11 posts categorized "Religion_"

June 06, 2007

What's the "harm" in establishments of religion?

Any day now, the Justices will announce their decision in a case called Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc.  This case presents a question about "taxpayer standing" to challenge the actions of Executive Branch officials on Establishment Clause grounds. 

In March, Professor Sunstein published an op-ed in the Boston Globe ("Church, State, and Taxpayers") defending taxpayer standing in Establishment Clause cases, noting that "[t]he Constitution bans the establishment of a religion by government, and a major point of this ban is to ensure that the power to tax and spend would not be used to favor one religion over another or to support religion in general."  At another blog, I wondered if one could make (pretty much) the same argument with respect to other provisions or structural features of the Constitution.  (That is, if we need taxpayer standing to vindicate the point of the Establishment Clause, then why don't we need it, and why don't we have it, to vindicate the point of, say, "the separation of powers" or "the enumerated-powers principle"?)

I'm thinking now, though, about a different (though related) question:  What, exactly, is the harm or (in "standing" terms) the "injury" that we think an "establishment of religion" works or imposes?

Continue reading "What's the "harm" in establishments of religion?" »

February 27, 2007

Chinese bishops and church-state separation

Although its government likes to claim otherwise, and hopes we won't notice, meaningful religious freedom does not exist in China. Quite the contrary: As the United States Commission on Religious Freedom stated, in its 2006 Annual Report, “The Chinese government continues to engage in systematic and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief." And so, it was probably more disappointing than surprising when the government-controlled puppet-church, the "Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association," last November purported to ordain a new bishop for Catholics in the Xuzhou Diocese, about 400 miles south of Beijing.

Why should we care? Is there any reason, really, why Americans should worry much about which of these two bureaucratic adversaries  - the Holy See and the People's Republic - picks Chinese bishops?

Yes, there is.

Continue reading "Chinese bishops and church-state separation" »

January 09, 2007

Taking Religion Seriously

The cover story of the Jan. 1-15, 2007 issue of The New Republic is Damon Linker's article about Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney’s religion (“The Big Test: Taking Religion Seriously”) and why voters might want to worry about it.  In Linker's view, "Romney intends to run for president as the candidate of the religious right, which believes in blurring the distinction between politics and religion. Romney thus needs to convince voters that they have nothing to fear from his Mormonism while simultaneously placing that faith at the core of his identity and his quest for the White House."  "This is a task," however, "that may very well prove impossible. . . .  It is likely . . . that as citizens educate themselves about the political implications of Mormon theology, concerns about the possibility of a Mormon president will . . . increase. And these apprehensions will be extremely difficult to dispel--because they will be thoroughly justified."
Do arguments and concerns like Linker's hit -- as David Gergen charged -- "below the belt"?

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November 14, 2006

Marriage: Scripture vs. Morality

Last Friday, my younger daughter got engaged.  She surprised her partner with a proposal, a ring, and a string quartet playing “their” song. As my wife noted, with two daughters we never thought we’d have a daughter-in-law.

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July 22, 2006

Religious Rights and Wrongs

Perhaps you noticed an interesting confluence of events on Wednesday, July 19. On that day, President Bush vetoed legislation that would have authorized the expanded use of federal funds for stem-cell research, the House of Representatives voted to enact legislation depriving the federal courts of jurisdiction to hear any case challenging the constitutionality of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the House voted to purchase a municipal park in San Diego on which a 29-foot-high cross stands.

What these three acts have in common is a reckless disregard for the fundamental American aspiration to keep church and state separate. In vetoing the bill that would have funded stem-cell research, President Bush invoked what he termed a “conflict between science and ethics.” But what, exactly, is the “ethical” side of this conflict? Clearly, it derives from the belief that an embryo smaller than a period on this page is a “human life” – indeed, a human life that is as valuable as those of living, breathing, suffering children. And what, exactly, is the basis of this belief? Is it Science? Reason? Logic? Tradition? Morals? None-of-the Above?

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February 07, 2006

The Roots of Respect: Roger Williams and Religious Fairness - A Nussbaum CBI

Martha Nussbaum is working on a book on religion and the Constitution. A portion of the research on the book led to her January 31, 2006 entry into the Chicago's Best Ideas series, entitled "The Roots of Respect: Roger Williams and Religious Fairness." Martha's talk explores Williams's interesting and prescient (although long and dense) writings on the subject, and explains why Williams has a lot to say to those who believe separation of church and state is an idea created by non-religious people. You can listen to the talk and discussion here.

As always, instructions for listening and subscribing, should you need them, are available here. The blurb Martha used for the publicity for her talk is below the fold.

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February 06, 2006

Muhammed Cartoons Continued

I will not revisit my modest point in an earlier post regarding the utility of, or perhaps I should have said substitution to, consumer boycotts for perceived offenses, where domestic governments are disinclined to intervene. Since that post there have been two interesting developments.  One is the escalating violence against things associated with Denmark (broadly described), where the cartoons originated, and the other is the continuing disinclination of American newspapers to republish the cartoons, as they weigh obvious newsworthiness and curioisty against the cost of giving offense, and I do not mean violence alone.

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February 02, 2006

Muhammed Cartoons, Free Speech, and International Relations

Predictably, the enormous fuss over the publication in Denmark of Muhammed cartoons found offensive by many Moslems has caused them to be viewed by many more readers as they are republished across Europe and held up as a free speech cause.  The pattern is familiar and brings to mind Rushdie and "Banned in Boston" experiences. An audience is deeply offended, but is unable to express its indignity without bringing on more of what it finds offensive, and often without generating new opponents who flock to the cause of free speech. I do not mean to suggest that all cases are alike; depictions of the Prophet (though some of the cartoons have more to do with a fictional young boy of the same or similar name) may or may not be tame compared to cartoons involving Jesus, for example, though there is more of a Moslem tradition of finding any depiction blasphemous, but the common features are fairly obvious. The Danish response is also predictable; the government might or might not express some sort of regret, but it is hardly in a position to tell newspapers what to do.

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December 31, 2005

The Dover Intelligent Design Decision, Part III: Compatibility

The court’s opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District declares, “Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false.  Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general.”  The court speaks repeatedly of this “false duality” and “contrived dualism.” 

Natural selection is compatible with the idea that a supreme being created life in a one-celled organism and then stepped aside.  Darwin’s description of life as “having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one” hinted at this quasi-deist vision.  The mechanism that evolutionary biologists posit to explain later developments, however, attributes all life forms other than the first to random mutation against an environmental background composed, in significant part, of other life forms shaped by random mutation.  Complex life forms are the product of a mindless rather than a purposeful process.  All of our own species’ characteristics, mental and physical, exist only because, at some point, they furthered our ancestors’ reproductive success.  Although evolution itself poses no challenge to the idea that a purposeful process shaped life as it grew more complex, natural selection does.  The emergence of humans and hippopotamuses from a one-celled organism over the course of 3.5 billion years could not have been the product of both a purposeful process and an entirely random process.  Try as one might to embrace both theism and Darwinism, purpose and chance remain antithetical.  Well-meaning efforts to bridge the chasm fail whenever it rains.

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December 23, 2005

The Dover Intelligent Design Decision, Part II: Of Science and Religion

The court and both parties in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District battled about whether intelligent design was science or religion.  None of them showed any interest in the right answer – a little (or a lot) of both. 

The experts who testified in favor of ID insisted that, as far as their theory went, the intelligent designer might be someone other than God.  But come on.  If you discovered the intelligent designer of every life form on the planet (including you), what would you call him?  Probably not Uncle Zeke.

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December 21, 2005

The Dover Intelligent Design Decision, Part I: Of Motive, Effect, and History

Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District forbids a local school board “from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID.”  The first amendment makes intelligent design unmentionable in the classroom.  While professing to offer no opinion concerning the truth of intelligent design, the court consistently reveals its contempt for this theory. 

Most of the Dover opinion says in effect to the proponents of intelligent design, “We know who you are.  You’re Bible-thumpers.”  The opinion begins, “The religious movement known as Fundamentalism began in nineteenth century America as a response to social changes, new religious thought, and Darwinism.  Religiously motivated groups pushed state legislatures to adopt laws prohibiting public schools from teaching evolution, culminating in the Scopes ‘monkey trial’ of 1925.”  When the Fundamentalists (the court often capitalizes the word) found themselves unable to ban Darwinism, they championed “balanced treatment,” then “creation science,” and finally “intelligent design.”  According to the court, the agenda never changed.  Dover is simply Scopes trial redux.  The proponents of intelligent design are guilty by association, and today’s yahoos are merely yesterday’s reincarnated. 

Continue reading "The Dover Intelligent Design Decision, Part I: Of Motive, Effect, and History" »