Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

“The Contested Place of Religion in Family Law” (Wilson, ed.)

Here is a new volume of essays edited by our friend and a participant in our law and Family Law.jpgreligion colloquium a few years ago, Robin Fretwell Wilson, dealing with religion and family law–obviously an issue that has always been rather complicated but has become even more so in recent years. The Contested Place of Religion in Family Law (CUP), with essays by Orrin Hatch, Elizabeth Sepper, Michael Helfand, Brian Bix, John Witte, and many others.

Like many beliefs, religious views matter across an individual’s life and the life cycle of a family – from birth to marriage, through child-rearing, and, eventually, death. This volume examines clashes over religious liberty within the personal realm of the family. Against swirling religious beliefs, secular values, and legal regulation, this volume offers a forward-looking examination of tensions between religious freedom and the state’s protective function. Contributors unpack some of the Court’s recent decisions and explain how they set the stage for ongoing disputes. They evaluate religious claims around birth control, circumcision, modesty, religious education, marriage, polygamy, shared parenting, corporal punishment, faith healing, divorce, and the end of life. Authors span legislators, attorneys, academics, journalists, ministers, physicians, child advocates, and representatives of minority faiths. The Contested Place of Religion in Family Law begins an overdue conversation on questions dividing the nation.

Strossen, “HATE”

It’s hate speech week here at the forum. Here’s another forthcoming book on the idea of Hatehate and hate speech, this time by former president of the ACLU and current professor of law at NYU, Nadine Strossen. This volume appears to be less a critical examination of the concept of hate (it appears to assume that there is such an idea) than a defense of the current state of play in First Amendment law. The book is HATE: Why We Should Resist It With Free Speech, Not Censorship (OUP) (title emphasis in the original, of course).

HATE dispels misunderstandings plaguing our perennial debates about “hate speech vs. free speech,” showing that the First Amendment approach promotes free speech and democracy, equality, and societal harmony. We hear too many incorrect assertions that “hate speech” — which has no generally accepted definition — is either absolutely unprotected or absolutely protected from censorship. Rather, U.S. law allows government to punish hateful or discriminatory speech in specific contexts when it directly causes imminent serious harm. Yet, government may not punish such speech solely because its message is disfavored, disturbing, or vaguely feared to possibly contribute to some future harm. When U.S. officials formerly wielded such broad censorship power, they suppressed dissident speech, including equal rights advocacy. Likewise, current politicians have attacked Black Lives Matter protests as “hate speech.”

“Hate speech” censorship proponents stress the potential harms such speech might further: discrimination, violence, and psychic injuries. However, there has been little analysis of whether censorship effectively counters the feared injuries. Citing evidence from many countries, this book shows that “hate speech” laws are at best ineffective and at worst counterproductive. Their inevitably vague terms invest enforcing officials with broad discretion, and predictably, regular targets are minority views and speakers. Therefore, prominent social justice advocates in the U.S. and beyond maintain that the best way to resist hate and promote equality is not censorship, but rather, vigorous “counterspeech” and activism.

“Hate, Politics, Law” (Brudholm & Johansen eds.)

What could be less lovable than the “hateful”? What person–and, indeed, what people–Hate.jpegcould feel anything but hate for the hateful? At a period of deep cultural and political fracture, the concept of the hateful performs important rhetorical and political work, providing the state with at least something, or some set of views, that serves as a unifying object of civic opprobrium, vilification, and even disgust. Here is a new book whose contributors appear to turn a helpfully critical eye on the concept of “hate” in law–Hate, Politics, Law: Critical Perspectives on Combating Hate (OUP), edited by Thomas Brudholm and Birgitte Schepelern Johansen.

References to hate have become ubiquitous in the modern response to group defamation and violence in liberal democracies. Whether expressed in speech, acted out in criminal conduct, or seen as the fuel of terror and extremism, hate is persistently considered a vice, an evil, and a threat to the modern liberal democracy. But what exactly is at stake when societies oppose hate?

In Hate, Politics, Law: Critical Perspectives on Combating Hate, Thomas Brudholm and Birgitte Schepelern Johansen have gathered a group of distinguished scholars who offer a critical exploration and assessment of the basic assumptions, ideals, and agendas behind the modern fight against hate. They explore these issues and provide a range of explanatory and normative perspectives on the awkward relationship between hate and liberal democracy, as expressed, for example, through anti-hate speech and anti-hate crime initiatives. The volume further examines the presuppositions and ideological roots of fighting hate, as well as its blind spots and limits. It also includes discussions on the definition and meaning of hate, the longer and broader history of the concept of hate, and when and why fighting hatred became politically salient. While most research on hate crime is written and published in order to prevent and combat hate, Hate, Politics, Law takes a much-needed theoretical, historical, and exploratory approach to hatred.

Lieberman & Patrick, “Objection”

The role of disgust in the law is ancient and vital. Disgust has often been thought a marker of the bounds of the civilized. It is one of those signals in, for example, criminal law that warn of entry into the territory of the deeply transgressive, and that constitute a particularly distinctive corner of criminal prohibition. Disgust aligns with and supports those “creedal prohibitions” without which, as Philip Rieff once said, “our law cannot help us govern ourselves.”

Yet one of the major projects of liberal modernity in law and politicsDisgust.jpeg has been to overcome disgust, denigrate as simply a backward and unenlightened emotion, and replace it with a fully rationalized and ostensibly more humane system of governance. See, for example, here. And here is another book with a similar object, albeit from a different disciplinary perspective, though I do wonder whether “gross” and “wrong” are really as often confused together as the blurb below suggests–Objection: Disgust, Morality, and the Law (OUP) by psychologists Debra Lieberman and Carlton Patrick.

Why do we consider incest wrong, even when it occurs between consenting adults unable to have children? Why are words that gross us out more likely to be deemed “obscene” and denied the protection of the First Amendment? In a world where a gruesome photograph can decisively influence a jury and homosexual behavior is still condemned by some as “unnatural,” it is worth asking: is our legal system really governed by the power of reason? Or do we allow a primitive human emotion, disgust, to guide us in our lawmaking?

In Objection, psychologists Debra Lieberman and Carlton Patrick examine disgust and its impact on the legal system to show why the things that we find stomach-turning so often become the things that we render unlawful. Shedding light on the evolutionary and psychological origins of disgust, the authors reveal how ancient human intuitions about what is safe to eat or touch, or who would make an advantageous mate, have become co-opted by moral systems designed to condemn behavior and identify groups of people ripe for marginalization. Over time these moral stances have made their way into legal codes, and disgust has thereby served as the impetus for laws against behaviors almost universally held to be “disgusting” (corpse desecration, bestiality) – and as the implicit justification for more controversial prohibitions (homosexuality, use of pornography). Written with a critical eye on current events, Lieberman and Patrick build a case for a more reasoned approach to lawmaking in a system that often confuses “gross” with “wrong.”

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Wimpfheimer, “The Talmud”

9780691161846Here is an interesting-looking new book from Princeton University Press on the foundational text of Jewish law, The Talmud: A Biography. The author is Northwestern University religious studies professor Barry Wimpfheimer. The description from the Princeton website follows:

The life and times of an enduring work of Jewish spirituality

The Babylonian Talmud, a postbiblical Jewish text that is part scripture and part commentary, is an unlikely bestseller. Written in a hybrid of Hebrew and Aramaic, it is often ambiguous to the point of incomprehension, and its subject matter reflects a narrow scholasticism that should hardly have broad appeal. Yet the Talmud has remained in print for centuries and is more popular today than ever. Barry Scott Wimpfheimer tells the remarkable story of this ancient Jewish book and explains why it has endured for almost two millennia.

Providing a concise biography of this quintessential work of rabbinic Judaism, Wimpfheimer takes readers from the Talmud‘s prehistory in biblical and second-temple Judaism to its present-day use as a source of religious ideology, a model of different modes of rationality, and a totem of cultural identity. He describes the book’s origins and structure, its centrality to Jewish law, its mixed reception history, and its golden renaissance in modernity. He explains why reading the Talmud can feel like being swept up in a river or lost in a maze, and why the Talmud has come to be venerated–but also excoriated and maligned—in the centuries since it first appeared.

An incomparable introduction to a work of literature that has lived a full and varied life, this accessible book shows why the Talmud is at once a received source of traditional teachings, a touchstone of cultural authority, and a powerful symbol of Jewishness for both supporters and critics.

 

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Bessler, “The Celebrated Marquis”

9781611637861Did you know that Cesare Beccaria’s monumental work, Of Crimes and Punishments, landed on the Catholic Church’s list of forbidden books? I didn’t. And that he once was a member of a group called the “Academy of Fists?” (Maybe resident Italophone Marc can explain). I did know that Beccaria’s early-utilitarian views on the purposes of criminal law greatly influenced the American Framers. All these subjects are covered in this new book by University of Baltimore law professor John Bessler, The Celebrated Marquis: An Italian Noble and the Making of the Modern World. The publisher is Carolina Academic Press. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

During the Enlightenment, a now little-known Italian marquis, while in his mid-twenties as a member of a small Milanese salon, the Academy of Fists, wrote a book that was destined to change the world. Published anonymously in 1764 as Dei delitti e delle pene, and quickly translated into French and then into English as On Crimes and Punishments, the runaway bestseller argued against torture, capital punishment, and religious intolerance. Written by Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794), an economist and recent law graduate of the University of Pavia, On Crimes and Punishments sought clear and egalitarian laws, better public education, and milder punishments. Translated into all of the major European languages, Beccaria’s book led to the end of the Ancien Régime.

Praised by Voltaire and the French philosophes, Beccaria was toasted in Paris in 1766 for his literary achievement, and his book—though banned by the Inquisition and placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books—was lauded by monarchs and revolutionaries alike. Among its admirers were the French Encyclopédistes; Prussia’s Frederick the Great; Russia’s enlightened czarina, Catherine II; members of the Habsburg dynasty; the English jurist Sir William Blackstone; the utilitarian penal reformer Jeremy Bentham; and American revolutionaries John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. On Crimes and Punishments, decrying tyranny and arbitrariness and advocating for equality of treatment under the law, helped to catalyze the American and French Revolutions. In 1774, on the cusp of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress explicitly hailed Beccaria as “the celebrated marquis.”

Called the “Italian Adam Smith” for his pioneering work as an economist in Milan, Cesare Beccaria—like his Italian mentor, Pietro Verri—wrote about pleasure and pain, economic theory, and maximizing people’s happiness. Once a household name throughout Europe and the Americas, Beccaria taught economics before the appearance of Smith’s The Wealth of Nations but died in obscurity after working for decades as a civil servant in Austria’s Habsburg Empire. As a public councilor, Beccaria pushed for social and economic justice, monetary and legal reform, conservation of natural resources, and even inspired France’s adoption of the metric system. In The Celebrated Marquis, award-winning author John Bessler tells the story of the history of economics and of how Beccaria’s ideas shaped the American Declaration of Independence, constitutions and laws around the globe, and the modern world in which we live.

Movsesian at Princeton

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Movsesian (left) with Madison Program Executive Director Brad Wilson

 

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.

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