law and religion).

In spring 2019, DeGirolami was a fellow in the James Madison Program in Princeton University’s Department of Politics.

DeGirolami, Panel on Keith Whittington’s “Repugnant Laws,” James Madison Program, Princeton University, November.

Movsesian, “Church-State Relations in a Time of Scandal,” Morningside Institute, September.

Movsesian, Constitution Day Lecture, The King’s College, September.

DeGirolami, “The Supreme Court’s New Traditionalism,” Skidmore College, September.

DeGirolami, “The Constitution, the Courts, and Conservatism,” Hertog Foundation, July.

The Center for Law and Religion colonizes the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy! June.

Movsesian, “Religion and the Administrative State,” Center for the Study of the Administrative State, George Mason University, March.

DeGirolami, “Free Exercise of Religion and Free Speech,” AALS Law and Religion Conference, January.

Highlights from The King’s College

The King’s College has posted a video of excerpts from my Constitution Day Address last month, on how cultural trends, including the rise of the Nones, will likely affect the legal debate on religious accommodations. Here’s the link:

Movsesian at the Morningside Institute Tomorrow

For readers in the area, tomorrow night I’ll appear in midtown Manhattan on a panel sponsored by the Morningside Institute, “Church-State Relations in a Time of Scandal.” I’ll be discussing recent state attempts to require clergy to report suspected cases of child abuse, including cases clergy learn about through confidential spiritual counseling, and what these attempts suggest about our changing religious landscape. Details at the link. Stop by and say hello!

Movsesian at The King’s College

While Marc went north to Skidmore, I traveled to lower Manhattan today, to deliver the annual Constitution Day Address at The King’s College. Excellent questions from the students. Thanks for having me!

Movsesian at The King’s College Next Month

Next month, I’ll give the annual Constitution Day Address at The King’s College in New York, on Masterpiece Cakeshop and the future of religious freedom in the United States. Details about the event, to take place on September 19, are here. Forum readers in New York, please stop by to say hello!

Movsesian on Wilken on Religious Freedom

In this week’s University Bookman, I have a review of Robert Louis Wilken’s new book on Christianity and religious freedom, Liberty in the Things of God. Here’s a sample:

Wilken writes lucidly and persuasively, and his basic point is correct. Religious freedom is not a concept foreign to Christian thought, and its place as a pillar of Western civilization owes much to Christian sources. Of course, one should not exaggerate. It’s fair to say that religious freedom, as it developed in the West, is one Christian approach to the question, but not the onlyChristian approach. As the examples of Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin show, there are strains in the Christian tradition that would oppose religious freedom, at least as we understand the concept today. The dualist nature of Christian politics, which insists that Christians owe duties simultaneously to God and to the state, but that Christ is Lord of all, makes easy conclusions about the Christian approach to church-state relations impossible.

The full review is available here.

Movsesian on Masterpiece Cakeshop

For those who are interested, the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy has published my article, Masterpiece Cakeshop and the Future of Religious Freedom, in the most recent issue. Here’s the abstract:

Last term, the Supreme Court decided Masterpiece Cakeshop, one of several recent cases in which religious believers have sought to avoid the application of public accommodations laws that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Court’s decision was a narrow one that turned on unique facts and did relatively little to resolve the conflict between anti-discrimination laws and religious freedom. Yet Masterpiece Cakeshop is significant, because it reflects broad cultural and political trends that drive that conflict and shape its resolution: a deepening religious polarization between the Nones and the Traditionally Religious; an expanding conception of equality that treats social distinctions—especially religious distinctions—as illegitimate; and a growing administrative state that enforces that conception of equality in all aspects of our common life. This article explores those trends and offers three predictions for the future: conflicts like Masterpiece Cakeshop will grow more frequent and harder to resolve; the law of religious freedom will remain unsettled and deeply contested; and the judicial confirmation wars will grow even more bitter and partisan than they already have.

Readers can also download the article from the SSRN website, here.