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The Study of Law and Religion in the United States: An Interim Report

  • John Witte (a1)

The study of law and religion has exploded around the world. This article, prepared in celebration of the silver jubilee of the Ecclesiastical Law Society, traces the development of law and religion study in the United States. Despite its long tradition of strict separation of Church and state, and despite its long allegiance to legal positivism and intellectual secularisation, the United States has emerged as a world leader of the new interdisciplinary field of law and religion. Hundreds of American scholars, from different confessions and professions, are now at work in this field, and two dozen major research centres and journals have been established at American law schools. After canvassing some of the main themes and trends in American law and religion scholarship today, this article concludes with a brief reflection on some of the main challenges before Christian scholars who work in the field of ecclesiastical law.1

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1 This article is an expansion of my lecture at the Silver Jubilee Conference of the Ecclesiastical Law Society held at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, on 3 March 2012. I am grateful to Professor Mark Hill QC and the Reverend Dr Will Adam for their editorial direction, and to fellow lecturers Professors Silvio Ferrari and Julian Rivers for their exquisite lectures and the learned conversation among the three of us. The material for this article is drawn in part from the following volumes, each of which provide more detailed footnotes: Witte, J and Alexander, F (eds), Christianity and Law: an introduction (Cambridge, 2008); Witte, J and Alexander, F (eds), Modern Christian Teachings on Law, Politics, and Human Nature (2 vols, New York, 2006); Witte, J and Nichols, J, Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment (third edition, Boulder, CO, 2010); Witte, J, God's Joust, God's Justice: law and religion in the Western tradition (Grand Rapids, MI, 2006).

2 See especially the early anchor text in this field by Berman, H, The Interaction of Law and Religion (Nashville, TN, 1974), updated in Berman, H, Faith and Order: the reconciliation of law and religion (Grand Rapids, MI, 1993); Berman, Het al, The Nature and Functions of Law (fifth edition, Westbury, NY, 2006); Berman, H, Law and Language: effective symbols of community (Cambridge, 2013, forthcoming). See further Hunter, H (ed), The Integrative Jurisprudence of Harold J. Berman (Boulder, CO, 1996).

3 The following American law schools have structured law and religion programmes with joint degrees, cross-listed courses, research projects, public lectures and conferences and/or print, digital and social media offerings: Brigham Young, Campbell, Catholic, DePaul, Detroit, Duke, Emory, Faulkner, Fordham, George Washington, Hofstra, Notre Dame, Pepperdine, Regent, Rutgers, Seton Hall, St John's, St Mary's, St Thomas, Touro, Valparaiso, Vanderbilt, Villanova, Wake Forest.

4 See, eg, DeCoste, F and MacPhearson, L, Law, Religion, Theology: a selective annotated bibliography (West Cornwall, CT, 1997); Reviews on new books in law and religion’, (2001) 16 Journal of Law and Religion 2491035 and (2002) 17 Journal of Law and Religion 97–459; as well as ongoing scholarship reflected and reviewed in such specialised journals as the Ecclesiastical Law Journal, Studia Canonica, the Bulletin of the Medieval Canon Law Society, Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung (Kanonisches Abteilung), Ius Commune, the Journal of Law and Religion, the Journal of Church and State, the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion and others.

5 For parallel secularisation movements in Europe, see, in this issue, Ferrari, S, ‘Law and religion in a secular world: a European perspective’, (2012) 14 Ecc LJ 355370, and Rivers, J, The Law of Organized Religions: between establishment and secularism (Oxford, 2010).

6 Gilmore, G, The Ages of American Law (New Haven, CT, 1977), pp 110111.

7 Bowen, C, Yankee from Olympus: Justice Holmes and his family (Boston, MA, 1944).

8 Gilmore, Ages of American Law, pp 48–56, 110 and 147 n 12.

9 Alschuler, A, Life Without Values: the life, work and legacy of Justice Holmes (Chicago, 2000).

10 Holmes, O Wendell, ‘The path of the law (1897)’, in Holmes, O Wendell, Collected Legal Papers (New York, 1920), p 170.

11 Gilmore, Ages of American Law, pp 41–67.

12 See especially Austin, J, The Province of Jurisprudence Determined (ed Rumble, W, Cambridge, 1995); Langdell, C, A Selection of Cases on the Law of Contracts (Boston, MA, 1879), preface; Langdell, C, ‘Harvard celebration speeches’, (1887) 3 LQR 123125.

13 See, eg, Wigmore, J, ‘Nova methodus discendae docendaeque jurisprudentiae’, (1917) 30 Harvard Law Review 812829; Holmes, O Wendell, ‘Learning and science’, and ‘Law in science, science in law’, in Holmes, Wendell, Collected Legal Papers, pp 135141 at 139, 210–243 at 231; Stevens, R, Law School: legal education in America from the 1850s to 1980s (Chapel Hill, NC, 1983).

14 Shapiro, B, ‘Law and science in seventeenth-century England’, (1969) 21 Stanford Law Review 728.

15 Holmes, O Wendell, The Common Law (Boston, MA, 1881), p 1.

16 Southern Pacific Co. v Jensen, 244 US 205, 222 (1917) (Holmes J dissenting); see also Hoffheimer, M, Justice Holmes and the Natural Law (New York, 1992).

17 Lochner v New York, 198 US 45, 76 (1905).

18 Holmes, O Wendell, ‘Letter to Sir Frederick Pollock (May 30, 1927)’, in Howe, Mark DeWolfe (ed), Holmes–Pollock Letters: The Correspondence of Mr. Justice Holmes and Sir Frederick Pollock, 1874–1932, vol 2 (Cambridge, MA, 1941), p 200.

19 See eg, Stone, J, The Province and Function of Law: law as logic, justice and social control (London, 1947); Radbruch, G, Der Geist des englischen Recht (Heidelberg, 1946).

20 Fisher, W, Horwitz, M and Reed, T (eds), American Legal Realism (New York, 1993); Rumble, W, American Legal Realism: skepticism, reform and the judicial process (Ithaca, NY, 1968).

21 Haines, C, The Revival of Natural Law Concepts (New York, 1965); Pound, R, The Revival of Natural Law (Notre Dame, IN, 1942). See further below notes 72–73 and accompanying text.

22 Llewellyn, K, Jurisprudence (Chicago, 1962); Fuller, L, The Morality of Law (New Haven, CT, 1964); Hall, J, Studies in Jurisprudence and Criminal Theory (New York, 1958); Hall, J, Foundations of Jurisprudence (Indianapolis, IN, 1973); Berman, The Interaction of Law and Religion; Berman, H, Law and Revolution: the formation of the Western legal tradition (Cambridge, MA, 1983).

23 A Lewis, ‘Sir Edward Coke (1552–1633): his theory of “artificial reason” as a context for modern basic legal theory’, (1968) 84 LQR 330–342.

24 Berman, Law and Revolution, pp 4ff; Hall, J, Comparative Law and Social Theory (Baton Rouge, LA, 1963), pp 78ff.

25 See, eg, Posner, R, ‘The present situation in legal scholarship’, (1981) 90 Yale Law Journal 11131130; Clark, R, ‘The interdisciplinary study of legal evolution’, (1981) 90 Yale Law Journal 12381274; Symposium: American legal scholarship: directions and dilemmas’, (1983) 33 Journal of Legal Education 403458.

26 See Dreisbach, D, Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation (New York, 2002); see also Hamburger, P, Separation of Church and State (Cambridge, MA, 2002).

27 See various drafts of this famous document in Dreisbach, Thomas Jefferson, pp 148ff; Ketcham, R, ‘James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and the meaning of “establishment of religion” in eighteenth-century Virginia’ in Gunn, J and Witte, J (eds), No Establishment of Religion: America's original contribution to religious liberty (Oxford, 2012), pp 154179.

28 Padover, S (ed), The Complete Jefferson (New York, 1943), p 1147.

29 Ibid, pp 946–947.

30 Ibid, pp 518–519, 673–676, 946–947, 957–958. See further Gaustad, E, Sworn on the Altar of God: a religious biography of Thomas Jefferson (Grand Rapids, MI, 1996).

31 See Martineau, H (trans), The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte (London, 1853).

32 Letter from Thomas Jefferson to P H Wendover, 13 March 1815, quoted and discussed in Hamburger, Separation of Church and State, pp 152–154.

33 For different accounts, see Dreisbach, Thomas Jefferson; Hamburger, Separation of Church and State; Green, S, The Second Disestablishment: Church and state in nineteenth-century America (New York, 2010).

34 The Court first used this metaphor in Reynolds v United States, 98 US 146, 164 (1879).

35 Everson v Board of Education, 330 US 1, 15–16 (1947).

36 The main cases are Cantwell v Connecticut, 310 US 296 (1940); Cox v New Hampshire, 312 US 569 (1941); Murdock v Pennsylvania, 319 US 141 (1943); Follet v McCormick, 321 US 574 (1944); Fowler v Rhode Island, 345 US 67 (1953); Poulos v New Hampshire, 345 US 395 (1953); Sherbert v Verner, 374 US 398 (1963).

37 The main case is West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, 319 US 624 (1943).

38 The main cases are In re Summers, 325 US 561 (1945); Girouard v United States, 328 US 61 (1946); First Unitarian Church v County of Los Angeles, 357 US 545 (1958).

39 The main case is Kedroff v St Nicholas Cathedral, 344 US 94 (1952).

40 The main cases are McCollum v Board of Education, 333 US 203 (1948); Engel v Vitale, 320 US 471 (1962); Abington School District v Schempp, 374 US 203 (1963); Stone v Graham, 449 US 39 (1980); Wallace v Jaffree, 472 US 38 (1985); Edwards v Aguillard, 482 US 578 (1987).

41 The main cases are Lemon v Kurtzman, 403 US 602 (1971); Sloan v Lemon, 413 US 825 (1973); Meek v Pittinger, 421 US 349 (1975); Wolman v Walter, 433 US 229 (1977); Grand Rapids School District v Ball, 473 US 373 (1985); Aguilar v Felton, 473 US 402 (1985). See below, n 43 for cases overturning several of these precedents.

42 Lemon, 403 US at 602.

43 Mitchell v Helms, 530 US 793, 808 (2001), overturning Meek v Pittenger, 421 US 329 (1975) and Wolman v Walter, 433 US 229 (1977); Agostini v Felton, 521 US 203, 235 (1997), overturning Aguilar v Felton, 473 US 402 (1985).

44 McDaniel v Paty, 435 US 618 (1978).

45 Bowen v Kendrick, 487 US 589 (1988).

46 Widmar v Vincent, 454 US 263 (1981); Board of Education of the Westside Community Schools v Mergens, 496 US 226 (1990).

47 Witters v Washington Department of Services for the Blind, 474 US 481 (1986); Zobrest v Catalina Foothills School District, 509 US 1 (1993).

48 Lamb's Chapel v Center Moriches Union Free School District, 508 US 384 (1993); Good News Club v Milford Central School District, 533 US 98 (2001).

49 Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, 515 US 753 (1995).

50 Rosenberger v University of Virginia, 515 US 819 (1995).

51 Mitchell v Helms, 530 US 793 (2000); Zelman v Simmons-Harris, 122 S Ct 2460 (2002).

52 See eg, Cover, R, ‘The Supreme Court 1982 term – foreword: nomos and narrative', (1983) 97 Harvard Law Review 468; Winter, S, A Clearing in the Forest: law, life and the mind (Chicago, 2001).

53 Noonan, J, ‘The tensions and the ideals’, in van der Vyver, J and Witte, J (eds), Religious Human Rights in Global Perspective: Legal Perspectives (The Hague, 1996), p 604. See further Idleman, S, ‘The role of religious values in judicial decision making’, (1993) 68 Indiana Law Journal 433488.

54 See, eg, Greenawalt, K, Religion and Fairness (2 vols, Princeton, NJ, 2006–2008); McConnell, M, Garvey, J and Berg, T, Religion and the Constitution (second edition, New York, 2006); Laycock, D, Religious Liberty (4 vols, Grand Rapids, MI, 2010); Bassett, W, Religious Organizations and the Law (2 vols with updates, St Paul, MN, 1999); Serritella, J, Religious Organizations in the United States: a study of identity, liberty, and the law (Durham, NC, 2006).

55 See a good summary and sampling of the recent literature and instruments in C Durham and Scharffs, B, Law and Religion: international, national, and comparative perspectives (New York, 2010); van der Ven, J, Human Rights or Religious Rules? (Leiden, 2010); Lerner, N, Religion, Secular Beliefs and Human Rights: 25 years after the Human Rights Declaration (Leiden, 2006); Stahnke, T and Martin, J (eds), Religion and Human Rights: basic documents (New York, 1998); Lindholm, T, Durham, C and Tahzib-Lie, B, Facilitating Freedom of Religion or Belief: a deskbook (Leiden, 2004); Taylor, P, Freedom of Religion: UN and European Human Rights law and practice (Cambridge, 2005).

56 For a recent summary of this literature, with ample bibliography, see Witte, J and Green, M (eds), Religion and Human Rights: an introduction (Oxford, 2011).

57 See literature analysed in Glendon, M, ‘Is religious freedom becoming a second class right?’, (2012) Emory Law Journal (forthcoming).

58 See literature distilled in Witte, J, From Sacrament to Contract: marriage, religion and law in the Western tradition (second edition, Louisville, KY, 2011).

59 See especially the work of the late Don S Browning, director of the Religion, Culture and Family Project at the University of Chicago and author of numerous titles, including Marriage and Modernization (Grand Rapids, MI, 2003); Browning, Det al, From Culture Wars to Common Ground: religion and the American family debate (second edition, Louisville, KY, 2000). See also, among family law scholars, Brining, M, From Contract to Covenant: beyond the law and economics of the family (Cambridge, MA, 2000); Brining, M, Family Law and Community: supporting the covenant (Chicago, 2010).

60 See a fine recent treatment in Vischer, R, Conscience and the Common Good: reclaiming the space between the individual and the state (Cambridge, 2010); Laycock, D, Picarello, A and Wilson, R Fretwell (eds), Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: emerging conflicts (Lanham, MD, 2008); Greenawalt, K, Private Consciences and Public Reasons (New York, 1995).

61 See sources and analysis in J Witte, Why Two in One Flesh: the Western case for monogamy over polygamy (Oxford, forthcoming). See also a recent case in the British Columbia Supreme Court, which sets out the main arguments in detail: Re Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada 2011 BCSC 1588.

62 See, eg, Nichols, J (ed), Marriage and Divorce in a Multicultural Context: multi-tiered marriage and the boundaries of civil law and religion (Cambridge, 2012); Symposium: sharia, family and democracy: religious norms and family law in pluralistic democratic states’, (2012) 25 Emory International Law Review 7791059 (special issue); Ahdar, R and Aroney, N (eds), Sharia in the West (Oxford, 2010).

63 For a good recent example, see Lupu, I and Tuttle, R, The Keys to the Kingdom: ecclesiastical polity and discipline in American protestantism (Grand Rapids, MI, 2013). See the monumental studies of Hill, M, Ecclesiastical Law (third edition, Oxford, 2007) and Doe, N, The Law of the Church in Wales (Cardiff, 2002).

64 See, eg, Broyde, M, The Pursuit of Justice and Jewish Law: Halakhic perspectives on the legal profession (revised edition, New York, 2007); Dorff, E, The Unfolding Tradition: Jewish law after Sinai (New York, 2005); Dorff, E and Rosett, A, A Living Tree: the roots and growth of Jewish law (Albany, NY, 1988).

65 This is the title of Huntington, S, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York, 2011).

66 See esp the work of my colleague, An-Na'im, A: Muslims and Global Justice (Philadelphia, 2011); Islam and Human Rights (Burlington, VT, 2010); Islam and the Secular State: negotiating the future of sharia (Cambridge, MA, 2008); Towards an Islamic Reformation: civil liberties, human rights, and international law (Syracuse NY, 1990). See also, for example, Cochran, R (ed), Faith and Law: how religious traditions from Calvinism to Islam view American law (New York, 2008).

67 See Witte and Alexander (eds), Christianity and Law; Witte, J and Alexander, F S, Christianity and Human Rights: an introduction (Cambridge, 2011); Lubin, T, Davis, D and Krishnan, J (eds), Hinduism and Law: an introduction (Cambridge, 2010); Hayes, C (ed), Judaism and Law: an introduction (Cambridge, forthcoming); French, R et al (eds), Buddhism and Law: an introduction (Cambridge, forthcoming). See also, eg, McConnell, M, Cochran, R and Carmella, A (eds), Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought (New Haven, CT, 2001); Browning, D, Green, M and Witte, J (eds), Sex, Marriage and Family in World Religions (New York, 2006); Browning, D and Bunge, M (eds), Children and Childhood in World Religions (New Brunswick, NJ, 2009).

68 For a good sampling, see Ravitch, F, Law and Religion, A Reader: cases, concepts, and theory (second edition, St Paul, MN, 2008).

69 See, eg, Berman, Law and Revolution; Brundage, J, Law, Sex and Christian Society in Medieval Europe (Chicago, 1987); Brundage, J, Medieval Canon Law (London, 1995); Donahue, C, Law, Marriage and Society in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2008); Helmholz, R, The Spirit of the Classical Canon Law (Athens, GA, 1996); Helmholz, R, Roman Canon Law in Reformation England (Cambridge, 1990); Noonan, J, Canons and Canonists in Context (Goldbach, Germany, 1997); Noonan, J, Power to Dissolve: lawyers and marriages in the courts of the Roman Curia (Cambridge, MA, 1972); Tierney, B, Religion, Law and the Growth of Constitutional Thought, 1150–1625 (Cambridge, 1982); Tierney, B, Medieval Poor Law: a sketch of canonical theory and its application in England (Berkeley, CA, 1959).

70 A good summary of his voluminous scholarship is included in Watson, A, The Spirit of the Roman Law (Athens, GA, 2005) and Watson, A, Legal Transplants: an approach to comparative law (Edinburgh, 1974). See also, eg, Frier, B and McGinn, T (eds), Casebook on Roman Family Law (Oxford, 2004); Hausmaniger, H and Gumauf, R (eds), A Casebook on Roman Property Law (translated Sheets, G, Oxford, 2012).

71 See, eg, Berman, H, Law and Revolution II: the impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western legal tradition (Cambridge, MA, 2003); Witte, J, Law and Protestantism: the legal teachings of the Lutheran Reformation (Cambridge, 2002); Witte, J, The Reformation of Rights: law, religion and human rights in early modern Calvinism (Cambridge, 2007).

72 See eg, Finnis, J, Natural Law and Natural Rights (second edition, Oxford, 2011); George, R, In Defense of Natural Law (Oxford, 1999); Hittinger, R, The First Grace: rediscovering the natural law in a post-Christian world (Wilmington, DL, 2003); Pope, S, Human Evolution and Christian Ethics (Cambridge, 2007); Porter, J, Ministers of the Law: a natural law theory of legal authority (Grand Rapids, MI, 2010).

73 See eg, Novak, D, Natural Law in Judaism (Cambridge, 1998); van Drunen, D, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: a study in the development of reformed social thought (Grand Rapids, MI, 2010); McGuckin, J, The Ascent of Christian Law: patristic and Byzantine reformulations (New York, 2011).

74 See eg, Symposium: the relevance of religion to a lawyer's work: an interfaith conference’, (1998) 56 Fordham Law Review 10751651 (special issue); Symposium: rediscovering the rule of religion in the lives of lawyers and those they represent’, (1999) 26 Fordham Urban Law Journal 8211200 (special issue); Shaffer, T and Cochran, R, Lawyers, Clients, and Moral Responsibility (second edition, St Paul, MN, 2009); Shaffer, T, On Being a Christian and a Lawyer (Provo, UT, 1981); Allegretti, J, The Lawyer's Calling: Christian faith and legal practice (New York, 1996).

75 For a nice sifting of recent arguments, see Perry, J, The Pretenses of Loyalty: Locke, liberal theory, and the American political theology (Oxford, 2010); Smith, S, The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse (Cambridge, MA, 2010).

76 See especially the work of my colleague, Perry, M: Under God? Religious faith and liberal democracy (Cambridge, 2003); The Political Morality of Liberal Democracy (Cambridge, 2010); Toward a Theory of Human Rights: religion, law, courts (Cambridge, 2007).

77 See eg, recent titles by Greenawalt, K, Legal Interpretation: perspectives from other disciplines and private texts (Oxford, 2010); Pelikan, J, Interpreting the Bible and the Constitution (New Haven, CT, 2004); Ball, M, Called by Stories: biblical sagas and their challenge for law (Durham, NC, 2000); Ball, M, The Word and the Law (Chicago, 1993).

78 See sources in Witte, J and Bourdeaux, M (eds), Proselytism and Orthodoxy in Russia: the new war for souls (Maryknoll, NY, 1999); Witte, J and Alexander, F (eds), The Teachings of Modern Orthodox Christianity on Law, Politics, and Human Nature (New York, 2007).

79 Grotius, Hugo, De Iure Belli ac Pacis (1625), Prolegomena, 11. See also O'Donovan, O and O'Donovan, J Lockwood, From Irenaeus to Grotius: Christian political thought, 100–1625 (Grand Rapids, MI, 1999); Tierney, B, The Idea of Natural Rights: studies on natural rights, natural law, and Church law, 1150–1625 (Grand Rapids, MI, 1997).

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Ecclesiastical Law Journal
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