Some Thoughts on Our New Religious Politics

At the First Things site, I have an essay on the religious divide opening up in American politics, between Democrats and Republicans. Based on the increasing number of Nones among party members, Democrats are becoming the non-religious party, and Republicans the religious party. This divide would have been unknown at earlier periods of our history; Tocqueville, for example, famously commented on the absence of religious division in American politics. I predict what our new religious politics may mean for religious liberty. Here’s a snippet:

In short, a new sort of divide appears to be opening up in American politics: Republicans are the religious party, and Democrats are the non-religious party. This new divide may not be stable, of course. The racial and ethnic divisions among Democrats, which closely track the divide between the religious and the non-religious, may cause fissures within the party. African-Americans and Hispanics may press white progressives to make more room for traditional believers. And over time, Nones may make headway in the Republican Party. If current trends continue, though, religion will become a marker of political difference in a way it never has been before.

The new religious divide seems likely to make American politics even more bitter than it already is, particularly with respect to religious liberty. People’s commitment to religious liberty depends on whether they think religion is, on balance, a good thing for individuals and society. If people come to see religion as an obstacle rather than an aid to human flourishing, they are unlikely to sympathize with calls for the free exercise of religion. By definition, Nones reject traditional, organized religion as harmful or, at least, unnecessary. Their growing dominance in the party suggests that arguments in favor of religious freedom will have less and less appeal for Democrats. The divide is likely to be self-reinforcing, as Democrats come to see religious freedom as something only the other party cares about—and therefore something to be resisted. If Tocqueville came back to visit America today, he might not be so surprised.

You can read the whole essay here.

 

 

On the Future of Religious Freedom

For those who are interested, yesterday the Liberty Law site posted an essay I wrote on the possible future of religious freedom in the United States (“The Powerful Headwinds Confronting Religious Freedom“). In the essay, I describe the powerful cultural and political trends, especially religious polarization and an ever-expanding notion of equality, that make religious freedom increasingly problematic, especially for members of traditional religious groups. Here’s an excerpt:

The increasing religious polarization suggests that, unlike in the past, traditional believers cannot count on a widespread, if thin, cultural sympathy for their commitments. A large and growing percentage of Americans has no experience of traditional religion—and, to the extent it has had such experience, rejects it. Disagreements and misunderstandings are likely to be amplified by the fact that Nones overwhelmingly reject traditional teachings about sexuality, which they see as psychologically damaging and essentially unjust, an affront to the dignity of persons. It’s not coincidental that so many of our current disputes about religious liberty, like Masterpiece Cakeshop and Hobby Lobby, involve sexuality in some way.

Another cultural trend that should worry traditional believers is Americans’ expanding concept of equality. For many Americans, equality no longer means simply equality before the law. Rather, it means a rejection generally of distinctions among groups and individuals, including religious distinctions—a rejection of “difference per se.” Beliefs and practices that exclude outsiders from a religious community are presumptively suspect, because of the implicit judgments they suggest: some groups, apparently, think their beliefs and ways of life superior to others’. Such judgments seem impolite, ungenerous, and inconsistent with the spirit of true equality, which requires that each religion acknowledge the basic correctness of all the others.

The expansive notion of equality—equality as sameness—poses challenges for traditional religious groups, most of which continue to insist, as a matter of religious conviction, on maintaining boundaries with the followers of other religions. This doesn’t mean hostile relations, necessarily, only boundaries. For example, some evangelical student groups, while encouraging charity toward everyone, limit their membership to persons who share their faith commitments. Such limitations are apt to seem arbitrary and illegitimate to many Americans. In fact, a number of religious-liberty cases involve universities’ decisions to deny religiously “exclusive” student organizations access to campus.

You can read the whole essay here.

Pincus, “The Heart of the Declaration”

bfd9b38e919a99d3dddede54acc5eb14In recent years, members of traditionalist religious groups have come to see activist government as one of the greatest threats to their religious freedom. And so they have made common cause with libertarians, who, on the face of it, would seem to have little in common with them, ideologically. Both groups would presumably have much to argue with in a new book from Yale University Press, The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for An Activist Government, by Yale historian Steve Pincus. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

An eye-opening, meticulously researched new perspective on the influences that shaped the Founders as well as the nation’s founding document

From one election cycle to the next, a defining question continues to divide the country’s political parties: Should the government play a major or a minor role in the lives of American citizens? The Declaration of Independence has long been invoked as a philosophical treatise in favor of limited government. Yet the bulk of the document is a discussion of policy, in which the Founders outlined the failures of the British imperial government. Above all, they declared, the British state since 1760 had done too little to promote the prosperity of its American subjects. Looking beyond the Declaration’s frequently cited opening paragraphs, Steve Pincus reveals how the document is actually a blueprint for a government with extensive powers to promote and protect the people’s welfare. By examining the Declaration in the context of British imperial debates, Pincus offers a nuanced portrait of the Founders’ intentions with profound political implications for today.

Around the Web

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Postell, “Bureaucracy in America”

9780826221230Many scholars have noted that the growth of government inevitably poses a challenge for religious exercise. Quite simply, as government expands to cover more and more aspects of daily life, and as the number of rules increases, the potential for conflict with citizens’ conduct grows–especially for citizens who dissent from trending social norms. These citizens can expect special trouble from the rise of the administrative state.

A new book on the growth of the administrative state by University of Colorado political scientist Joseph Postell, Bureaucracy in America: The Administrative State’s Challenge to Constitutional Government, has been getting a lot of attention. The publisher is the University of Missouri Press. Here’s the description from the press’s website:

The U.S. Constitution requires laws be made by elected representatives. Yet today, most policies are made by administrative agencies whose officials are not elected. Not coincidentally, many Americans increasingly question whether the political system works for the good of the people. In this trenchant intellectual history, Postell demonstrates how modern administrative law has attempted to restore the principles of American constitutionalism, but it has failed to be as effective as earlier approaches to regulation.

 

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 news stories from around the web:

Annicchino, “Law and International Religious Freedom”

9781138282445I’m delighted to post this forthcoming book by Forum guest blogger and Tradition Project member Pasquale Annicchino, Law and International Religious Freedom: The Rise and Decline of the American Model (Routledge). Pasquale, a fellow at the European University Institute, is a rising star in comparative law and religion studies, with a special focus on international religious freedom. The issues he highlights in this book — the debate between individualistic and communitarian understandings of religion and the need for law to focus on major rights violations — are important ones, in America and abroad. Here’s a description of his book from the Routledge website:

This book analyzes the promotion and protection of freedom of religion in the international arena with a particular focus on the role and influence of the US International Religious Freedom Act, 1998. It also investigates the impact of the IRFA on the legislation and policies of third countries and the EU. The book develops the story of the protection of religious freedom through foreign policy by showing how religious laws affect and shape a more communitarian dimension of the notion of freedom of religion which stands in contrast with a traditionally Western individualistic understanding of the right. It is argued that it is still possible to defend the unstable category of freedom of religion or belief especially when major violations are at stake. The book presents a balanced contribution to the academic debate on the promotion and protection of religious freedom. The comparative approach and interdisciplinary methodology make it a valuable resource for academics, students and policy- makers in Law, International Relations and Strategic Studies.

Around the Web

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

Around the Web

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

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