Abrams, “The Soul of the First Amendment”

ccfdf983649ff2027e0abb1ddf4ffcdfIf you want to know about the law of religious freedom in the United States today, you have to know about free-speech doctrine as well: Many religious-freedom cases, including Masterpiece Cakeshop, which is currently before the Court, involve free speech as well as free exercise claims. And, in a development no one predicted a generation ago, free speech has gone from being a concern of the Left to a concern of the Right. Today, on campuses and increasingly in public life more broadly, it’s typically conservatives who insist on the right to speak, as against progressives who see free speech as a vehicle for oppression. These matters are no doubt discussed in a new book by Floyd Abrams, The Soul of the First Amendment, released last month by Yale University Press. I think of Abrams both as a progressive and a free-speech absolutist, which makes him a bit of an anomaly nowadays, and his views on today’s controversies will be very interesting. Here’s the description from the Yale website:

A lively and controversial overview by the nation’s most celebrated First Amendment lawyer of the unique protections for freedom of speech in America

The right of Americans to voice their beliefs without government approval or oversight is protected under what may well be the most honored and least understood addendum to the US Constitution—the First Amendment. Floyd Abrams, a noted lawyer and award-winning legal scholar specializing in First Amendment issues, examines the degree to which American law protects free speech more often, more intensely, and more controversially than is the case anywhere else in the world, including democratic nations such as Canada and England. In this lively, powerful, and provocative work, the author addresses legal issues from the adoption of the Bill of Rights through recent cases such as Citizens United. He also examines the repeated conflicts between claims of free speech and those of national security occasioned by the publication of classified material such as was contained in the Pentagon Papers and was made public by WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden.

 

Around the Web

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

Around the Web

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

Around the Web

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

Greenawalt, “When Free Exercise and Nonestablishment Conflict”

In May, Harvard University Press will release When Free Exercise and Nonestablishment Conflict by Kent Greenawalt (Columbia University). The publisher’s description follows:

When Free Exercise and Nonestablishment ConflictThe First Amendment to the United States Constitution begins: “Congress shall make no law reflecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Taken as a whole, this statement has the aim of separating church and state, but tensions can emerge between its two elements—the so-called Nonestablishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause—and the values that lie beneath them.

If the government controls (or is controlled by) a single church and suppresses other religions, the dominant church’s “establishment” interferes with free exercise. In this respect, the First Amendment’s clauses coalesce to protect freedom of religion. But Kent Greenawalt sets out a variety of situations in which the clauses seem to point in opposite directions. Are ceremonial prayers in government offices a matter of free exercise or a form of establishment? Should the state provide assistance to religious private schools? Should parole boards take prisoners’ religious convictions into account? Should officials act on public reason alone, leaving religious beliefs out of political decisions? In circumstances like these, what counts as appropriate treatment of religion, and what is misguided?

When Free Exercise and Nonestablishment Conflict offers an accessible but sophisticated exploration of these conflicts. It explains how disputes have been adjudicated to date and suggests how they might be better resolved in the future. Not only does Greenawalt consider what courts should decide but also how officials and citizens should take the First Amendment’s conflicting values into account.

Shiffrin, “What’s Wrong with the First Amendment?”

In November, Cambridge University Press will release “What’s Wrong with the First Amendment?” by Steven Shiffrin (Cornell University).  The publisher’s description follows:

What is Wrong with the First Amendment? argues that the US love affair with the First Amendment has mutated into free speech idolatry. Free speech has been placed on soWhat's Wrong with the First Amendment high a pedestal that it is almost automatically privileged over privacy, fair trials, equality and public health, even protecting depictions of animal cruelty and violent video games sold to children. At the same time, dissent is unduly stifled and religious minorities are burdened. The First Amendment benefits the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable. By contrast, other Western democracies provide more reasonable accommodations between free speech and other values though their protections of dissent, and religious minorities are also inadequate. Professor Steven H. Shiffrin argues that US free speech extremism is not the product of broad cultural factors, but rather political ideologies developed after the 1950s. He shows that conservatives and liberals have arrived at similar conclusions for different political reasons.

“The Four Freedoms” (ed. Engel)

This month, the Oxford University Press releases “The Four Freedoms: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Evolution of an American Idea,” edited by Jeffrey A. Engel (Southern Methodist University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The specter of global war loomed large in President Franklin Roosevelt’s mind as he prepared to present his 1941 State of the Union9780199376216 address. He believed the United States had a role to play in the battle against Nazi and fascist aggression already underway in Europe, yet his rallying cry to the nation was about more than just national security or why Americans should care about a fight still far overseas. He instead identified how Americans defined themselves as a people, with words that resonated and defined the parameters of American politics and foreign policy for generations. Roosevelt framed America’s role in the conflict, and ultimately its role in forging the post-war world to come, as a fight for freedom. Four freedoms, to be exact: freedom of speech, freedom from want, freedom of religion, and freedom from fear.

In this new look at one of the most influential presidential addresses ever delivered, historian Jeffrey A. Engel joins together with five other leading scholars to explore how each of Roosevelt’s freedoms evolved over time, for Americans and for the wider world. They examine the ways in which the word “freedom” has been used by Americans and others, across decades and the political spectrum. However, they are careful to note that acceptance of the freedoms has been far from universal — even within the United States. Freedom from want, especially, has provoked clashes between those in favor of an expanded welfare state and proponents of limited government from the 1940s to the present day.

In this sweeping look at the way American conceptions of freedom have evolved over time,The Four Freedoms brings to light a new portrait of who Americans were in 1941 and who they have become today in their own eyes-and in the eyes of the entire world.

DeGirolami, “Virtue, Freedom, and the First Amendment”

I’ve recently posted this paper, Virtue, Freedom, and the First Amendment. Here is the abstract.

The modern First Amendment embodies the idea of freedom as a fundamental good of contemporary American society. The First Amendment protects and promotes everybody’s freedom of thought, belief, speech, and religious exercise as basic goods — as given ends of American political and moral life. It does not protect these freedoms for the sake of promoting any particular vision of the virtuous society. It is neutral on that score, setting limits only in those rare cases when the exercise of a First Amendment freedom exacts an intolerable social cost.

Something like this collection of views constitutes the conventional account of the First Amendment. This essay offers it two challenges. First, the development of the First Amendment over the past century suggests that freedom is not an American sociopolitical end. It is a means — a gateway out of one kind of political and legal culture and into another with its own distinctive virtues and vices. Freedom is not a social solution but instead gives rise to a social problem — the problem of how to allocate a resource in civically responsible ways, so as to limit freedom’s hurtful potential and to make citizens worthy of the freedoms they are granted. Only a somewhat virtuous society can sustain a regime of political liberty without collapsing, as a society, altogether. Thus the First Amendment of the conventional account has not maximized freedom for all people and groups. It has promoted a distinctive set of views about the virtuous legal and political society.

Second, the new legal culture promoted and entrenched by the conventional account is increasingly finding that account uncongenial. In fact, the conventional account is positively harmful to its continued flourishing. That is because the new legal culture’s core values are not the First Amendment freedoms themselves but the particular conceptions of political and social equality and individual dignity that the conventional account has facilitated and promoted. Proponents of the new legal culture in consequence now argue for aggressive limits on First Amendment freedoms.

One prominent group has invented a new legal category: “enumerated rights Lochnerism.” These scholars denigrate any First Amendment resistance to multiplying forms of expansive government regulation in the service of egalitarian aims as retrogressively libertarian. Another group argues for novel limits on the First Amendment in the form of balancing tests that would restrict speech that injures the dignity of listeners and religious exercise that results in vaguely defined and vaguely delimited harms to third parties. What unites these critics is the desire to swell features of the Court’s post-New Deal Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence, and particularly the law concerning sex as a civil right, by protecting progressively expansive conceptions of equality and individual dignity. The critics see the conventional account of the First Amendment as an obstacle in the path of progress.

Part I of this essay presents the conventional account of the First Amendment in three theses. It then critiques the conventional account in Part II by offering three revised theses, developed through the somewhat unusual route of exploring the First Amendment thought of the late political theorist and constitutional scholar, Walter Berns. Freedom, for Berns, gave rise to a problem — the problem of making men sufficiently virtuous to merit their freedom. It was a problem that he thought had been ignored or even forgotten by defenders of the conventional account of the First Amendment.

But the problem of virtue and freedom has been remembered. Part III argues that contemporary defenders of the new legal culture have remembered the problem just as their own cultural and legal mores are ascendant. The new civic virtues — exemplified in multiplying anti-discrimination regulations for the protection of thickening conceptions of equality and individual dignity, particularly as those concepts relate to sexual autonomy — are those that were fostered by the conventional account of the First Amendment in tandem with significant components of the Supreme Court’s post-New Deal Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence. And those civic virtues are already informing new criticisms of the conventional account and arguments about new limitations on the scope of religious freedom and freedom of speech. Berns’s arguments about freedom and virtue, it turns out, are highly relevant today since progressive opinion is no longer committed to First Amendment “absolutism.”

The essay concludes with two speculations. First, it seems we are no longer arguing about whether to restrict freedom, but for what ends. If that is true, then those arguments should neither begin nor end with egalitarian and sexual libertarian fervor. Second, there is no account of the First Amendment that maximizes freedom for everyone — for all persons and groups. There is only the society that America was before the rise of the conventional account of the First Amendment and the society that it is becoming after it.

Religious Freedom in America

I have been reading this collection on “Religious Freedom in America,” edited by Allen Hertzke. The authors cover the subject from a number of perspectives, including Thomas Kidd and Vincent Philip Muñoz with perspectives on the Founding, and important contributions from the Sikh and Muslim traditions, which are not often heard in these debates.

There is also an empirical essay of particular interest for those trying to figure out the current state of religious freedom. America post-Smith has a welter of “mini-RFRAs” establishing balancing tests meant to offer more protection to religious exercise than a “rational basis” standard. The results are not encouraging. Professors Robert R. Martin and Roger Finke collected thousands of religious liberty cases and coded them according to various metrics. One metric was how often courts invoked a “compelling” government interest in considering a religious liberty claim. In an earlier post, I had noted the relative lack of detail in judicial opinions concerning what constitutes a “compelling” interest in federal law that, along with the least restrictive means to meet that interest, would overcome a substantial burden on religious freedom.   The authors provide some answers from their review of state court decisions. Their review indicated that states have articulated at least some compelling interests; these include “completing a trial without a three-day delay in deliberations, maintaining a zoning district as a single-family residential zone and … public safety and ‘aesthetics’”.  Among other things, they conclude that although the United States remains a stronghold for religious liberty by comparison with other countries, religious freedom prevails in less than half the cases, and that “free exercise claimants remain at a stark disadvantage in the face of generally applicable, religiously neutral laws.”

From the results of this study, it seems the legacy of Smith has worked all too well. Despite RFRA and state-level initiatives, the state under cover of “neutral” laws, still wins most of the time. And there is much reason to believe many of these neutral laws are not neutral at all, especially when we consider initiatives like the contraceptive mandate. But this study does give the lie to the arguments of some secularists that religion is too powerful in our society. The contrary seems to be increasingly the case.

Should Catholic Hospitals be Catholic?

This is the kind of essay that we will see more of. Jerry Coyne argues that religious liberty has no place in hospitals, “even Catholic ones.” The piece nicely combines bigotry in the name of science with an innocence of what actually would happen if he were heeded. It is somewhat shameful that The New Republic would publish such a tendentious piece, but then again, that magazine is not what it once was.

Coyne makes two points. First, he argues that the mere prevalence of Catholic hospital networks means they should have to waive objection to treatments they find morally objectionable – in Coyne’s tragic real life example, that of a woman who needs a caesarean and a tubal ligation. The Catholic hospital agreed to perform the first but not the second (leave aside for a moment whether this is congruent with Catholic teaching, and it is unclear whether the tubal ligation was necessary at the time).

Second, Coyne basically says Catholic institutions can’t be Catholic:

One could [love that could! – ed.] argue that yes, individual doctors who are pious Catholics should not be compelled to perform birth control, even when necessary to save a woman’s life. But, as noted above, the Church Amendment also stipulates that a Catholic hospital itself cannot be forced to perform practices [sic] sterilizations or abortions. Even if its doctors aren’t Catholic, then, and are willing to do the ligation, they must abide by the law and tell Mann to go elsewhere.

Coyne ignores a couple of key points. First, the reason why rights are considered immune from state interference is precisely to avoid the lazy utilitarian argument Coyne sets out. It doesn’t matter if there are many religious institutions or a few, the state cannot abrogate religious freedom in the name of secular goals.

The second point Coyne tries to make is simply unrealistic. If Catholic hospitals allowed non-Catholic doctors to perform procedures contrary to Catholic doctrine, how would a patient even know? Would the hospital be required to keep such doctors on staff, just in case? How about nurses or other employees; would there have to be a quota for them as well? This is another reason why institutional affiliation and exercise of corporate rights makes sense; it eliminates confusion and burden in the exercise of a right. And as Hobby Lobby shows, there is nothing unconstitutional about an institution acting on its beliefs.

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