Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- On Monday, the Biden Administration filed an emergency application with Justice Alito after the 5th Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction which protects Navy service members from facing consequences for their faith-based opposition to COVID-19 vaccines.
- In Byrne v. Bowser, suit was filed in the D.C. federal district court by a nun who is a surgeon and family physician after she was denied a religious exemption from the District’s vaccine requirement for health care professionals.
- In Dugan v. Bowser, suit was filed in the D.C. federal district court by parents of Catholic school students alleging that imposing the mask mandate on Catholic schools violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment.
- In Temple of 1001 Buddhas v. City of Fremont, a California federal district court dismissed a suit by a religious adherent who lives on property owned by the Temple of 1001 Buddhas. The claimant challenged the city’s enforcement of the state’s building, electrical, and plumbing codes as a violation of RLUIPA.
- In Ferrelli v. State of New York Unified Court System, a New York federal district court upheld the system for determining whether employees are entitled to religious exemptions from the COVID vaccine mandate imposed on all judges and employees of the New York State court system. The court concluded that the exemption process was neutral and generally applicable.
- Virginia senators block a bill that would have prevented the governor from using an executive order to impose restrictions on the exercise of religion and would have prevented any such rule, regulation, or order from any governmental entity.
- The EEOC has provided employers with updated guidance regarding religious objections to COVID-19 vaccinations.
Next month, Harvard will release American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War, by Duncan Ryuken Williams (University of Southern California). The book offers a new perspective on the US Government’s infamous internment of Japanese citizens during World War II. One thinks of the internment program as a racial and ethnic phenomenon. But Williams argues that the internment program had a strong religious component as well: the Government targeted Buddhists in particular. Looks interesting. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:
The mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II is not only a tale of injustice; it is a moving story of faith. In this pathbreaking account, Duncan Ryūken Williams reveals how, even as they were stripped of their homes and imprisoned in camps, Japanese American Buddhists launched one of the most inspiring defenses of religious freedom in our nation’s history, insisting that they could be both Buddhist and American.
Nearly all Americans of Japanese descent were subject to bigotry and accusations of disloyalty, but Buddhists aroused particular suspicion. Government officials, from the White House to small-town mayors, believed that Buddhism was incompatible with American values. Intelligence agencies targeted the Buddhist community for surveillance, and Buddhist priests were deemed a threat to national security. On December 7, 1941, as the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, Attorney General Francis Biddle issued a warrant to “take into custody all Japanese” classified as potential national security threats. The first person detained was Bishop Gikyō Kuchiba, leader of the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist sect in Hawai‘i.
In the face of discrimination, dislocation, dispossession, and confinement, Japanese Americans turned to their faith to sustain them, whether they were behind barbed wire in camps or serving in one of the most decorated combat units in the European theater. Using newly translated sources and extensive interviews with survivors of the camps and veterans of the war, American Sutra reveals how the Japanese American community broadened our country’s conception of religious freedom and forged a new American Buddhism.
When one thinks about the historical role of the religion in American foreign policy in Asia, the first religion that comes to mind is Christianity. The need to protect Evangelical missionaries dictated much American foreign policy in China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for example. A new book from Yale University Press, Cold War Monks: Buddhism and America’s Secret Strategy in Southeast Asia, by scholar Eugene Ford, suggests another example. During the Cold War, the book maintains, the US Government enlisted Buddhism as a vehicle for opposing the spread of Communism. Here’s the description from the Yale website:
The groundbreaking account of U.S. clandestine efforts to use Southeast Asian Buddhism to advance Washington’s anticommunist goals during the Cold War
How did the U.S. government make use of a “Buddhist policy” in Southeast Asia during the Cold War despite the American principle that the state should not meddle with religion? To answer this question, Eugene Ford delved deep into an unprecedented range of U.S. and Thai sources and conducted numerous oral history interviews with key informants. Ford uncovers a riveting story filled with U.S. national security officials, diplomats, and scholars seeking to understand and build relationships within the Buddhist monasteries of Southeast Asia.
This fascinating narrative provides a new look at how the Buddhist leaderships of Thailand and its neighbors became enmeshed in Cold War politics and in the U.S. government’s clandestine efforts to use a predominant religion of Southeast Asia as an instrument of national stability to counter communist revolution.
This month, Pantheon Publishing releases “The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao,” by Ian Johnson. The publisher’s description follows:
Last month, SUNY Press released the paperback edition of Thailand’s Theory of Monarchy: The Vessantara Jataka and the Idea of the Perfect Man by Patrick Jory (University of Queensland). The publisher’s description follows:
Since the 2006 coup d’état, Thailand has been riven by two opposing political visions: one which aspires to a modern democracy and the rule of law, and another which holds to the traditional conception of a kingdom ruled by an exemplary Buddhist monarch. Thailand has one of the world’s largest populations of observant Buddhists and one of its last politically active monarchies. This book examines the Theravada Buddhist foundations of Thailand’s longstanding institution of monarchy. Patrick Jory states that the storehouse of monarchical ideology is to be found in the popular literary genre known as the Jātakas, tales of the Buddha’s past lives. The best-known of these, the Vessantara Jātaka, disseminated an ideal of an infinitely generous prince as a bodhisatta or future Buddha—an ideal which remains influential in Thailand today. Using primary and secondary source materials largely unknown in Western scholarship, Jory traces the history of the Vessantara Jātaka and its political-cultural importance from the ancient to the modern period. Although pressures from European colonial powers and Buddhist reformers led eventually to a revised political conception of the monarchy, the older Buddhist ideal of kingship has yet endured.
In November, Cambridge University Press released “Buddhism, Politics and the Limits of Law: The Pyrrhic Constitutionalism of Sri Lanka,” by Benjamin Schonthal (University of Otago). The publisher’s description follows:
It is widely assumed that a well-designed and well-implemented constitution can help ensure religious harmony in modern states. Yet how correct is this assumption? Drawing on groundbreaking research from Sri Lanka, this book argues persuasively for another possibility: when it comes to religion, relying on constitutional law may not be helpful, but harmful; constitutional practice may give way to pyrrhic constitutionalism. Written in a lucid and direct style, and aimed at both specialists and non-specialists, Buddhism, Politics and the Limits of Law explains why constitutional law has deepened, rather than diminished, conflicts over religion in Sri Lanka. Examining the roles of Buddhist monks, civil society groups, political coalitions and more, the book provides the first extended study of the legal regulation of religion in Sri Lanka as well as the first book-length analysis of the intersections of Buddhism and contemporary constitutional law.
In October, Oxford University Press will release The Buddha Party: How the People’s Republic of China Works to Define and Control Tibetan Buddhism by John Powers (Australian National University). The publisher’s description follows:
The Buddha Party tells the story of how the People’s Republic of China employs propaganda to define Tibetan Buddhist belief and sway opinion within the country and abroad. The narrative they create is at odds with historical facts and deliberately misleading but, John Powers argues, it is widely believed by Han Chinese. Most of China’s leaders appear to deeply believe the official line regarding Tibet, which resonates with Han notions of themselves as China’s most advanced nationality and as a benevolent race that liberates and culturally uplifts minority peoples. This in turn profoundly affects how the leadership interacts with their counterparts in other countries. Powers’s study focuses in particular on the government’s “patriotic education” campaign-an initiative that forces monks and nuns to participate in propaganda sessions and repeat official dogma. Powers contextualizes this within a larger campaign to transform China’s religions into “patriotic” systems that endorse Communist Party policies. This book offers a powerful, comprehensive examination of this ongoing phenomenon, how it works and how Tibetans resist it.
In November, Cambridge University Press will release Buddhism, Politics and Political Thought in Myanmar by Matthew J. Walton (St. Antony’s College, Oxford). The publisher’s description follows:
This is the first book to provide a broad overview of the ways in which Buddhist ideas have influenced political thinking and politics in Myanmar. Matthew Walton draws extensively on Burmese language sources from the last 150 years to describe the ‘moral universe’ of contemporary Theravada Buddhism that has anchored most political thought in Myanmar. In explaining multiple Burmese understandings of notions such as ‘democracy’ and ‘political participation’, the book provides readers with a conceptual framework for understanding some of the key dynamics of Myanmar’s ongoing political transition. Some of these ideas help to shed light on restrictive or exclusionary political impulses, such as anti-Muslim Buddhist nationalism or scepticism towards the ability of the masses to participate in politics. Walton provides an analytical framework for understanding Buddhist influences on politics that will be accessible to a wide range of readers and will generate future research and debate.
In October, the Oxford University Press will release “Buddhist Extremists and Muslim Minorities: Religious Conflict in Contemporary Sri Lanka,” edited by John Clifford Holt (Bowdoin College). The publisher’s description follows:
The year 2009 brought the end of the protracted civil war in Sri Lanka, and observers hoped to see the re-establishment of harmonious religious and ethnic relations among the various communities in the country. Immediately following the war’s end, however, almost 300,000 Tamil people in the Northern Province were detained for up to a year’s time in hurriedly constructed camps where they were closely scrutinized by military investigators to determine whether they might pose a threat to the country. While almost all had been released and resettled by 2011, the current government has not introduced, nor even seriously entertained, any significant measures of power devolution that might create meaningful degrees of autonomy in the regions that remain dominated by Tamil peoples. The Sri Lankan government has grown increasingly autocratic, attempting to assert its control over the local media and non-governmental organizations while at the same time reorienting its foreign policy away from the US, UK, EU, and Japan, to an orbit that now includes China, Burma, Russia and Iran. At the same time, hardline right-wing groups of Sinhala Buddhists have propagated-arguably with the government’s tacit approval-the idea of an international conspiracy designed to destabilize Sri Lanka. The local targets of these extremist groups, the so-called fronts of this alleged conspiracy, have been identified as Christians and Muslims. Many Christian churches have suffered numerous attacks at the hands of Buddhist extremists, but the Muslim community has borne the brunt of the suffering.
Buddhist Extremists and Muslim Minorities presents a collection of essays that investigate the history and current conditions of Buddhist-Muslim relations in Sri Lanka in an attempt to ascertain the causes of the present conflict. Readers unfamiliar with this story will be surprised to learn that it inverts common stereotypes of the two religious groups. In this context, certain groups of Buddhists, generally regarded as peace-oriented , are engaged in victimizing Muslims, who are increasingly regarded as militant , in unwarranted and irreligious ways. The essays reveal that the motivations for these attacks often stem from deep-seated economic disparity, but the contributors also argue that elements of religious culture have served as catalysts for the explosive violence. This is a much-needed, timely commentary that can potentially shift the standard narrative on Muslims and religious violence.