Last month, the Center co-sponsored a panel, “The Rise of the Nones and American Law,” featuring Professors Steven Collis (University of Texas), Mark Movsesian (St. John’s) and Gregory Sisk (University of St. Thomas–Minnesota). The panel explored how the explosion in the numbers of the religiously unaffiliated in contemporary America might affect jurisprudence under the Religion Clauses. In this episode of Legal Spirits, the panelists recap their arguments and offer some new ones. What impact will the Nones have on Establishment and Free Exercise in 21st century America? Listen in!
Last month, Oxford released a new, fifth edition of Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment. Our friend Rick Garnett (Notre Dame) joins our friends John Witte (Emory) and Joel Nichols (St. Thomas) on this edition, which is current through 2021 and covers the COVID-19 epidemic, among other recent developments. Here’s the publisher’s description:
This accessible and authoritative introduction tells the American story of religious liberty from its colonial beginnings to the latest Supreme Court cases. The authors analyze closely the formation of the First Amendment religion clauses and describe the unique and enduring principles of the American experiment in religious freedom – liberty of conscience, free exercise of religion, religious equality, religious pluralism, separation of church and state, and no establishment of religion. Successive chapters map all of the 240+ Supreme Court cases on religious freedom – covering the free exercise of religion; the roles of government and religion in education; the place of religion in public life; and the interaction of religious organizations and the state. The concluding reflections argue that protecting religious freedom is critical for democratic order and constitutional rule of law, even if it needs judicious balancing with other fundamental rights and state interests.
Clear, comprehensive, multidisciplinary, and balanced, this classic volume is an ideal classroom text. This new 5th edition addresses fully the new hot-button issues and cases on religious freedom versus sexual liberty; religious worship in the time of COVID; freedom of conscience and exemption claims; state aid to religion; religious monuments and ceremonies in public life; and the rights and limits of religious groups.
At the Law & Liberty site today, I have an essay on Steve Smith’s fine new book, Fictions, Lies, and the Authority of Law. I use the essay to address one of Steve’s central claims–our constitutional order is based on a fictional consent that has served us well over time. Can this fiction continue to bind together our increasingly fractured society? Here’s an excerpt from my essay:
Can these two conditions, “plausibility and payoff,” continue to hold? In a prologue, Smith notes that he largely finished this book in the fall of 2019 and could not consider all that has transpired in our country since then. Nonetheless, he doesn’t seem very hopeful, and it’s easy to see why. The events of the past two years suggest that America is coming apart in ways that make the beneficial fiction he describes increasingly hard to maintain. Increasing numbers of Americans no longer identify instinctively with the “We the People” in whose name the Constitution and laws bind us. Indeed, the National Archives now includes a trigger warning on its website for people accessing the Constitution, alerting readers to the “potentially harmful language” they will encounter in the document. As Smith writes, people who see themselves “as systematically oppressed or discriminated against . . . have little incentive to overlook the fictional quality of the ‘consent’ on which government’s assertion of authority depends.” And our officials seem increasingly dysfunctional—petty, gridlocked, and feckless, unable to end their squabbling long enough to handle a nationwide public-health emergency or withdraw from a military campaign in an ordered, dignified way.
You can read the whole essay here.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- Attorneys suing a Catholic church claim the documents they obtained through discovery show that the New Orleans Saints, whose owner is devoutly Catholic, aided the Archdiocese of New Orleans by helping it contain the fallout from an escalating sexual abuse crisis.
- The Fourth Circuit will hear arguments to decide whether a federal judge erred in refusing to dismiss constitutional claims regarding President Trump’s ban on travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Trump v. Hawaii.
- Pope Francis chose Father Gonzalo Aemilius, a Uruguayan priest who has closely worked with street children, to be one of his two personal secretaries.
- The French Senate passed a bill that allows single women and lesbian couples access to in-vitro fertilization (IVF), expanding the current law in France that makes IVF available only to heterosexual couples.
- Discriminatory acts against Muslims and Jews, and threats of a racist and xenophobic character, increased last year in France.
A followup to Marc’s post on motive in law. Marc notes that motive remains salient in constitutional law, but not in tort or criminal law. I’d like to add just a couple of points.
First, when it comes to constitutional law, motive is especially important in contemporary Religion Clause jurisprudence. The Lemon test (much-derided, but still extant, in my opinion, even after last term’s Bladensburg Cross case) makes government motive central to Establishment Clause cases. In the Free Exercise context, government motive figures prominently as well. The Masterpiece Cakeshop decision turned almost entirely on the Court’s inferences about the anti-religious motives of Colorado state officials.
Marc wonders why motive should be relevant in constitutional law, when it has lost its relevance in tort law. It’s a good question. Because motive is even more elusive in public law than in private law. Take contract law, for example. Classical contract law disregards a party’s motives for making a contract. It doesn’t matter why someone makes a contract. The only thing that matters is that the person intends to make a contract–or, rather, that an objective observer would understand that the person intends to make a contract. This is so because a party may have several motivations for making a contract: profit, affection, indifference, etc. To try to figure which motive was the most important is a hopeless task.
The problem is even more compounded when it comes to government motive. In contract law, we’re talking about the intentions of two actors. But government actions turn on the decisions of potentially hundreds of actors, all of whom may have multiple motives. The problem of ascertaining motive is even more difficult in this context.
I’m not sure where all this leads. But Marc is right in pointing out the continued relevance of motive in constitutional law, and its continued irrelevance in private law. It’s a puzzle that demands an answer.
This forthcoming book from Encounter looks fun: The Lives of the Constitution: Ten Exceptional Minds That Shaped America’s Supreme Law, by Joseph Tartakovsky (Claremont Institute). Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
In a fascinating blend of biography and history, Joseph Tartakovsky tells the epic and unexpected story of our Constitution through the eyes of ten extraordinary individuals—some renowned, like Alexander Hamilton and Woodrow Wilson, and some forgotten, like James Wilson and Ida B. Wells-Barnett.
Tartakovsky brings to life their struggles over our supreme law from its origins in revolutionary America to the era of Obama and Trump. Sweeping from settings as diverse as Gold Rush California to the halls of Congress, and crowded with a vivid Dickensian cast, Tartakovsky shows how America’s unique constitutional culture grapples with questions like democracy, racial and sexual equality, free speech, economic liberty, and the role of government.
Joining the ranks of other great American storytellers, Tartakovsky chronicles how Daniel Webster sought to avert the Civil War; how Alexis de Tocqueville misunderstood America; how Robert Jackson balanced liberty and order in the battle against Nazism and Communism; and how Antonin Scalia died warning Americans about the ever-growing reach of the Supreme Court.
From the 1787 Philadelphia Convention to the clash over gay marriage, this is a grand tour through two centuries of constitutional history as never told before, and an education in the principles that sustain America in the most astonishing experiment in government ever undertaken.
Here is another new book that addresses the impact of culture on law, The Judiciary’s Class War (Encounter Books), by University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds. As I wrote in Monday’s post, cultural values profoundly American influence church-state law. Reynolds, who also hosts the InstaPundit blog, points out that it’s really educated-upper-middle-class cultural values that matter–the values that judges, who come from the upper echelon of the legal profession, see as natural and inarguable. Reynolds’s theory seems quite plausible to anyone who has studied American constitutional law, including the Court’s religion-clause jurisprudence. The book looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
The terms “Front-Row Kids” and “Back-Row Kids,” coined by the photographer Chris Arnade, describe the divide between the educated upper middle class, who are staying ahead in today’s economy, and the less educated working class, who are doing poorly. The differences in education—and the values associated with elite schooling—have produced a divide in America that is on a par with that of race.
The judiciary, requiring a postgraduate degree, is the one branch of government that is reserved for the Front-Row Kids. Correspondingly, since the Warren era, the Supreme Court has basically served as an engine for vindicating Front-Row preferences, from allowing birth control and abortion, to marginalizing religion in the public space, to legislative apportionment and libel law, and beyond. Professor Glenn Reynolds describes this problem in detail and offers some suggestions for making things better.
Allow people to pose religious objections to generally-applicable laws, the argument goes, and you will end up with chaos, a world in which every person is a law unto himself. That argument carried the day twenty-seven years ago in Employment Division v. Smith, and resurfaced as recently as last week, during oral argument in Masterpiece Cakeshop. A new article by Stephanie Barclay (Becket) and Mark Rienzi (Catholic University-Columbus School of Law), “Constitutional Anomalies or As-Applied Challenges? A Defense of Religious Objections,” maintains that the argument is overstated. The authors argue that religious accommodations are analogous to customary “as-applied” challenges in constitutional law, which have not destroyed the rule of law. Here’s the abstract:
In the wake of Hobby Lobby and now in anticipation of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the notion that religious exemptions are dangerously out of step with norms of constitutional jurisprudence has taken on renewed popularity within the academy. Critics increasingly claim that religious exemptions, such as those available prior to Employment Division v. Smith and now available under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), are a threat to basic fairness, equality, and the rule of law. Under this view, exemptions create an anomalous private right to ignore laws that everyone else must obey. And such a scheme will result in a tidal wave of religious claimants striking down government action at every turn.
Our article presents a novel observation that undermines these central criticisms. Far from being “anomalous” or “out of step” with our constitutional traditions, religious exemptions are just a form of “as-applied” challenge offered as a default remedy elsewhere in constitutional adjudication. Furthermore, under this form of as-applied adjudication, courts regularly provide exemptions from generally applicable laws for other First Amendment protected activity like expressive conduct that mirror exemptions critics fear in the context of religious exercise. This is true even in the hotly debated context of anti-discrimination laws.
The article also presents original empirical analysis, including a national survey of all federal RFRA cases since Hobby Lobby, indicating that concerns of critics about religious exemptions have not been borne out as an empirical matter. Our findings suggest that even after Hobby Lobby, cases dealing with religious exemption requests remain much less common than cases dealing with other expressive claims, and are less likely to result in invalidation of government actions. In fact, religious cases as a percentage of the total reported case load appear to have decreased after Hobby Lobby. Thus, far from creating anomalous preferential treatment that threatens the rule of law, a religious exemption framework simply offers a similar level of protection courts have long provided for dissenting minority rights housed elsewhere in the First Amendment.
Earlier this week, I had a post at the Liberty Law site on a recent Seventh Circuit decision in the GoTopless case, a challenge to Chicago’s public nudity ordinance, which forbids women, but not men, to remove their tops in public. The majority maintained that the city’s interest in promoting traditional norms justified the ban, but the dissent disagreed, arguing, among other things, that the city was simply promoting outdated cultural stereotypes.
Here’s an excerpt from my post on the case:
Judge Sykes’s opinion suggests that, even after cases like Obergefell, Lawrence, and Casey, tradition continues to have an important place in constitutional law. It’s true those decisions held that traditional moral norms cannot serve as a legitimate basis for law, at least not where they infringe on personal identity or the individual’s search for meaning. But it’s also true, as the late Justice Scalia and others repeatedly pointed out in response, that the Court cannot possibly have meant what it said. Too much law relies on traditional morality as a justification; to deny that tradition can legitimate law would throw our legal system into chaos. Judges will need to find some way to distinguish between those cases where traditional norms can serve to justify state action and those where they cannot. Judge Sykes’s opinion, which suggests that traditional norms can still govern questions of “public order,” is perhaps a start.
Second, Judge Rovner’s dissent suggesting that the law should follow biology rather than culture is misleading. Of course rules regarding public nudity are a cultural phenomenon. Culture is, among other things, a reflection on human biology; different cultures have different perceptions. In some cultures women appear topless in public; in others they do not. Allowing women to appear topless in public is not to substitute biology for culture, but rather to replace one culture with another—a culture that sees public nudity as appropriate for one that does not. Perhaps that is a good idea, but it has little to do with the objective facts of biology.
You can read the whole post here.
At the First Things site today, I have an essay on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, in which the Supreme Court granted cert at the end of its term a couple of weeks ago. In the case, a cake shop owner argues that the First Amendment grants him the right to decline to design and bake a cake for a same-sex marriage. I use Masterpiece Cakeshop, and a hypothetical question I posed to my class in law and religion, to explore Tocqueville’s observation that the concept of equality inevitably expands in democratic societies, and to explain how a case in which same-sex marriage is so central may, in fact, have little to do with sexuality:
Conservatives often assume that controversies like Masterpiece Cakeshop reflect changing sexual norms and an intolerance of resistance. That’s correct, in part; one definitely senses a “you-lost-get-over-it” sentiment on the other side. And yet, the students’ reaction to my hypothetical case suggests that something else is going on as well, that the dispute is not about sexuality as such. Rather, it’s about not allowing people to draw moral distinctions that exclude others and hurt their feelings, no matter what the justification. That’s what the florist was doing in my hypothetical case—and that, I think, was what bothered the students.
Tocqueville saw this coming long ago. Democracies, he wrote, prize equality above all other values. Their “passion for equality,” he observed, is “ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible.” It is not simply a matter of assuring every person equal rights under law. Tocqueville believed, in Patrick Deneen’s words, that democracies inevitably seek to do away with “any apparent differences” among people—“material, social, or personal.” No distinctions are to be tolerated. In fact, Tocqueville wrote that democratic societies have an inevitable tendency toward pantheism, since, in the end, even a distinction between Creator and created becomes intolerable.
If I’m right that, in the long run, social intuitions drive the law, and if I’m also right that my students’ reaction reflects something about social intuitions in America today, then litigants like the shop owner in Masterpiece Cakeshop will have an increasingly hard time prevailing in American courts. As the concept of equality inevitably extends further and further, distinctions like the one he is trying to maintain will appear more and more rebarbative. People will fail to empathize at a basic level.
You can read the whole essay here.