Munoz: The Founders and the Natural Right of Religious Free Exercise: A Response

This past autumn, we hosted an online symposium on Vincent Phillip Muñoz‘s new article, “Two Concepts of Religious Liberty.” In this post, Professor Muñoz responds to the comments of the symposium’s participants: 

It’s gratifying when scholars you respect and admire take your work seriously. I am therefore deeply grateful for the symposium hosted by the Center for Law & Religion and to its directors, Mark Movsesian and Marc DeGirolami. I am especially appreciative of the symposium’s participants for their careful readings, probing questions, and thoughtful challenges to my post and the articles on which it was based.

The primary purpose of my recent scholarship has been to recover the American founders’ understanding of the natural right of religious liberty. That investigation is itself a prologue to addressing the more fundamental philosophical question of whether individuals actually do possess by nature a right to religious liberty and, if they do, whether we should adopt the founders’ understanding of it to guide our understanding of political justice.

One can best approach these fundamental questions as they appear in our political and constitutional practice, which right now means addressing the availability of religious exemptions from laws that religious believers find burdensome. That is why my original post focused on Justice Scalia’s Smith opinion. Most of the symposium participants followed my lead and commented on the jurisprudential implications of my natural rights argument. I note this only to clarify that my underlying purpose is not to defend Justice Continue reading

Tebbe, “Religious Freedom in an Egalitarian Age”

In January, Harvard University Press will release Religious Freedom in an Egalitarian Age by Nelson Tebbe (Brooklyn Law School). )The Center co-sponsored a symposium on Nelson’s book earlier this fall). The publisher’s description follows:

religious-freedom-in-an-egalitarian-ageTensions between religious freedom and equality law are newly strained in America. As lawmakers work to protect LGBT citizens and women seeking reproductive freedom, religious traditionalists assert their right to dissent from what they see as a new liberal orthodoxy. Some religious advocates are going further and expressing skepticism that egalitarianism can be defended with reasons at all. Legal experts have not offered a satisfying response—until now.

Nelson Tebbe argues that these disputes, which are admittedly complex, nevertheless can be resolved without irrationality or arbitrariness. In Religious Freedom in an Egalitarian Age, he advances a method called social coherence, based on the way that people reason through moral problems in everyday life. Social coherence provides a way to reach justified conclusions in constitutional law, even in situations that pit multiple values against each other. Tebbe contends that reasons must play a role in the resolution of these conflicts, alongside interests and ideologies. Otherwise, the health of democratic constitutionalism could suffer.

Applying this method to a range of real-world cases, Tebbe offers a set of powerful principles for mediating between religion and equality law, and he shows how they can lead to workable solutions in areas ranging from employment discrimination and public accommodations to government officials and public funding. While social coherence does not guarantee outcomes that will please the liberal Left, it does point the way toward reasoned, nonarbitrary solutions to the current impasse.

Berg: Free Exercise Exemptions and the Original Understanding

This autumn, we have been hosting an online symposium on Vincent Phillip Muñoz‘s new article, “Two Concepts of Religious Liberty.” In today’s post, Thomas Berg (University of St. Thomas (Minnesota)) responds to Muñoz. For other posts in this series, please click here.

In his excellent journal article “Two Concepts of Religious Liberty,”[1] and in a recent LRF blog post,[2] Vincent Philip Muñoz argues that the founders’ natural-rights theory of religious freedom is very different from the modern practice of protecting religious exercise through exemption from otherwise valid, generally applicable laws. The original understanding, he says, supports the rule of Employment Division v. Smith’s rejection of mandatory exemptions under the Free Exercise, rather than Sherbert v. Verner’s rule mandating exemptions unless the government can show a “compelling interest” in burdening religious exercise. And Muñoz criticizes the arguments of Michael McConnell, who concluded that while the question was close, “[t]he historical record casts doubt on [Smith’s] interpretation of the free exercise clause.”[3]

Under current law, this historical debate is of limited importance. Although the exemptions approach has been rejected for the Free Exercise Clause, it has been adopted in some form in federal legislation[4] and in the legislation or constitutional rulings of more than 30 states. As a result, the exemptions approach applies to all federal laws, to every state’s land use and prison regulations, and, in much of the nation, to the full body of state and local laws. Muñoz says that legislatures should decide whether to exempt religion from general law; many of them have decided to do so through religious freedom restoration acts (RFRAs), federal and state.

In fact, however, the exemptions approach finds considerable support in the religious-freedom tradition of the founding; it may even be the best historical reading, although that is a difficult question. Smith was not dictated by originalism; the Court should be willing to entertain modifying or overruling it; and at the very least legislatures and state courts should feel no embarrassment at adopting the exemptions approach. I will first discuss the historical issues and then turn to some of Muñoz’s other qualms about the exemptions approach.

The Original Understanding, Exemptions, and “Harms to Others”

Muñoz’s journal article focuses heavily on the natural-rights outlook of the framers, arguing that it supports a “jurisdictional” approach that simply prevents government from regulating religion as religion: that is, from targeting it with a non-neutral law. But that argument ignored the aspect of founding-era history that, for McConnell, was the Continue reading

Brettschneider: An Expansive Establishment Clause, Too

All this month, we are hosting an online symposium on Vincent Phillip Muñoz‘s new article, “Two Concepts of Religious Liberty.” In today’s post, Corey Brettschneider (Brown) responds to Muñoz. For other posts in this series, please click here

It is my pleasure to reply to Professor Muñoz’s fine article and excellent post. It is also a pleasure to join such a robust conversation about the Founders’ ideas about religious freedom and their implications for contemporary jurisprudence. Muñoz argues that the Founders held a jurisdictional view of religious freedom that divided the divine authority over religious worship and protected it against secular authority. The jurisdictional view would also protect a wide terrain of secular authority from religious intervention. So far, commentators have focused on the implications of Muñoz’s jurisdictional view for the Court’s contemporary Free Exercise jurisprudence. I want to refocus on the implications of Muñoz’s account for Establishment jurisprudence. While Muñoz might be correct that the Founders’ vision pushes toward Smith rather than Sherbert, and thus suggests doctrine on the weaker end of free exercise, I suggest why his account recommends an expansive reading of the Establishment Clause.

In his article, Muñoz argues the Founders understood the Free Exercise Clause to ban the state from regulating worship. It follows that the limits on secular authority in matters of worship provide government a very expansive authority over secular matters. The flip side  of the limited jurisdiction government has in matters of worship is a vast limit on religious influence over secular lawmaking. This limit has important implications for the breadth of the Establishment Clause. I want to push Munoz to think about how the jurisdictional view would address two fundamental jurisprudential problems. The first concerns third party harm and the second concerns the Establishment Clause requirement of secular purpose.

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act required an exemption to a federal requirement that closely held for-profit corporations provide birth control coverage to their employees even when those corporations object to providing it on religious grounds. Jack Rakove rightly suggests that the notion of third party harm might be directly relevant to the Founders’ view. In the Hobby Lobby case, he argues, the rights of a potential beneficiary of birth control might be violated by the imposition of a religiously-based refusal to provide a benefit by an Continue reading

Rakove: Free Exercise and Interior Belief

All this month, we are hosting an online symposium on Vincent Phillip Muñoz‘s new article, “Two Concepts of Religious Liberty.” In today’s post, Jack Rakove (Stanford) responds to Muñoz. For other posts in this series, please click here

I agree substantially with the arguments that Professor Muñoz presents in his post and the essay from which it is drawn—so much, in fact, that I believe some of his points deserve further elaboration.

The first and arguably most important of these relates to the rationale for identifying the exercise of religious conscience as a natural right over which the state can claim no plausible jurisdiction. Why is this a legitimate claim? In my view, the founding era’s understanding of this claim rests on a fundamentally (but not fundamentalist) Protestant view of the essential nature of religious activity. The essence of religious conscience is a matter of interior conviction and persuasion, pivoting on conceptions of soteriology and ecclesiology that each of us—male and female the deity created them both, and parents and children, too—must come to individually. The exercise of religious conscience is is a natural right in the proper sense of the term, because it depends primarily on the interior nature of human belief, properly understood. The right to exercise that power can never be sacrificed to another person or institution, nor do the state or religious institutions possess any authority superior to the moral capacity each of us retains as individuals. Of course, applying the doctrine of compelle intrare might force willful individuals to consider religious beliefs they would otherwise ignore or renounce; but compulsion alone can never secure belief.

The corollary of this is that the dominant religious experiences of eighteenth-century Americans were neither legalistic nor liturgical in nature; they thus varied, in significant ways, from the religious experiences of adherents of the Church of Rome, as well of course from those of Jews and Moslems. This is not to deny the extent to which religious values infused significant chunks of American law. It only suggests that the experience of religiosity was primarily about the inculcation of faith. When founding era Americans thought about the essential nature of religious experience, this was their dominant concern. And the conviction that the right to make decisions of conscience belonged solely to individual, free from the regulatory power of the state, was (as Chris Beneke argues, I think persuasively, in his book Beyond Toleration) widely accepted before the Revolution. Advanced thinkers like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison—drawing on John Locke but also consciously going beyond him—provided a powerful constitutional rationale for this belief in the 1770s and 1780s, but they were providing an enlightened justification for a common attitude.

It was this conception of the essential nature of religious activity that Madison had in mind when, in the opening item of his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, he argued that the duty we owe to God “is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.” My colleague Michael McConnell, in his seminal article on “The Origins and Historical Understanding of Free Exercise of Religion,” gives this claim an expansive reading that I still find incredible I (103 Harvard Law Review at 1452-1455 [1990]). Issues of religiously-based exemptions from civil laws were not widely discussed in the founding era; the exemptions that mattered, the claims that make the free exercise of religion the most radically liberal right of all, were concerned with protecting the confessional authority of individuals and their freedom from any obligation to worship as someone else wanted them to or to pay for the support of churches.

So my historical position, then, is very close to that of Professor Muñoz. The one way in which I would extend his argument, in terms of its contemporary implications, relates to the problem of “third party” effects—that is, the way that claims for religious exemptions invoked under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act have significant consequences for the beneficiaries of employee-funded insurance plans. The principal realm of controversy involves benefits that can be described as supporting either contraception or abortion. Let us assume that moral and religious concerns of one kind or another enter into how a woman would think about either of these choices. Given the radical emphasis that eighteenth-century Americans placed on the individual right of conscience, how could they possibly alienate that right from the woman (the beneficiary) who has to exercise it to the party legally obliged to fund her insurance (the benefactor). Whatever religious scruples and qualms the benefactor may feel, how could he or she possibly exercise a moral choice than belongs to the beneficiary?

— Jack Rakove

Thomas: Religious Liberty and Jurisdictional Separation

All this month, we are hosting an online symposium on Vincent Phillip Muñoz‘s new article, “Two Concepts of Religious Liberty.” In today’s post, George Thomas (Claremont McKenna) responds to Muñoz. For other posts in this series, please click here

Phillip Muñoz’s jurisdictional understanding of religious liberty is a powerful and persuasive challenge to the idea that religious liberty demands exemptions from otherwise valid laws. Yet I want to start with an area of agreement between Muñoz’s jurisdictional understanding and Michael McConnell’s exemptionist understanding. Both Muñoz and McConnell begin with religious liberty as a natural right that circumscribes state authority. This is altogether fitting. But it is only half the story. While civil power was a threat to religious liberty, religion itself was the source of civil disorder and religious oppression. Religious liberty was also then, particularly in the hands of James Madison, a way to limit theological authority and bring about civil peace by making religion a matter of individual choice.

Madison wrote to William Bradford, a friend from his days at Princeton, of the “diabolical, hell conceived principle of persecution” that drove those—including the clergy— who used government to enforce religious orthodoxy. Madison’s inalienable right to religious liberty, with its attendant separation of religion from civil government by way of the social compact, would keep the government out of theological disputes; yet it would just as surely prevent religious sects from using the government to enforce their beliefs. Muñoz is thus right to argue that a jurisdictional understanding of religious liberty is no small achievement. While he nods to the Middle East to make this point, he could just as easily turn to America’s history.

As America was debating the religion clauses of the Constitution, England was debating repeal of the Test Acts, which required those who held public office to take communion according to the rites of the Church of England. This was the very sort of religious test for public office that the American Constitution rejected in Article VI. The Test Acts stood alongside the Act of Toleration, so while religious dissenters were tolerated their religious liberty was conditional. They were not able to hold public office until the acts’ repeal in 1828 or to attend Oxford and Cambridge until the Universities Tests Act of 1871. Back when the free exercise clause was being framed, defenders of religious tests saw them as an essential part of having an established church (and included the likes of William Blackstone and Edmund Burke). Madison worried that such “zealous adherents” to religious hierarchy persisted in America. And they did.

A number of state constitutions required religious tests for office and otherwise favored established churches. Indeed, we might best understand the “peace and safety provisions” of state constitutions at issue between Muñoz and McConnell as remnants of Continue reading

Franck: Religious Liberty–Cores and Peripheries, Courts and Legislatures

All this month, we are hosting an online symposium on Vincent Phillip Muñoz‘s new article, “Two Concepts of Religious Liberty.” In today’s post, Matthew J. Franck (Witherspoon Institute) responds to Muñoz. For other posts in this series, please click here

In his most recent work, Vincent Phillip Muñoz continues to make his mark as one of our most thoughtful and searching students of the American founding, of the constitutional principle of religious liberty, and of the meandering course of the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on the free exercise of religion. In his latest articles in the American Political Science Law Review and the Notre Dame Law Review, and in his briefer essay for the Law and Religion Forum to kick off this symposium, he writes with his characteristic verve and clarity, as well as his usual familiarity with a wealth of relevant sources in the founding era.

I propose in this response to discuss Muñoz’s most significant contributions to our understanding of the constitutional law of religious freedom, and then to enumerate some more problematic features of his argument, along the way posing some questions. In some cases these questions will be real questions—that is, the kind to which I do not claim to have the answer, but to which I think Muñoz has not supplied one either. Attentive readers should be able to tell which those are.

The Good Stuff

Muñoz is right to remind us that, in the thought of the founding generation, religious freedom is a natural right, not merely a species of toleration granted or withheld at the government’s discretion. From the founders’ perspective, religious liberty is pre-political, grounded in our duty to God as we understand it, and taking precedence over the competing claims of the state, or even of the civil society that exists prior to the state and is responsible for creating it.

For multiple purposes, not just for understanding religious freedom, we do well to understand, as Muñoz does, that the founders’ social compact theory entailed two crucial but distinct steps in the creation of political authority. First is the formation of civil society itself, by the mutual and unanimous compact of natural persons with one another. Second is the establishment of government, by the choice of a majority of those persons in that society. What those individuals surrender, and what they retain—including those things not even in their power to surrender—will determine the boundaries of power that constrain a limited government.

Among the things identified by many of the founders—and implied in many of their public documents declaring rights, and establishing and limiting governments—as never surrendered, nor subject to being surrendered, is what Muñoz calls the individual’s “natural right to religious liberty.” It Continue reading

Drakeman: The Free Exercise Clause, State Constitutions, and Natural Rights

All this month, we are hosting an online symposium on Vincent Phillip Muñoz‘s new article, “Two Concepts of Religious Liberty.” In today’s post, Donald Drakeman (Notre Dame) responds to Muñoz. For other posts in this series, please click here

Phillip Muñoz has again brought us back to the Framers in a way that makes us think about First Amendment questions in an important new light. This alone is extremely difficult to do in contemporary church-state scholarship. Better still, he has done so with such a clear and persuasive style, even in the in-depth APSR version, that it deserves to be carefully read and widely discussed.

Since the article has been so clearly summarized, I will move directly to focus on areas where I think Phillip’s arguments will be highly influential, and a couple of points where he might fruitfully expand this line of thinking.

Originalism

The Framers have been the religion clauses’ nearly constant companions ever since Everson, when Justices Black and Rutledge ushered in the modern church-state era with a focus on Madison and Jefferson. But the Framers are no longer in vogue for originalists. Over the last few decades, Justice Scalia inspired a generation of originalist scholars to maintain their focus on the founding era, but to shift constitutional debates away from the Framers themselves. Concerns about Supreme Court justices cherry-picking quotations from their favored Framers, as we can see in Everson, have largely banished the Framers from the search for original meaning. With dozens of members of the First Congress, and many more ratifiers, how can we pretend that they all had the same thing in mind?

For many “new originalists,” solving this problem requires us to concentrate not on what particular individuals may have thought about a constitutional topic, or on what specific Framers intended it to mean, but on the objective public meaning of the words − what the average, or perhaps well-informed, ratifier would have understood them to mean. Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster have thus taken the place of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in the search for constitutional meaning.

Yet, looking up “prohibiting,” “free,” “exercise” and “religion” in either dictionary can only take us so far, especially in addressing difficult questions along the lines of whether the Constitution demands religious exemptions. On this point, Phillip’s paper is Continue reading

Around the Web this Week

Here is a look at some law and religion news stories from around the web this week:

Bradley: Religious Liberty vs. Moral Autonomy

All this month, the Law and Religion Forum hosts an online symposium on Vincent Phillip Muñoz‘s new article, “Two Concepts of Religious Liberty.” In this post, Gerard V. Bradley (Notre Dame) responds to Muñoz’s arguments. For other posts in the series, please click here

One need not be a hide-bound originalist to delight in Phillip Munoz’ attentiveness to the letter of the Constitution. He is quite right to say that the First Amendment enacts “an absolute ban” on something, that its character is “categorical”; after all, “Congress shall make no law.” Munoz is right again to count this character as probative evidence of the “jurisdictional” understanding of the Free Exercise Clause which he defends. He is right also to see that any such “categorical” liberty has to be limited to a set of specific acts, such as worship and confessions of faith, lest letting the spirit roam where it wills (recall: no law!) does not produce anarchy, even as it limits government in favor of each individual’s direction of his or her religious life.

Munoz is also right about the Smith case and thus the original understanding of the Free Exercise Clause. The Court in Smith spent most of its time arguing against the “exemptionist” (Munoz’ term) interpretation of Free Exercise, minted 27 years earlier in Sherbert v. Verner. But without quite identifying it as such, the Court hit upon the meaning of Free Exercise apprehended by the  ratifiers:

[A]ssembling with others for a worship service, participating in sacramental use of bread and wine, proselytizing, abstaining from certain foods or certain modes of transportation . . . [A] state would be “prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]” if it sought to ban such acts . . . only when they are engaged in for religious reasons, or only because of the religious belief that they display.

The decisive feature of Free Exercise, then, is not exemptionism’s idealized “neutrality of effect,” but rather what might be called “neutrality of reasons.” John Locke provided a Continue reading

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