Richard Hooker and the “Wall of Separation”

Richard Hooker was a learned Anglican churchman and apologist writing in theRichard Hooker sixteenth century. His monumental work, “Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity,” is a wonderfully interesting but grossly neglected treatment of the relationship of church and state in England. Its subtle defense of both the distinctiveness and the non-separateness of church and state represents an early and elegant version of many of the arguments about the nature and scope of disestablishment that continue to circulate today.

In the following passage (from Book VIII), he defends the idea of the distinctiveness, but non-separateness, of the civil and religious spheres against the complaints of English dissenters. He resists what he calls the idea of “personal” separation. Note the particular phrase he uses!

We hold, that seeing there is not any man of the Church of England but the same man is also a member of the commonwealth; nor any man a member of the commonwealth, which is not also of the Church of England; therefore as in a figure triangular the base doth differ from the sides thereof, and yet one and the selfsame line is both a base and also a side; a side simply, a base if it chance to be the bottom and underlie the rest: so, albeit properties and actions of one kind do cause the name of a commonwealth, qualities and functions of another sort the name of a Church to be given unto a multitude, yet one and the selfsame multitude may in such sort be both, and is so with us, that no person appertaining to the one can be denied to be also of the other. Contrariwise, unless they against us should hold, that the Church and the commonwealth are two, both distinct and separate societies, of which two, the one comprehendeth always persons not belonging to the other; that which they do they could not conclude out of the difference between the Church and the commonwealth; namely, that bishops may not meddle with the affairs of the commonwealth, because they are governors of another corporation, which is the Church; nor kings with making laws for the Church, because they have government not of this corporation, but of another divided from it, the commonwealth; and the walls of separation between these two must for ever be upheld. They hold the necessity of personal separation, which clean excludeth the power of one man’s dealing in both; we of natural, which doth not hinder but that one and the same person may in both bear a principal sway.

Those with an interest in Hooker should check out this new review at the University Bookman by W. Bradford Littlejohn of a new edition of Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (in 3 volumes!), edited by Arthur Stephen McGrade. From Littlejohn’s review:

Here Hooker undertakes a systematic defense of the established polity of the English church against its puritan-presbyterian critics, laying broad and deep foundations in philosophy, theology, and political theory before meeting head-on the leading principles of the puritan platform and then refuting, point-by-point, their objections against each aspect of the English church’s worship and organization.

The Preface, in addition to expressing the purpose for the work, provides a keen analysis of the social circumstances that called it forth. Book I provides a theological and philosophical account of the different forms of law that govern human affairs. Book II critically examines the biblicist foundation of puritan epistemology, Book III the puritan assumption of a divine-law constitution for the church, and Book IV their first principle of liturgics: to depart as far as possible from Roman Catholicism. With these foundations laid, Hooker uses Book V to defend the disputed parts of the Book of Common Prayer, Book VI (unfinished) to critique the presbyterian doctrine of lay-elders, Book VII to defend episcopal jurisdiction, and the unfinished Book VIII to defend (and just as importantly, to define and delimit) the royal supremacy in the English church.

Radical Puritanism and Religious Vitality

In a previous post, I argued that there was no necessary connection between a policy of stringent church-state separation and the strength or vitality of religious life within the state. There have been many societies that enjoyed a flourishing religious life well before anybody got it into his head to talk about separation. And there are several modern societies that practice strict separation and whose religious life is seemingly moribund. Any correlation between separation and religious vitality, I argued, is situational and incidental. The strength of religious life within a society depends, I said, on other factors.

But suppose someone were to say: ‘No, that’s not correct. Religious strength does depend on strict separation. In today’s day and age, a strong religious life means exactly that the state is completely separated from religion. A person is most free to affirm true religious commitment just inasmuch as the state and religion are totally separate. In the modern world, the strength of a nation’s religious life depends upon that individual freedom.”

In fact, I think something like this view grounds the frequently-heard claims about the religious vitality that must arise in a strictly separated state. In my previous post, I noticed the puritanical and evangelical conception of religion that the view presupposes. I’ve been reading around in this volume on the Establishment Clause edited by T. Jeremy Gunn and John Witte, Jr., and David Little’s essay, “Roger Williams and the Puritan Background of the Establishment Clause,” offers further confirmation. Professor Little writes that it was the issue of establishment that most sharply divided Roger Williams from other New England Puritans. Disestablishment was thus in some sense the problem of an intramural dispute among puritan factions–the most radical of which was represented by Williams. Little and many others have recognized the mixture of religious and pragmatic arguments for strict separation.

It is the religious arguments that interest me here. Little writes:

Along with references to experience and reason, Williams adds extensive appeals to Christian scripture, doctrine, and history. . . . The decisive transgression took place

when Constantine broke the bounds of this his own and God’s edict, and [drew] the sword of civil power in suppressing other consciences for the [sake of] establishing the Christian [church]. [T]hen began the great mystery of the churches’ sleep, [by which] the gardens of Christ’s churches turned into the wilderness of National Religion, and the world (under Constantine’s dominion) into the most unchristian Christendom….There never was any National Religion good in this world but one [namely, ancient Israel], and since the desolation of that nation, there shall never be any National Religion good again.

No Establishment of Religion, 111-12 (quoting Williams, The Bloody Tenent Yet More Bloody). Little goes on to dispute Mark DeWolfe Howe’s claim that Williams was interested solely in the corruption of religion; Little believes that Williams was concerned about mutual corruption of church and state. But in either case, a theological argument against establishment of this kind can readily be inflated to serve the ends of strict separationism. And so it has been in the generations that followed, as arguments from mutual corruption have become ever more salient in the interpretation of the Establishment Clause, and have been held to require more and more separation.

Back to the initial issue though–the connection between separationism and religious vitality. The objection to my initial post, it seems to me, is a good one, but with one important proviso. Religious vitality does increase as religion and the state become more separate, provided that one adopts the radical puritan theology that Williams espoused. If one does not adopt that theology, then one is left with prudential arguments for strict separationism as conducive of religious vitality. Those prudential arguments, I believe, are entirely circumstantial and accidental; it simply is not the case, as a pragmatic matter, that strict separationism inevitably results in a strong religious life.

A committed policy of strict separationism that is not qualified by the accidents of circumstance and historical contingency depends for its support on the sort of radical puritanism in matters of religious vitality so ably articulated by Roger Williams. Might the need to adopt such theological premises occasion its own Establishment Clause problems? Something for a future post.

Gordon on Church and State in the Early United States

Sarah Barringer Gordon (University of Pennsylvania Law School) has posted State v. Church: Limits on Church Power and Property from Disestablishment to the Civil War. The abstract follows.

Debates over the rights of religious organizations pit those who argue
for “church autonomy” from state interference against those who argue for
strict separation. In battles to exempt religious employers from providing
birth control to employees, to debates over parishioners right to secede from a central denomination and take their church property with them, defenders of religious institutions argue that individual interests or local congregations should not determine the outcome of disputes. They argue that the rights of religious institutions have long held a key place in American life. This article challenges that claim by investigating the legislative and judicial implementation of disestablishment in the states from the 1780s to 1860. Widespread legislative and constitutional limits on the capacity of religious organizations to acquire and hold property, coupled with the imposition of lay control of church affairs through the election of trustees, imposed strict limits on the scope of religious power to protect individual freedom of conscience. After disestablishment, state involvement in church affairs increased, in other words. In this environment of intense regulation and oversight, religious life flourished and lay involvement increased dramatically. Taking seriously the focus on individual freedom of belief as a key component of disestablishment, this article rebuts the argument that American history supports broad autonomy for religious institutions. Instead, it reveals a legacy of strict oversight combined with concern for individual liberty of belief.

Constitutions as Establishments

I’ve been thinking a little bit about the difference between establishments and disestablishments of religion.  Constitutions serve several functions, but for this post, I’m interested in one in particular: to entrench the idea that there is a law above the state’s law — a law that cannot be changed by ordinary legislation.  Could one say this about established religions in constitutional states?  The argument would be that established religions in constitutional states place the constitutional state above its ordinary law, and they thereby control and restrain (the reach of) ordinary law.  If the claim works, then as a functional matter, one might think of the Constitution as an establishment of religion.  The Constitution — and, even more specifically, the First Amendment — is our establishment.  It enshrines limits on the power of government, and in the case of the Free Exercise Clause, it can even subordinate the ordinary acts of government to higher law.  And the First Amendment is an establishment inasmuch as it incorporates certain relationships between the state and religion right into the fabric of the governmental structure — relationships which it then fixes and removes from the purview of ordinary law.  The difference between constitutional states with establishments of religions and those without them is that in the former, God or the gods establish the state, while in the latter, people do.  But in both cases, constitutions ‘establish’ the (for lack of a better term) sacredness of the state and cement its position above ordinary law.  And so, from this perspective, the opposite of establishment is not so much disestablishment as tyranny.

Esbeck on Religion During the American Revolution

Carl H. Esbeck (University of Missouri School of Law) has posted Religion During the American Revolution and the Early Republic.  The abstract follows.

This paper is part of an anthology and will appear in volume one under the heading Historical Introduction to Law and Religion in the West. The editor requested an extended essay concerning religion and religious liberty in the American War of Independence and its aftermath. The paper is juxtaposed with another on the French Revolution, providing a comparison for the role religion played in these events that continue to shape the world. In addition to the War itself, which unfolded over 1775-1783, changes within American Protestantism had a leveling effect on society and, by the early years of the republic, the political and religious culture exalted liberty, individualism, and the voluntary church.

The Quebec Act of 1774 illustrates the degree to which American patriots reacted against Roman Catholicism. This act of Parliament preserved the established role of the Catholic Church in French Canada, including public funding and full sanction by the British government. British tolerance of the Catholic establishment drew harsh protests from Congress, even mention as a grievance in the Declaration of Independence. American sensitivity was to Old World political uses of religion. The patriots believed that a fully-empowered Catholic hierarchy to the north and west of them would bring Old World intrigues involving the Roman Church. To be an American was to be in sympathy with Protestantism, to be Protestant was to be republican, and to be republican was to oppose Catholic absolutism. Moreover, the British were departing from their constitutional commitment to representative government when they unilaterally imposed taxes and other oppressive acts on colonial subjects. This was seen as an offense to republicanism and each American’s inalienable rights. The breach of the Lockean social contract legitimated armed rebellion. Read more