The embarrassing U.S. Commission on Civil Rights richly deserves the new name bestowed on it by the above headline. Its recent report to President Obama, “Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties,” contains nothing that is remotely likely to promote either peace or coexistence. To the contrary.
Some years ago at the law school at Texas Tech University, I delivered a lecture on the question of whether the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) in public schools would violate the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause. During the question and answer session afterward, a professor from one of the university’s science departments exclaimed: “Your talk consists of cleverly disguised religious arguments.” To which I immediately replied, “I’m relieved. I was afraid you were going to accuse me of making bad arguments.”
We are in something of a lull in the Zubik v. Burwell litigation, the complex of cases brought by several nonprofit organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, challenging the government’s contraception mandate and the particular “accommodation” it has offered these groups. At the end of March, the Supreme Court issued a rather peculiar order asking the parties to submit additional briefing on this question: whether and how contraceptive coverage may be obtained by petitioners’ employees through petitioners’ insurance companies, but in a way that does not require any involvement of petitioners beyond their own decision to provide health insurance…
In the 16th century, Europe experienced a long series of nasty and violent religious wars. With Christianity splitting into many sects, each one wanted its own political power. Once a sect gained that power, it used it to oppress the others. The oppressed sects then fought that much harder to achieve their own independence.
Into this fray of religious warfare, Thomas Hobbes entered and proposed a solution: Instead of fighting about which religion would hold sovereign power so as to extend its influence, we could all just collectively decide that sovereign power would only promote peace and stability for its citizens. By defining sovereignty down, Hobbes hoped to avoid bloody religious warfare. Amidst this redefined sovereignty, Hobbes proposed picking one overriding religion—it didn’t really matter which one since all were equally untrue—and imposing it on all.
After the furor directed at Indiana for enacting a religious freedom measure, some are asking whether it is possible to hit the reset button in the struggle over religious freedom and gay rights. Others are still scratching their heads: What exactly do these state versions of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) do? Are they anti-gay? Should people who care about civil rights boycott any state considering them, in order to “take a stand against” RFRA?
The bitter disputes sparked by Indiana’s version of the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” and the controversies that provoked the act, are the latest episode in our ongoing culture war. Its sources are twofold: the moral clash between what we call the “Left” and the “Right,” and the increasing scope of government.
Observing from afar the clamor over Indiana’s new religious freedom law, we in higher education are especially attuned to how that state’s colleges and universities have responded.
First, some background. The Indiana law differs in modest, but I think, important and helpful ways from its federal counterpart, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. RFRA, which was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, has since been replicated by a number of states—including, by the way, Illinois, with then-State Senator Barack Obama joining all his colleagues in favor in 1998.
There has been plenty of commentary about why so many people have reacted so negatively, but let’s zero in on where Indiana’s college and universities, mostly through statements by their presidents, have come down.
I just returned from a speaking engagement with the National Association of Attorneys General (Midwestern) in Indianapolis. The city used to be a dump; now it’s thriving. (In these pre-Final Four days, it’s the place to be.) The NAAG event was tremendous: it’s a shame they don’t transcribe or podcast the discussions. The panelists (yours truly included) yell at each other on the blogs but lo, they’re actually is a trans-party, Yale-to-GMU constituency for the rule of law—and they meet in a hotel room and learn from each other. The NAAG’s Dan Schweitzer, who called this thing together, is a…
Ronald Dworkin’s posthumously published Religion without God could instead have been called Law without Religion.
The book is founded in a great hope: that religious believers can be persuaded that they have more in common with atheists than they may think, and vice versa. Dworkin believes that “the zealots have great political power in America now” and that “militant atheism” is “politically inert” (though it is, he adds, “a great commercial success”!).
My general view on the Supreme Court is that it should do less. That nouveau libertarian George Will criticized the Court for resorting to “judicial minimalism” to achieve unanimity. But I, for one, find the Chief Justice’s emphasis on achieving modest but sustainable results refreshing. Judicial minimalism is generally better than the other extreme more characteristic of our time—judicial maximalism.
In some ways, my view is the opposite of that of the outstanding libertarian constitutional scholar Randy Barnett. Randy wants to combine the spirit of Lochner with the spirit of Roe to achieve a kind of consistent judicial activism based on the presumption of liberty on both the economic and the personal autonomy fronts. I doubt there’s a constitutional warrant for either kind of activism. As far as I can tell, our Framers made judicial review legal, but they also thought that in order for it to be safe, it would have to be rare.