When and Why Did Catholics Embrace Religious Freedom?

Vatican II.jpg

Here is a taste of Dartmouth historian Udi Greenberg‘s piece at the blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas:

It can therefore be surprising to remember how recent religious liberty’s popularity is. Few institutions reflect this better than the Catholic Church, which as recently as the early 1960s openly condemned religious freedom as heresy. Throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, Catholic bishops and theologians claimed that the state was God’s “secular arm.” The governments of Catholic-majority countries therefore had the duty to privilege Catholic preaching, education, and rituals, even if they blatantly discriminated against minorities (where Catholic were minority, they could tolerate religious freedom as a temporary arrangement). As Pope Gregory XVI put it in his 1832 encyclical Mirari vos, state law had to restrict preaching by non-Catholics, for “is there any sane man who would say poison ought to be distributed, sold publicly, stored, and even drunk because some antidote is available?” It was only in 1965, during the Second Vatican Council, that the Church formally abandoned this conviction. In its Declaration on Religious Freedom, it formally proclaimed religious liberty as a universal right “greatly in accord with truth and justice.” This was one of the greatest intellectual transformations of modern religious thought.

Why did this change come about? Scholars have provided illuminating explanations over the last few years. Some have attributed it to the mid-century influence of the American constitutional tradition of state neutrality in religious affairs. Others claimed it was part of the Church’s confrontation with totalitarianism, especially Communism, which led Catholics to view the state as a menacing threat rather than ally and protector. My article in the July 2018 issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas uncovers another crucial context that pushed Catholics in this new direction. Religious liberty, it shows, was also fueled by a dramatic change in Catholic thinking about Protestants, namely a shift from centuries of hostility to cooperation and even a warm embrace. Well into the modern era, many Catholic writers continued to condemn Luther and is heirs, blaming them for the erosion of tradition, nihilism, and anarchy. But during the mid-twentieth century, Catholics swiftly abandoned this animosity, and came to see Protestants as brothers in a mutual fight against “anti-Christian” forces, such as Communism, Islam, and liberalism. French Theologian Yves Congar argued in 1937 that the Church transcends its “visible borders” and includes all those who have been baptized, while German historian Joseph Lortz published in 1938 sympathetic historical tomes that depicted Martin Luther and the Reformation as well-meaning Christians. This process of forging inter-Christian peace—which became known as ecumenism—reached its pinnacle in the postwar era. In 1964, it received formal doctrinal approval when Vatican II promulgated a Decree on Ecumenism (1964), which declared Protestants as “brethren.”

One venue in which this new view of Protestants played out was in the translation of the Bible.  I write about this extensively in Chapter 22 of The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.

What Does the Trump Administration Mean by “Religious Freedom?”

jeff-sessions

At the State Department’s recent “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed that there is a “dangerous movement, undetected by many” that is “challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom.”  This “dangerous movement,” Sessions added, “must be confronted and defeated.”

I am part of the camp that believes people with deeply-held religious beliefs on social issues should be free to uphold those beliefs in a pluralistic society.  In other words, there are times when liberty of conscience in matters of religion should be protected despite the fact that others might see these beliefs as discriminatory.  When it comes to living together with such deeply-held convictions, I hope for what Washington University law professor John Inazu has described as “confident pluralism.”

Having said that, I am not a fan of the way the Trump administration uses “religious liberty” to invoke fear.  I wrote about this kind of fear-mongering in my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Sessions’s use of words like “dangerous” and “undetected by many” and “confronted and defeated” wreaks of political scare tactics and culture-war rhetoric.  I am surprised he did not roll out the phrase “deep state.”

Sessions claims that “ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit.”  First, I don’t know of any contemporary cases, if any, in which government has threatened ministers from preaching from the Bible.  Fear is often based on false information.  Second, I suspect Sessions is conflating the preaching of “holy writ” from the pulpit with the endorsement of political candidates from the pulpit.  This is how many pro-Trump evangelicals understand “religious liberty.” This is why Sessions and Trump get so bent out of shape by the “Johnson Amendment.”  (Frankly, I think Trump could care less about the Johnson Amendment, but if he can promise its repeal he can gain political points with the evangelicals in his base).

Sessions goes on.  He talks about the ways the Pilgrims in Plymouth, the Catholics in Maryland, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Scots-Presbyterians in the middle colonies (Sessions apparently does not realize that Pennsylvania is a middle colony and most Scots-Irish came to Penn’s colony), and Roger Williams in Rhode Island championed religious freedom.  He adds: “Each one of these groups and others knew what it was like to be hated, persecuted, outnumbered, and discriminated against.”  What Sessions fails to note is that the Pilgrims (and Puritans in Massachusetts Bay) did not provide this precious religious freedom to people who did not have the same religious beliefs as they did.  He fails to note that Roger Williams founded Rhode Island because he was kicked out of Massachusetts Bay for failing to conform to Puritan orthodoxy (among other things).  He fails to note that Puritans executed Quakers in Boston Commons.

I could go on, but I don’t have the time or inclination right now to exegete Sessions’s entire speech.  It is worth noting, however, that all of Sessions’s examples of religious liberty are Christian examples.  There is no mention of religious liberty for Muslims, Jews, or other people of faith.  Parts of Sessions’s address read like a Trump stump speech.  He lauds Trump for making it safe to say “Merry Christmas” again.  Really?  Is this what the Trump administration means when they say they are going to champion religious liberty?  This sounds more like the kind of Christian civilization those “liberty-loving” Puritans and Pilgrims wanted to create back in 17th New England.  (Ironically, these early American Calvinists did not celebrate Christmas because they thought it was a pagan holiday).

OK, I am rambling.  But if you want some context on the way Trump and his minions think about religious liberty, I encourage you to check out Jason Lupfer’s recent piece at Religion & Politics.  It is worth your time.

Two Minutes of Fame on CNN

As some of you know, I made my CNN debut today. 🙂  I am glad that they featured Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  The interview took place via Skype in my small office (more like a bunker) in the basement of my house!

Here it is (starting at about the 30:00 mark):

A few quick comments:

  1. I was honored to share the segment with Nahal Toosi of Politico.  Here is her most recent piece.
  2. I have a large head, but the producers insisted that I move even closer to the camera.
  3. Once they had the camera angle they wanted, they told me not to move!  (So no, I am not usually that stiff!).
  4. I obviously heard the audio, but I could not see Christi Paul or Nahal Toosi.  I was just staring at a black screen for the entire interview.
  5. I used less than 1% of my preparation for the interview on the air.  I guess that’s show business!  🙂

Kavanaugh is the Pick. Not all Conservative Evangelicals are Happy

Kavanaugh

Conservative evangelicals have had mixed reactions to the selection of Brett Kavanaugh as Anthony Kennedy’s replacement on the Supreme Court.  Over at VOX, Tara Isabella Burton sorts it all out for us.  Here is a taste:

The major Christian right figures in Trump’s orbit have largely greeted news of Kavanaugh’s confirmation with measured, if vague, optimism, celebrating the choice of a conservative judge more generally, and casting the news as a win for Trump specifically. The promise of a more conservative Supreme Court has long bolstered Trump’s support among evangelicals, and many leading evangelicals have framed the news in terms of Trump keeping his promises to that community.

Robert Jeffress, one of Trump’s most significant evangelical advisers, said in a statement emailed to journalists, “Evangelicals are ecstatic because in less than two years President Trump has filled a second Supreme Court vacancy with a second conservative—just as he promised. The fact that the president chose another conservative justice is more important than the name of that justice. This is a huge win for President Trump.”

Likewise, Paula White, another of Trump’s main evangelical advisers, highlighted how Trump’s pick of Kavanaugh showed that “President Trump has done it yet again, fulfilled a promise exactly as he said he would.”

Some conservative Christian organizations have expressed their doubts on Kavanaugh, however. The American Family Association formally opposed the nomination, saying in a statement that “Judge Kavanaugh’s reasoning on religious liberty, Obamacare and issues concerning life have proven to be of major concern.”

Overall, however, the fact that Kavanaugh is seen as a “moderate” pick on religious liberty cases tells us more about the nature of discourse about religion in America than it does about Kavanaugh himself. Sure, by the standards of an administration that regularly cites the Bible to legitimize its complete authority, that has produced executive orders demanding that “religious liberty” be observed by the Department of Justice even when it conflicts with anti-discrimination laws, and that regularly implies Trump was chosen by God, Kavanaugh is a moderate.

Read the entire piece here.

Some Court Evangelicals are Downplaying a Possible Roe v. Wade Reversal

Trump fans

Court evangelicals Jerry Falwell Jr., Johnnie Moore, and Tony Perkins are all downplaying the idea that Roe v. Wade will be overturned by a conservative court.  Here is a taste of Steve People’s reporting for the Associated Press:

Like many religious conservatives in a position to know, the Liberty University president with close ties to the White House suspects that the Supreme Court vacancy President Donald Trump fills in the coming months will ultimately lead to the reversal of the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade. But instead of celebrating publicly, some evangelical leaders are downplaying their fortune on an issue that has defined their movement for decades.

“What people don’t understand is that if you overturn Roe v. Wade, all that does is give the states the right to decide whether abortion is legal or illegal,” Falwell told The Associated Press in an interview. “My guess is that there’d probably be less than 20 states that would make abortion illegal if given that right.”

 

Falwell added: “In the ’70s, I don’t know how many states had abortion illegal before Roe v. Wade, but it won’t be near as many this time.”

The sentiment, echoed by evangelical leaders across the country this past week, underscores the delicate politics that surround a moment many religious conservatives have longed for. With the retirement of swing vote Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, Trump and his Republican allies in the Senate plan to install a conservative justice who could re-define the law of the land on some of the nation’s most explosive policy debates – none bigger than abortion.

And while these are the very best of times for the religious right, social conservatives risk a powerful backlash from their opponents if they cheer too loudly. Women’s groups have already raised the alarm for their constituents, particularly suburban women, who are poised to play an outsized role in the fight for the House majority this November.

Two-thirds of Americans do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, according to a poll released Friday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. Among women of reproductive age, three out of four want the high court ruling left alone. The poll was conducted before Kennedy’s retirement was announced.

Read the rest here.

Hillary Clinton Failed to Reach Out to Evangelicals

Hillary at Church

See my November 7, 2016 piece, “Here’s what Hillary Clinton has to do to win over Evangelicals.”  Here it is:

What would it take for the majority of white evangelical Christians to vote for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday or, should she win, support her as President of the United States.

A lot. 

But a Clinton detente with evangelicals is not out of the realm possibility.

Some evangelicals will never vote for Hillary Clinton.  She is connected to Barack Obama. She supports a women’s right to choose.

 She promises to appoint Supreme Court justices that will undermine religious liberty. She is married to Bill Clinton, a man who cheated on her in the White House and was impeached.

 She lied about the e-mail server.

In any other election, most evangelicals, when faced with a Hillary Clinton candidacy, would vote for the GOP candidate. But this election, if you have not figured it out by now, is different.  

In this election a significant portion of evangelicals believe that the GOP candidate is not qualified to be president.

We don’t really know the size of the Never-Trump evangelical coalition.  A very recent survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 69 percent of white evangelicals are voting for Trump and only 15 percent back Clinton.  

That leaves about 15% of white evangelicals who have either not yet made up their mind, will vote for a third-party candidate, or will not vote in the presidential election.  

Can anti-Trump evangelical conservatives be convinced to vote for Clinton? 

If Clinton were to make an appeal to this demographic she would need to address two main issues: abortion and religious liberty.

On abortion, President Hillary Clinton will not work to overturn Roe v. Wade.  Nor will she appoint Supreme Court justices who will do so. But what if she would propose, policy wonk that she is, a systematic plan to limit the number of abortions in the United States?  

I am not just suggesting a return to the old pro-choice Democratic Party mantra of “safe, legal, and rare.”  Evangelicals will need more than a catchphrase.  

They will need to hear Clinton connect her public policy pronouncements with a specific a plan to reduce the number of abortions.

We know, for example, that Clinton has worked hard in her career to reduce teenage pregnancies.  

She might get more evangelical votes from the Never-Trump crowd if she would connect this work more directly to the moral problem of abortion.  Such a move might also bring her closer to the pro-life position of her own denomination, the United Methodist Church. 

Where is the Hillary Clinton who, back in 2015, described the remarks of a Planned Parenthood representatives on video talking about the sale of fetal tissue from aborted babies “disturbing.”

Clinton has said very little about abortion on the trail, perhaps because she is beholden to the secular progressive wing of the Democratic Party. 

When asked about it at the third debate she defended a traditional pro-choice position and dodged Fox News anchor Chris Wallace’s question about her support for late-term abortions.  

Many evangelicals–of both the progressive and conservative variety– were turned off by this.

Clinton has also been very quiet on matters of religious liberty.  Yes, she pays lip service to religious liberty when Trump makes comments about barring Muslims from coming into the country, but she has not addressed some of the religious issues facing many evangelicals.  

This is especially the case with marriage.

Granted, evangelicals should not expect Clinton to defend traditional marriage or set out to overturn Obergfell v. Hodges.  (I might add here that evangelicals should not expect this from Trump either).

 But is she willing to support some form of principled or “confident” pluralism?  Some evangelicals of the never-Trump variety would be very happy to live in a society in which those who believe marriage is only between a man and a woman, and those who do not believe this, can co-exist despite their differences.

The recent attempt in California to cut financial aid for students at faith-based colleges that uphold traditional views of marriage is one example of a threat to religious liberty that has many evangelicals concerned.

Perhaps none of this matters as we anticipate election day. Why would Hillary Clinton address these issues when she probably doesn’t need the votes of the anti-Trump evangelicals to win the election? 

But how she approaches abortion and religious liberty does matter for a Clinton presidency and her relationship with the evangelicals who voted for Trump and the ones who did not. 

Let’s see if she is going to stay true to her pledge to be the president of all Americans and be more conciliatory on theses matters.

Now a former Clinton adviser agrees.  And here.

Let’s Remember What Thomas Jefferson Thought About Religious Liberty for Muslims

Jefferson and Religious Liberty

Check out Elahe Izadi‘s piece at The Washington Post.  It quotes several scholars of early American history, Islam, Thomas Jefferson, and religious liberty including Denise Spellberg, Andrew O’Shaughnessy, and John Ragosta.

Here is a taste:

Jefferson authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and asked that it be one of just three accomplishments listed on his tombstone. The Virginia law became the foundation of the religious freedom protections later delineated in the Constitution.

Virginia went from having a strong state-established church,  which Virginians had to pay taxes to support, to protecting freedom of conscience and separating church and state. Jefferson specifically mentioned Muslims when describing the broad scope of protections he intended by his legislation, which was passed in 1786.

“What he wanted to do was get the state of Virginia out of the business of deciding which was the best religion, and who had to pay taxes to support it,” said Spellberg, a professor of history and Islamic studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

During the bill’s debate, some legislators wanted to insert the term “Jesus Christ,” which was rejected. Writing in 1821, Jefferson reflected that “singular proposition proved that [the bill’s] protection of opinion was meant to be universal.”

He continued:

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Muslim], the Hindoo [Hindu], and Infidel of every denomination.”

Read the entire piece here.

Understanding the Supreme Court Decision on Trump’s Travel Ban

Gorsuch Trump

Some nice context here from CNN writer Chris Cilizza.  Here are his “5 takeaways“:

 

  1. “Elections matter. A lot.”
  2. “This is as much Mitch McConnell’s victory as it is Donald Trump’s”
  3. “The President has loads of power”
  4. “The court didn’t take Trump literally”
  5. “The court wanted to make clear it wasn’t endorsing past Trump statements on Muslims.”

See how Cilizza develops these points here.

Black Evangelicals and the Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision

Cake baker

We have done a few posts already on Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

According to a recent piece by Kate Shellnut at Christianity Today, a 2016 Pew survey found that 35% of white evangelicals support same-sex marriage, while 44% of black Protestants support same-sex marriage.

Only 22% of white evangelicals favor requiring businesses to serve same-sex weddings.  46% of black Protestants favor this.

Notice that the survey compares white EVANGELICALS with black PROTESTANTSso the comparison does not tell us as much as we think it does.  (Although it is also fair to say that a large number of black Protestants are evangelical in theology).  Nevertheless, it is clear that African-Americans are more than open to same sex marriage than are white evangelicals.

Shellnut asked four African-American Christian leaders to reflect on the Masterpiece case.  They are:

Charles Watson of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

Lisa Robinson, editor of Kaleoscope blog

Kathryn Freeman, director of public policy for the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas

Justin Giboney, founder of the AND Campaign

Here is Robinson:

As an African American woman, it might seem reasonable for me to have qualms about the recent ruling the Supreme Court delivered in support of a Christian baker. Jack Phillips’s refusal to serve these individuals smacks of the same kind of infringement that African Americans in this country experienced. However, three factors give me pause in this line of thinking and lead me to applaud the Supreme Court’s decision.

First, the case is not about discrimination, but religious conscience. The civil rights movement was started because a whole class of people were pervasively denied acceptance based on who they were biologically. Discrimination ensued because they weren’t deemed to be fit to share the same services, space, or civic obligations in a white society.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop case wasn’t about the people, but the ceremony. I think likening the two cases—discrimination against blacks and denial of cake-baking for a ceremony—undermines the cause of the civil rights movement, which was about affirming the dignity of personhood irrespective of lifestyle choices.

I can appreciate arguments that say whites believed upholding the purity of races was rooted in their Christian convictions; however, the racist line of thinking that prevailed for so long has no basis in Scripture (consider the marriages of Solomon and Moses), whereas endorsing same-sex marriage is explicitly prohibited.

Second, reliance on state-sanctioned intervention can have negative implications for how we value fellow image bearers apart from their choices. I confess that I have a love-hate perspective toward the governmental intervention needed to address discrimination against African Americans. Unfortunately, we ultimately had to rely the state to define discrimination rather than God himself and his requirements for what kind of activity his people should or should not support.

Lastly, equating refusal to participate in same-sex ceremonies with active discrimination against a class of people puts us in a precarious position of lending support to same-sex marriage because we don’t want to reject people. We ought to be free to distinguish between the value of persons and the values they espouse. At the end of the day, commitment to Christian convictions matters most.

Read the entire piece here.

Winnifred Sullivan on the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case: What is Religion?

Cake baker

Indiana University religion professor Winnifred Fallers Sullivan wants to know how the Supreme Court defines religion.  Here is a taste of her piece at The Immanent Frame,
Is Masterpiece Cakeshop a Church?“:

Let us weigh in where angels fear to tread. Where is the religion in this case and what kind of religion is it?

Mr. Phillips’s religion is described by Justice Anthony Kennedy as follows:

Phillips is a devout Christian. He has explained that his “main goal in life is to be obedient to” Jesus Christ and Christ’s “teachings in all aspects of his life.” And he seeks to “honor God through his work at Masterpiece Cakeshop.” One of Phillips’ religious beliefs is that “God’s intention for marriage from the beginning of history is that it is and should be the union of one man and one woman.” To Phillips, creating a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding would be equivalent to participating in a celebration that is contrary to his own most deeply held beliefs.

That is all. That qualifies Mr. Phillips for constitutional attention.

What do we know about Mr. Phillips’s religion from this? We know that he calls himself a Christian. We are told that he understands this to mean that his whole life should reflect fidelity to the teachings of Jesus. Virtually all Christians (perhaps a strong majority of Americans) could affirm something like this. Presumably that would not be enough to qualify a person for special legal treatment. What more is required for such treatment is a bit murky.

If we look to the religious claims in past cases, before the sincerity test was standardized, we see that Mr. Reynolds in the famed Mormon polygamy case said he would be damned if he did not practice plural marriage. The Court made a careful, if bigoted, analysis of Mormon religious teaching. The Amish families in the Yoder case said that sending their children to high school would destroy the Amish religious community. The Court reported lovingly and at length on the Amish religious way of life. Mr. Smith and Mr. Black said that ingesting peyote was a sacramental mandate, central to their weekly worship. Dissenting justices rehearsed the history of peyote use in the Native American Church and speculated about the Church’s benefits for remediating Native American alcoholism.

The Court no longer traffics in such amateur philosophizing about religion and religious practice. Religion today has become standardized and formatted for the purposes of laws protecting religious freedom.

What else does the Court report about Mr. Phillips? What makes this Colorado baker so obviously deserving of special treatment, when Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Smith and Mr. Black were not? According to the Court,

  1. He is “devout.”
  2. He believes that God intends marriage to be restricted to heterosexual couples.
  3. He believes it would be wrong for him to sell a cake he created to a same-sex couple for their wedding.

Let us consider each of these in turn and how they add up to the core of what counts as religion today….

Read the entire piece here.

Can a Cake Business Personify Christian Values?

Cake baker

Lawrence B. Glickman teaches American history at Cornell University.  In this very interesting piece at Boston Review, he wonders why the Supreme Court continues to treat businesses as people.  And why does the Court continue to favor the rights of businesses over the rights of individual consumers and employees?

Here is a taste:

Is there a meaningful distinction between Jack Phillips, “an expert baker and devout Christian,” as Justice Anthony M. Kennedy described him, and the company he owns, Masterpiece Cakeshop, a limited-liability company? The Supreme Court’s 7–2 ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission suggests not. The New York Times called the decision—which favored Phillips’s right to refuse service for religious reasons—“narrow” because it did not rule on the broader issue of discrimination against gay men and lesbians based on rights protected by the First Amendment. However, in terms of the relationship between capital and labor, the decision was anything but narrow. The Court’s majority opinion, written by Kennedy, is remarkable for its uncanny and unproblematic conflation of Phillips, the baker, and his business, the bakery. By insisting that the key issues in the case are Phillips’s artistic expression and his religious liberty, the Court was silent on the question of how a company can possess these rights. It did so by assuming not only that corporations are people, but that the cakes made by Masterpiece Cakeshop are produced by Phillips alone, when in fact we know that the bakery has other workers.

The Court saw fit to mention Phillips’s employees only once, in a remarkable sentence written by Clarence Thomas (joined by Neil Gorsuch) concurring with the judgement of the majority but making much broader claims about the rights of businesses to handpick their customers. Seeking to show both that Phillips is a sincere Christian and that his bakery reflects Christian values, Thomas wrote, “He is not open on Sunday, he pays his employees a higher-than-average wage, and he loans them money in times of need.” The last two clauses of the sentence are meant to demonstrate that Phillips is a good and generous employer, although one might wonder why well-compensated employees would need loans from their boss in order to make ends meet. But the first part of the sentence is particularly jarring. Presumably, Thomas meant to suggest that Phillips did not open his business on Sunday. But Thomas literally wrote instead that Phillips himself “is not open on Sunday.” Since it is impossible for a person to close or be open on Sunday or any other day of the week, Thomas here marked the extent to which the Court identified Phillips with the bakery.

The significance of this sentence is enormous and not just because, for Thomas and the other justices who sided with the majority, there is no appreciable difference between the baker and his company. (In this, the Court mimicked the language of Phillips himself, who in a 2014 video for the New York Times alternated between using “we” and “I” to describe the work of the bakery.) By extension, this means that the religious views and artistic contribution of the company’s workers are irrelevant. Phillips’s employees are merely props in Thomas’s morality tale—figures who receive the boss’s Christian charity but are otherwise unmentioned and invisible. The decision renders their status as workers for Phillips’s limited-liability company morally and legally immaterial.

I am not a legal scholar, but I find the question of how the Supreme Court defines personhood to be very interesting.  Back in 2014, the American Historical Association asked me to write a response to the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case.  I am not suggesting what I wrote back then applies directly to the Masterpiece case, but I will throw it out there anyway.  Here is a taste of my “‘We Hold These Truths to Be Self Evident, That All Corporations Are Created Equal“:

Ginsburg’s historical argument is a strong one. Indeed, religious liberty or the Free Exercise Clause has never been directly applied to a for-profit corporation. But this does not mean there is no precedent for considering a for-profit corporation a “person.” As the prominent American historians at Backstory have recently reminded us, the post-Civil War Supreme Court affirmed on multiple occasions that corporations (mostly railroads) are covered under the Fourteenth Amendment. Corporate personhood has a long history.

But can a corporation have religious liberty? I obviously don’t know how Roger Williams, Isaac Backus, James Madison, or Thomas Jefferson—the great early American defenders of religious liberty—would have responded to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, but there is little doubt that they would have considered such a proposal to be very strange. For these men, religious liberty was a very personal thing. Religious liberty was meant to protect deeply held spiritual convictions that found their home in the “soul” or “conscience.” Religious liberty was an inherently Protestant concept. It stemmed from the belief that people could read the Bible for themselves and draw their own religious conclusions. It has always been a religious idea applied to individual human beings. Can a for-profit cooperation have a soul? Can it truly practice liberty of conscience?

We might also ask, as political scientist Patrick Deneen has done so brilliantly, whether a big box store such as Hobby Lobby, located in a massive shopping center constructed on a slab of asphalt at the edge of town, can be considered a person. And if it is a person, can it exercise religious liberty? What happens to a traditional and historical understanding of a person—a human being embedded in political, religious, and local communities exercising virtues such as friendship, love, duty, and citizenship—when it is defined in the context of a soulless corporate world with the primary purpose of maximizing profits?

Just Over Half of White Evangelicals Support Business’ Refusal to Provide Products and Services to LGBT Individuals

Cake baker

Evangelical baker Jack Phillips

Caroline Tanner of USA Today calls our attention to a recent poll that shows 51% of white evangelicals believe that cake-bakers and others can refuse services and products to LGBT individuals.  Frankly, I am surprised the number is so low.

Here is a taste:

For white evangelicals, religious freedom is not a one-size-fits-all issue, though, and varies based on the type of religion a business owner subscribes to, and they are most supportive (60%) of fellow Christian small business owners.

When asked if they supported allowing small business owners in their state to refuse to provide products or services to LGBT individuals if doing so violates their religious beliefs:

  • Christian small business owners: 60% of white evangelicals vs. 43% of Christians overall
  • Jewish small business owners: 55% of white evangelicals vs. 41% of Christians
  • Muslim small business owners:  46% of white evangelicals vs. 36% of Christians
  • Mormon small business owners: 50% of white evangelicals vs. 38% of Christians

Their opposition:

  • Christian small business owners: 43% of Christians overall vs. 27% of white evangelicals 
  • Jewish small business owners: 43% of Christians vs. 26% of white evangelicals 
  • Muslim small business owners: 44 % of Christians vs. 32% of white evangelicals 
  • Mormon small business owners: 44% of Christians vs. 30% of white evangelicals 

Of all the Christians surveyed, white evangelicals were more likely to say that Christians face discrimination in the United States today (42%), more so than LGBT individuals (32%). More Christians (36%), Catholics (34%) and Protestants (35%) said that LGBT community faces more discrimination than themselves.

Read the entire article here and the full report here.

Some Quick Thoughts on *Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission*

Cake baker

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission will generate a lot of commentary in the next hours and days.  We will try to post some of it here.  As the pundits and legal scholars write their pieces, let’s get started with Robert Barnes’s summary of the case at The Washington Post:

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled for a Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple.

In an opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy that leaves many questions unanswered, the court held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had not adequately taken into account the religious beliefs of baker Jack Phillips.

In fact, Kennedy said, the commission had been hostile to the baker’s faith, denying him the neutral consideration he deserved. While the justices split in their reasoning, only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Kennedy wrote that the question of when religious beliefs must give way to anti-discrimination laws might be different in future cases. But in this case, he said, Phillips did not get the proper consideration.

“The Court’s precedents make clear that the baker, in his capacity as the owner of a business serving the public, might have his right to the free exercise of religion limited by generally applicable laws,” he wrote. “Still, the delicate question of when the free exercise of his religion must yield to an otherwise valid exercise of state power needed to be determined in an adjudication in which religious hostility on the part of the State itself would not be a factor in the balance the State sought to reach. That requirement, however, was not met here.”

Read the rest here.

Read the decision here.

The Supreme Court kicked the ball down the road and made a strong statement about respecting sincerely held religious beliefs.

If I read the decision correctly, it seems that the Court ruled in favor of the baker because the Colorado Civil Rights Commission did not respect his First Amendment religious rights.  The Commissioner called baker Jack Phillip’s faith “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use.”  He compared Phillip’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” to slavery and the Holocaust.  As a result, Justice Kennedy argued in his majority opinion: “the Court cannot avoid the conclusion that these statements cast doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the Commission’s adjudication of Phillips’ case.”

In other words, the Colorado Civil Rights Commissioner crossed a line.  The Court is a sending a message that these sloppy attacks on sincerely held religious beliefs will not be tolerated.  If you think Phillips should be legally required to bake the cake for the gay couple, take your frustrations out on the Colorado Commission, not on the Supreme Court.

The decision also implies that another cake-baking case might be decided differently.  Kennedy writes:

Phillips was entitled to a neutral decisionmaker who would give full and fair consideration to his religious objection as he sought to assert it in all of the circumstances in which this case was presented, considered, and decided.  In this case the adjudication concerned a context that may well be different going forward in the respects noted above.  However later cases raising these or similar concerns are resolved in the future, for these reasons the rulings of the Commission and of the state court that enforced the Commission’s order must be invalidated.

The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.

 

Slacktivist: “Baptist insubordination is an oxymoron”

ppatterson-homepage-main-image

The hits keep coming for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson.  If you are not up to speed about what is happening in Fort Worth, I encourage you to begin with these posts.  The latest hit comes from Patheos blogger Fred Clark at his blog “Slacktivist.” A taste:

That vindictiveness is reflected throughout Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s article: “The women who wrote the open letter say they tried first to speak to seminary trustees, but felt they had to make their concerns public to be taken seriously, said one woman who works for a high-ranking leader in a Southern Baptist organization and spoke on the condition of anonymity because she feared her participation in organizing the letter could jeopardize her job.”

The bizarro-world detail there is so subtle you might miss it on first reading. It’s the reference to “a high-ranking leader in a Southern Baptist organization.”

This is Paige Patterson’s ultimate legacy — transforming what was once a Baptist convention into a hierarchical denomination. He has replaced soul liberty — the one and basically only Baptist distinctive — with rank. Nothing could be less Baptist. This is the whole thing about Baptists — each of us chooses, for ourselves, to be baptized. And no one else — no Pope or King or bishop or magistrate or seminary president — has any say in that matter.

It ain’t the full-immersion, it’s the choosing. That’s what makes a Baptist a Baptist.

And it’s what makes “high-ranking Baptist” an oxymoron. The priesthood of all believers means exactly that: one rank, no hierarchy.

This is why Paige Patterson is just about the least Baptist person imaginable. He sought to rule, and so he could not abide the inherent unruliness of Baptist polity. And so he transformed that polity, imposing hierarchy and structure and rank. That transformation was both the mechanism for and the substance of Patterson’s “conservative resurgence.” It wasn’t simply about the nominally “conservative” theology that Patterson et. al. sought to impose as the redefinition of Southern Baptist identity, but about their claiming the authority and creating the ability to impose and redefine it.

Read the entire post here.

On Religious Exemptions

0a2ff-ccc-wheaton-interior

Wheaton College is featured in this article

I found this article helpful.  The author is Patrick Hornbeck, chair and associate professor of theology at Fordham University.

Here is a taste of “The Tragedy of Religious Freedom”:

It’s clear that for at least the foreseeable future, religious exemptions will remain the subject of hotly contested battles in courts and legislatures. There is no easy solution, since as legal scholar Kent Greenawalt has noted, the two Religion Clauses of the First Amendment often stand in tension with each other and, as a result, “a good bit of the prevailing law is genuinely confusing.” The question I have been raising here—who, if anyone, should be the arbiter of whether a behavior is sufficiently grounded in religious conviction to qualify for an exemption that might be available—is just a starting point.

Read the entire piece at Religion Dispatches.

The Johnson Amendment Survives New Spending Bill

johnson-gathering

This event, which Trump claims repealed the Johnson Amendment, did absolutely nothing. 

One of the reasons that the court evangelicals love Donald Trump is because they believe he will get rid of the so-called “Johnson Amendment,” the clause in the tax code that prevents churches from endorsing political candidates.  There are even some court evangelicals who believe that Trump has already eliminated it.

In reality, the Johnson Amendment is still on the books.  In December 2017, conservative politicians failed to remove it from the tax code.  Let the record show that the Johnson Amendment is still alive and well.  The spending bill that the House passed yesterday did not repeal it.

Tom Gjelten has it covered at National Public Radio.  Here is a taste:

Among those who pushed hard to get rid of the Johnson Amendment were Vice President Pence and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., along with other conservative members of Congress.

Scalise’s press secretary, Lauren Fine, said the amendment’s repeal “remains a priority” for the Louisiana congressman but that the provision fell victim this week to the bipartisan negotiation over the spending bill. “It’s unfortunate that this was not one of the things that made it in,” Fine said.

The drive to repeal the amendment was led by conservative activists such as Ralph Reed and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. and had strong backing from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal aid organization. Since 2008, the ADF has promoted “Pulpit Freedom Sundays” as occasions when pastors should challenge the prohibition against political activity by preaching openly about the moral qualifications of candidates seeking office.

The campaign has never gained much momentum, however, perhaps because relatively few pastors appear to feel constrained by the amendment, and because surveys show Americans don’t want to hear more politics from the pulpit.

Read the entire piece here.

Christian Nationalists Making the Usual Mistakes About American History

Perkins

Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, was not very happy with Paul Rosenberg and Frederick Clarkson’s recent Salon article on Religious Freedom Day.  He writes:

When Americans celebrate Religious Freedom Day tomorrow, not everyone will be happy about it. Liberals are already blasting the tradition that honors the 1786 signing of one of the most influential documents in American history: the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Now, more than 230 years into the tradition that sparked a revolution, the Left is ready to recast history.

In Salon, hardly the bastion of conservative thought, Paul Rosenberg tries to persuade readers that freedom is the oppression, insisting that when Christians talk about religious liberty, it’s really just code for “theocratic supremacism of their own religious beliefs inscribed in government.” Taking aim at FRC in particular, Rosenberg points to Frederick Clarkson, who insists that our Church Ministries team has been “empowered to advance a dangerous suite of theocratic and persecutory policies” (while producing absolutely zero evidence to the effect). Instead, he talks suspiciously about our Culture Impact Teams (CITs), our network of on-the-ground activists in churches across America. Operating under the authority of the church’s leadership, CITs serve as the command center for a church’s efforts to engage the culture.

Then he starts to play fast and loose with the Constitution.  He quotes Rosenberg: “I think if we got serious about taking Jefferson and Madison’s foundational ideas of religious equality under the law into the 21stcentury, Christian nationalism would crumble.”  And then Perkins adds: “Our own Constitution closes with the words, ‘In the year of our Lord, 1787.’ That’s a reference to Jesus! The signers not only embraced Christianity, they anchored our most important document in it.”

OK.  I have written about this before.  First, the Constitution says “year of our Lord.”  It does not say anything about Jesus.  Second, this phrase hardly serves as an “anchor” of the Constitution.  Third, “In the year of our Lord” was a standard eighteenth-century way of referencing the date.  We need to be careful about giving it too much theological meeting.  Fourth, it is worth noting that an appeal to God does tell us something about the eighteenth-century world that the founders inhabited.  We don’t sign documents like this today.  Fifth, because the phrase “In the year of our Lord” is boilerplate, it was probably not added until after the delegates had left Philadelphia.  Sixth, the minutes of the Constitutional Convention reveal that there was no discussion about the phrase “In the year of our Lord.”  In other words, NO ONE said anything like: “Let’s end the document with the phrase ‘In the year of our Lord’ because it will send a message to everyone that we are creating a Christian nation.”

Perkins is correct when he says that Jefferson included the writing of the Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom on his tombstone.  Jefferson was a champion of religious freedom.  He believed that everyone had the right to worship God freely without government interference.  Jefferson did not comment on whether or not it was appropriate to have a Ten Commandments display in a courthouse or a prayer before a football game.  It is very difficult to appeal to his writings (or the writings of James Madison) to argue for or against such things.

Perkins writes: “Before President Trump, Jefferson would barely recognize his country.”  Really?  Jefferson lived in a different era, but he would certainly be able to spot Christian nationalists like Perkins.  He did battle against them in his own day (Christian Federalists) and would probably do battle with them today.  Jefferson regularly slammed pious New Englanders and their Christian political establishments.  He worried that they were trying to create a Christian nation, not a nation informed by religious liberty.

I have mixed feelings about this whole religious liberty debate:

  1. When Christian Right evangelicals talk about religious liberty they use this idea in a negative way–to protect themselves and their views.  In other words, they are rarely interested in articulating a positive view of religious liberty that defends the right of all people to worship freely.
  2. There are real religious liberty issues at stake in our country right now.  Will Christian institutions who uphold traditional views of marriage, for example, remain in a position to receive government funds or maintain a tax-exempt status?  I wrote about this yesterday.

On the one hand, people like Rosenberg and Clarkson need to offer a vision of religious liberty that protects the rights of churches, Christian schools, and other Christian institutions to practice their faith in the way they see fit, even in areas of sexual politics.  Frankly, I think Hillary Clinton’s failure to defend religious liberty in this way may have, among other things, cost her the election in 2016.

On the other hand, Christian Right activists like Perkins need to stop manipulating history.  When it comes to Jefferson, Perkins could probably learn a great deal from what David Barton went through when he published The Jefferson Lies.  In the end, if Perkins believes in liberty then he cannot, at the same time, defend the idea that the government should privilege one form of religious belief over another.

 

What Looms on the Horizon for Christian Colleges?

c78b4-messiahcollegeboyerhallcopy_2

Over at First Things, church historian Carl Trueman argues that Christian colleges need to prepare financially for a bleak future in a post-Christian age.  He writes:

The specific point of conflict is likely to be (once again) Title IX legislation that prohibits sexual discrimination at any institution of higher education receiving federal funding. The law does allow an exemption for religious organizations such as colleges and seminaries, an exemption to which I shall return. What is worrying is the increasing elasticity of the legislation, which was extended under President Obama to include transgenderism. That “Dear Colleague” letter has since been rescinded, but the underlying cultural commitments that made Title IX expansions plausible remain in place.

Some colleges—for instance, Hillsdale and Grove City—stand apart from federal funding. Such places thus seem relatively safe. But are they? There is another point of vulnerability: the 1983 Supreme Court ruling in Bob Jones University v. United States. This ruling denied tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University because of policies regarding interracial dating that were judged contrary to a compelling government policy. The text of the decision can be found here, but the key passage reads as follows:

The Government’s fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners’ exercise of their religious beliefs. Petitioners’ asserted interests cannot be accommodated with that compelling governmental interest, and no less restrictive means are available to achieve the governmental interest.

However we may cheer the particular result of the Bob Jones case, the implications unfolding in today’s climate are concerning. Replace “racial” with “sexual” in the paragraph above, and the point is clear. In an era where a close analogy is assumed between civil rights regarding race and civil rights regarding sexual identity, the Bob Jones precedent could easily lead to the revocation of tax-exempt status for schools committed to traditional views of marriage and sexual morality.

Read the entire piece here.

Alan Jacobs offers additional commentary at his blog:

As I have noted in another venue, calls are already being made for Christian institutions to lose their accreditation also. Many Christian colleges will be unable to survive losing federal aid for their faculty and students alike; those that can survive that may not be able to afford their taxes once they lose their traditional exemption; but a loss of accreditation is likely to be the death knell for all of them, because that will dramatically reduce the number of students who apply for admission. Students with degrees from unaccredited institutions are deemed ineligible for almost all graduate education, and for many jobs as well. How many parents, even devoutly Christian parents, even those few who can afford it (given the lack of federal student aid), will be willing to pay to send their children to institutions if that narrows their future horizons so dramatically? Almost none, I suspect.

The people who argue that Christian institutions should support the modern left’s model of sexual ethics or else suffer a comprehensive shunning do not think of themselves as opponents of religion. And they are not, given their definition of religion, which is “a disembodied, Gnostic realm of private worship and thought”. But that is not what Christianity is. Christianity intrinsically, necessarily involves embodied action in the public world. And this the secular left cannot and will not tolerate, if it can help it, because it rightly understands that Christianity stands opposed to the secular left’s own gospel, which, popular opinion notwithstanding, is not essentially about sex but rather may be summed up as: “I am my own.”

…What does Christian formation — paideia and catechesis — look like in a world in which many of the institutions that have long supported that formation have been shut down or substantively eviscerated? In relation to these issues, that is the question that Christians need to be asking. Because, I am convinced, that moment is coming: maybe not in the next decade, maybe not even in my lifetime, but certainly within the lifetimes of many reading this blog post.

These are important issues.  This is why I continue advocate and push for something akin to John Inazu’s idea of “confident pluralism.”

Religious Freedom in Historical Context

RagostaOver at Religion Dispatches, Frederick Clarkson interviews John Ragosta, the author of Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed (University of Virginia Press, 2013).  January 16th is Religious Freedom Day.

Here is a taste of the interview:

Clarkston: What’s most striking to me about the Virginia Statute is the part that reads: “…all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

Jefferson emphasized that the bill was meant to protect everyone, including as he later wrote, “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.” This idea–that one’s religious identity should be neither an advantage nor a disadvantage under the law–seems to be as relevant today as it was then.

Ragosta: Absolutely. The Statute was intended to create a free market of ideas, including religious ideas. Religion would thrive based not on government decisions but on what people believed and chose to support–the “voluntary principle.” The result was an explosion in religious ideas and denominationsand religious leaders were held responsible to their congregants rather than the government. Some conservative ministers who had initially opposed separating church and state admitted that it was the best thing that ever happened to the church.

People sometimes assume that if you want to keep religion out of government and government out of religion you are against religion; Jefferson suffered the same attack. But he and his evangelical supporters wanted a strict wall of separation between church and state–and yet [they] believed that there would be a vibrant religion on the “other” (non-government) side of the wall.

At the same time, while belief is completely free from government regulation and government cannot directly regulate the free exercise of religion, government can pass “neutral” laws (not targeted at religion) which may happen to be inconsistent with a person’s beliefs.

Jefferson used the obvious example of child sacrifice or a law which prohibited the slaughter of lambs when the military was in short supply of wool uniforms. The best modern example is laws against racial discrimination: While many people insisted that interracial dating or marriage violated their religion, the Supreme Court, in the 1983 case of Bob Jones University v. United States, rightly refused to grant an exemption to anti-discrimination laws based on religion.

This is exactly what is at issue in the claims for exemptions from laws dealing with LGBTQ rights. Government cannot tell a church that it must marry gay people (that would be a direct regulation of religion), but government can say that if you want to run a business (using public streets, public utilities, police and fire protection, etc.), you cannot discriminate against customers based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. Of course, if people don’t like particular laws, they can be changed, but Jefferson was very clear that you can’t use religion or religious freedom to claim an exemption from an otherwise valid law.

Read the entire interview here.

A Christian Nation or a Nation of Liberty? (You Can’t Have it Both Ways)

More from Glenn Tinder:

When Christians accept liberty they accept the possibility–a possibility that is almost certain to become a reality–of a world unformed and ungoverned by faith.  The natural inclination of faith is to build a sacred order–to reconstruct the world in its own image.  In granting liberty, it abandons that spontaneous project  It acquiesces in secularism–life unrelated to God and unstructured by faith.  Acknowledging the right of human beings to be free, it allows for a repudiation of faith…Granting liberty is making way for sin.

The Political Meaning of Christianity, p. 102.

ADDENDUM:  Several readers who are not familiar with my work here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home seem to think that Tinder is arguing on behalf of a Christian nation.  Actually, Tinder is arguing for liberty rooted in the human dignity of all human beings and, as a result, a kind of pluralism.

Here is more context:

…when Christians commit themselves to liberty there follows an enormous complication of Christian morality; they deliberately refrain, in some measure, from resisting evil.  They allow the tares to grow with the wheat.