When modern revolutionaries took up the task of translating the felt meaning of political revolution into a constitutional order of law, they thought of themselves as men of the Enlightenment using the language of reason to push religion out of the public sphere. This hardly means that they neither experienced nor relied upon the sacred. In Arendt’s classic analysis, they began by demanding legal rights but ended with an experience of the absolute character of public action. Rights as a means to private ends became a lesser theme to the experience of a kind of transcendent meaning in and through political engagement. In a crisis, it remains true today that the secular state does not hesitate to speak of sacrifice, patriotism, nationalism, and homeland in the language of the sacred. The state’s territory becomes consecrated ground, its history a sacred duty to maintain, its flag something to die for. None of this has much to do with the secular; these are matters of faith, not reason.
Posts Tagged ‘law’
A federal court threw out two court cases brought forward by an ex-Scientologist couple, the Headleys, against the Church of Scientology, accusing the organization of labor violations, forced abortions, and human trafficking. Dale S. Fischer, a judge on the U. S. District Court, Central District of California, argued that Scientology is protected by the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, putting the practices the organization is alleged to engage in beyond the scrutiny of the court, reports The St. Petersburg Times.
Citing her belief that the debate over civil unions should settled by referendum and not through the state legislature, Hawaii governor Linda Lingle vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have granted same-sex and unwed heterosexual couples the same legal rights as married couples. Lingle, a 57-year old Republican — and the first female governor in the Aloha state’s history — explained that her decision was based purely on the merits of the legislation, not on her own moral beliefs.
The right to bear arms and to pray are, as of last night, legally intertwined in Louisiana, as Gov. Bobby Jindal has “signed a bill into law that will allow people to bring concealed weapons into houses of worship.”
Kevin Drum is duly indignant about the case of Yahya Wehelie, a U.S. citizen placed on the no-fly list and effectively banned from returning to his home in Virginia.
Though currently on sabbatical at the University of Zürich, Richard Amesbury teaches religious and philosophical ethics at the Claremont School of Theology, where he is is involved in establishing a new School of Ethics, Politics, and Society. He is the author of Morality and Social Criticism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and Faith and Human Rights (Fortress, 2008), as well as numerous articles. His interests reach across many themes and fields in which the concept of “religion” is constructed and mobilized, from human rights law to civil religion to the New Atheism.
In her essay on Salazar v. Buono, Winni Sullivan ponders why crosses present such a difficulty for the modern, secular nation-state, and she questions the degree to which religious myths and symbols have been supplanted by those of nationalism. “Has secularization failed?” she asks. Sullivan posits that religious symbols’ ability to connect the universal and the particular is at the root of their success. Yet the ambiguity of both the Mojave cross and the commentaries made by various judges in evaluating the case point to the layered religious and secular meanings of the symbol at that particular site and in U.S. society more generally. Perhaps a more expansive definition of civil religion can trace how the same symbol moves across “religious” and “secular” contexts, depending on the site, event, or time in which it is deployed. In Poland, for example, the cross is and is not religious, although it is always sacred. Indeed, this ambiguity, the ability to pivot in different directions, may help account for the cross’s social force.
On Wednesday, April 28, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Salazar v. Buono, its latest effort to specify what the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires of the government with respect to religious objects on public lands.
The object of its concern on this occasion is an eight foot white cross standing on a rock outcropping on a federal preserve in the Mojave Desert, first placed there in 1934 by the Death Valley post of the VFW, and denominated a national WWI memorial by Congress in 2002. The legal issue before the Court was whether the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had properly affirmed a District Court ruling that the 2004 congressional act transferring the acre of land containing the cross to the VFW was illegal. . . .
The six opinions presented in Salazar v. Buono display various views on how the law of injunctions should be applied to the facts. All agree, however, that the District Court’s original decision—finding display of the cross on federal land to be an unconstitutional establishment of religion—is res judicata (that is, “the thing is decided,” and is no longer reviewable). Along the way, however—partly perhaps because, as some of them said, the law of injunctions is not very interesting to them—many of the justices, both at oral argument and in their written opinions, couldn’t resist offering opinions on the public meaning of the cross.
The distinguishing feature of proselytizing is an aim that typically supervenes upon “ordinary” religious expression. It is an accompanying mental state, or maybe just the unintended effect of bearing witness to the truth of one’s faith. Proselytizing is not an observable form of distinct behavior, and so anti-proselytizing laws are quixotic and notional, or they are certain to sweep up more elemental religious expressions—teaching, preaching, worship—which are eminently deserving of protection. This is enough to establish that these laws are unjust, and no additional evaluative premises would be needed to establish that they would be deemed unconstitutional in any American court.
No doubt, some missionaries are so aggressive that they need to be restrained by just laws against forcing conversion. But, more often, the problem (where there is one) is that they are annoyingly persistent and self-righteous. These folks should be corrected and ignored; they should not be arrested. Almost all missionaries are guilty of a peculiar Original Sin, namely, they present their own cultural instantiation of the faith—Irish Catholicism, say, or Midwestern evangelicalism—as part and parcel of the gospel. This Original Sin naturally leads to unjustified criticism of local customs and folk traditions which are not incompatible with the faith.