Mark L. Movsesian

Mark L. Movsesian is Frederick A. Whitney Professor and Director of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s University Law School.

Mark L. Movsesian is the Frederick A. Whitney Professor of Contract Law at St. John's University School of Law and director of its Center for Law and Religion. This essay is adapted from “The Islamic State’s Religious Cleansing and the Urgency of a Strategic Response,” remarks he gave at a conference of the Hudson Institute, New York City, May 7, 2015.

Is It Really Commercial Activity that Civilizes?

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Don’t let references to “the dismal science” fool you. Classical liberal economics is actually a pretty optimistic way to look at life. Liberals maintain that markets create wealth, promote mutual gain, and unlock talents and resources in individuals and nations. And, they say, markets have political benefits. Since the Enlightenment, liberals have argued that markets promote civic pluralism by making people more reasonable and prudent; less given to political and, especially, religious enthusiasm; and eager to avoid divisive debates about deep commitments. That markets have these advantages is known as the doux commerce thesis. (That’s doux as in soft, or having a…

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Stumbling Out of the Blocks

There is much to criticize about President Trump’s executive order on immigration, particularly the slapdash way the Administration drafted the order and announced it to the agencies responsible for implementing it. The Administration apparently bypassed the normal interagency review process, which checks orders for legality and advises on possible consequences. No doubt the Administration calculated that it couldn’t trust Obama holdovers not to create obstacles—a calculation that seems to have been correct in some cases. But lawyers do help sometimes, and it’s wise to listen even to bureaucrats on occasion. The normal interagency review could have avoided much of the confusion at airports over the weekend, which benefited no one, and which created a sense of disorder which will not help the Administration in the future. It would have been much better for the Administration to wait until its new team was fully in place, including its Attorney General, before taking legal action bound to inflame many people.

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UK Supreme Court Ruling Brings Greater Legitimacy to Brexit

Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

Last week, in an 8-3 vote, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the Government of Prime Minister Theresa May must seek new legislation before starting negotiations to leave the EU—the so-called Brexit. The Prime Minister had argued that, in light of last June’s referendum in favor of Brexit, and pursuant to the Crown’s sole authority to make and withdraw from international treaties, she could commence negotiations without further legislative action. But the court held that withdrawing from the EU would effect a change in domestic law and that, under the British Constitution, the government may not take such action without parliamentary authorization. The June referendum in favor of Brexit was not legally binding; a new statute would be necessary.

The ruling was not unexpected. May’s Government already had prepared draft legislation, which it presented to Parliament a couple days after the decision came down. The legislation seems very likely to pass in some form. Although the Government resisted having to go to Parliament, undoubtedly because of the possibility of delaying tactics and other obstacles, on balance it seems a good thing. In the long run, Brexit will be seen as more legitimate if Parliament formally votes on it, with members of the Government and the opposition going on record. 

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When the Enlightenment and Evangelical Christianity Got Together

A statue of Thomas Jefferson includes this figure holding a tablet bearing several names that different belief systems have for a higher power, titled “Religious Freedom, 1786.”

Last week, on January 16, America marked Religious Freedom Day. The day commemorates enactment of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom of 1786, a precursor of the First Amendment. Written by Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia statute disestablished religion in the commonwealth—“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever”—and prohibited civil penalties for the expression of religious belief—“all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion.” Jefferson saw the statute as one of his three great accomplishments; along with the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the University of Virginia, he directed that it be noted on his tombstone.

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Luther’s Revolution

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Martin Luther as a Monk, 1520, Engraving.

The Morgan Library’s Exhibition, “Word and Image: Martin Luther’s Reformation” commemorated the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses, Luther’s bill-of-particulars against the sale of indulgences that instigated the Protestant Reformation and changed the course of world history.

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Helping Mideast Christians

In my last post, I described some of the reasons why Mideast Christians face persecution today. Historical factors explain much. Christians face social discrimination, informed by centuries of treatment as dhimmis, which makes them easy targets for violence. This is so even though, as a formal matter, the dhimma no longer applies and Christians enjoy equal rights as citizens in most Mideast countries.

The West bears blame for the current crisis as well, however, including the United States.

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No Justice, No Peace

In my last post, I briefly introduced the different communions that make up Mideast Christianity and described their historical treatment under classical Islamic law. For many centuries, Islam tolerated Christians as dhimmis, minorities subject to a notional agreement that allowed them to live in Muslim society as long as they accepted a subordinate status and did not challenge Muslim authority. Yet, as I mentioned, the dhimmi restrictions no longer apply as a formal matter in most of the Mideast, not since the 19th century, when the Ottoman Empire enacted a set of reforms known as the Tanzimat, instigated by European powers, which gave Christians legal equality. In most of the Mideast today, as a formal matter, Christians and Muslims have equal rights. So what explains the violent persecution Mideast Christians now suffer—nothing short of a genocide in some places?

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The Complicated Political History of Mideast Christians

In my first post, I described the terrible conditions facing Mideast Christians today. I’d now like to explore the reasons for their current situation—which are many.

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The Remnant

For most American Christians, Christmas has come and gone. True, some sticklers will keep their trees up until Epiphany, but, for most of us, the routine of daily life has resumed. For most Mideast Christians, though, the holiday is just beginning. Armenian Apostolic Christians will celebrate Christmas, according to ancient custom, on January 6. In Egypt, Coptic Christians, the largest Christian communion in the Mideast, numbering perhaps 12 million, will celebrate on January 7, as will Orthodox Christians in Bethlehem itself. (Mideast Catholics celebrated on December 25, along with their Western counterparts). The traditional processions are scheduled for Manger Square.

For Christians, Christmas is a joyous time. But, for most Mideast Christians this year, the holiday is an uneasy one.

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The New Nationalism

Europe map

Something strange has been happening all year in Western politics. Both in the United States and Europe, events dismissed as unthinkable have occurred again and again. In June, Britons voted to leave the European Union. In November, Americans elected Donald Trump to be President. In opinion polls throughout 2016, Euroskeptic parties like Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement in Italy and the National Front in France, once derided as fringe movements, have shown continuing appeal. In fact, in Italy, Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement just combined to defeat a constitutional referendum championed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, leading Renzi to resign.

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