Happy anniversary of contraception being legal for the unmarried in the US!


March 22 marks the 41st anniversary of Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Supreme Court decision that established the right of single individuals to possess contraception. That’s right: As recently as 1972, you could go to jail for giving contraception to an unmarried person. And William Baird did. Eight times. In five different states.

That piece is actually three years old, but since today was the anniversary, I wanted to share — particularly since the issue of contraceptives is hitting the Supreme Court yet again this week.

Wheaton, Larycia Hawkins, and what it means to worship the same God

Wheaton College has recommended that tenured Prof. Larycia Hawkins be terminated for her statements in solidarity with Muslims, citing tension between her statements (that Muslims and Christians are “people of the book” and “worship the same God”) and Wheaton’s doctrinal convictions (see here).

Of course, I think there are very serious worries raised by the mere fact that Wheaton thinks termination might be an appropriate response at all to the expression of solidarity in the face of discrimination — but it doesn’t even appear that Prof. Hawkin’s statements are clearly in tension with Wheaton’s doctrinal convictions in the first place.  Following her suspension last month, Michael Rea (Notre Dame) wrote an op-ed, “On Worshiping the Same God” calling into question whether any tension between her statements and Wheaton’s statement of faith can be found without first making substantive (and controversial) theological and philosophical assumptions not found in the statement of faith itself:

One would hope that there are complexities to this situation known only to Wheaton insiders, because from the outside Wheaton’s position looks puzzling at best, and politically, rather than theologically, motivated at worst. Their statement of faith affirms, in its opening line, belief in one God; it then goes on to affirm a variety of familiar and distinctively Christian beliefs about the nature and actions of God, many of which are indeed inconsistent with traditional Islamic doctrines. Anyone suitably informed about Islam would be correct to conclude that someone who fully believes the Wheaton statement of faith ought to think that Muslims are deeply mistaken about what God is like. But surely one can be mistaken–even deeply mistaken–about what God is like and still worship God.

Christians and Muslims have very different beliefs about God; but they agree on this much: there is exactly one God. This common point of agreement is logically equivalent to thesis that all Gods are the same God. In other words, everyone who worships a God worships the same God, no matter how different their views about God might be.

On the assumption that there is exactly one God, then, saying that someone does not worship the same God as Christians do–as, for example, might be the case with someone who claims to worship a perfectly evil being–amounts to saying that they have not managed to worship any God at all. To say this of someone is to go well beyond saying that they are deeply mistaken about what God is like; it is to go well beyond saying that they are not worshipping in a way that is acceptable or pleasing to God. It is to say that the acts that they call ‘worship’ do not even manage to qualify as defective worship, that they are so wrong about what God is like that the word ‘God’ in their mouths is absolutely meaningless, or that they are inadvertently using the word ‘God’ to refer to some other thing that they mistakenly believe to be divine–e.g., a mere human being, an animal or plant, an inanimate object like a rock or a star, or an abstract object like a number, or love, or some such thing. There might well be interesting reasons for Christians to affirm such claims about Muslims, or for Muslims to affirm them about Christians; but it can hardly be said that any such view is a straightforward implication of Wheaton College’s statement of faith.

Those who think that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God commonly justify their opinion by appeal to the vast dissimilarity in Christian and Muslim beliefs about the nature of God. But one should be careful here, for this is a maneuver that threatens more division among religious believers than most Christians would want to accept. God as understood within some quarters of American evangelicalism looks very different from God as understood by the majority of Christian theologians in the Middle Ages. But we do not say that contemporary evangelicals worship a God different from the one medieval Catholics worshipped. God as understood by Jonathan Edwards looks very different from God as understood by Rob Bell; but who would go so far as to say that Edwards and Bell worship different Gods? It is hard to imagine that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob believed that their God was triune; but most Christians do not for this reason deny that we worship the same God that they did.

Rea’s full piece can be read here.

Invitation to Join an Amicus Brief

I’m sharing an invitation to join a friend of the court brief in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, a case that’s heading to the Supreme Court challenging the Texas law, HB2 (which, you might remember by way of Wendy Davis’s filibuster), arguing that targeted regulation of abortion providers (or TRAP laws) are unjust irrespective of one’s views on abortion itself. The brief is being organized by an attorney at  Fish & Richardson P.C, on behalf of theologians, and academics who work in religious ethics and philosophy of religion. If you work in one of those areas, you can read more about the brief below, and contact them if you are interested in signing through a link at the end.


The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to consider the most important abortion case in nearly 25 years. This creates a rare opportunity for theologians and religious ethicists from across the country to come together and bring the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and other key theologians and religious philosophers to the Court’s attention, and urge the Court to rule against unjust laws that disproportionately hurt poorer women while undermining public faith in the rule of law.

The Case: Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole

The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, challenges onerous regulations in a Texas law known as HB2 that would force more than 75% of abortion clinics in the state to close, depriving women of access to safe, legal, high-quality reproductive health care in Texas. At issue are requirements that doctors who provide abortion services obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals and that women obtain abortions only at ambulatory surgery centers, which are mini-hospitals that are not intended for a simple office procedure. These are requirements that the American Medical Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and other leading health care experts say serve no medical purpose and do nothing to promote women’s health; instead, the widespread clinic closures directly threaten the health, safety, and well-being of women, particularly low-income women who live in rural areas.

Summary of the Brief

A number of theologians and religious ethicists from various faiths are planning to file an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Texas’s Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (“TRAP”) law, which imposes two sets of restrictions on abortion providers that medical experts, including the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have recognized are unnecessary to protect the health of the woman yet have caused many clinics throughout the state to close, imposing a substantial obstacle on a woman’s ability to obtain an early, safe abortion, especially for poorer women.

These theologians plan to argue that TRAP laws are morally unjust, regardless of an individual’s stance on abortion. From the perspectives of the Catholic faith and other Christian denominations, including the writings of Catholic theologian and philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas, TRAP laws are not a legitimate exercise of state power because they are irrational, pretextual in nature, and cause more harm than good. Under the guise of improving women’s health, TRAP laws seek instead to subvert settled law through dishonest means. But instead of furthering the state’s interests in improving women’s health, TRAP laws disproportionately attack the dignity of low-income and geographically isolated women, make the process of seeking an abortion more difficult and dangerous for these women by creating unjustifiable barriers to their healthcare. Texas’s regulations may even drive poor women to seek later, illegal procedures or try aborting at home, risking their health and lives. And because laws such as HB2 simply disguise the illegalization of abortion through unwarranted burdens on women’s exercise
of their constitutionally protected rights, they also risk fomenting widespread civil disobedience and undermining public faith in the rule of law.

Moreover, TRAP laws seek to surreptitiously undermine the current legal status of abortion, effectively imposing a specific moral viewpoint on the general population and overriding the interests of women who may subscribe to any of the broad plurality of views within the world’s religions on the morality of abortion—including within Christianity itself. Those who seek to ban abortion at all stages should argue openly and forthrightly about the morality of their position, and not use TRAP laws as an underhanded tactic.

For these reasons, even from the perspective of one who believes that abortion is gravely immoral, TRAP laws like HB2 are not ad bonum commune (that is, they do not promote the common good) and should not stand. This amicus brief will draw heavily from Saint Thomas’s Summa Theologiae and writings from other religions to explain to the Court how the intent and anticipated effect of HB2 are contrary to Christian and other religions’ teachings on building a just society.

Please contact me about signing the amicus brief of Theologians by clicking here.

If you have expressed your interest through the above link, we will send the brief via email for your review by December 23, 2015. To add your signature to the brief, you will need to respond to the instructions in the transmittal email by December 28, 2015.

Clarifying Indiana’s RFRA: No, It’s Not the Same as Others

There have been some articles floating around about Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act that are highly misleading (as well as misleading comments on the matter from Governor Pence)—e.g., there’s an article in the Washington Post which points out that several other states have their own RFRA statutes, and there’s a federal RFRA as well. This is true, but it does not follow from the fact that two laws have the same name, or even that they share some language in common, that they are in fact similar. Indiana’s law is staggeringly different.

First, some background; In 1990, SCOTUS issued a landmark decision in Employment Division v. Smith, determining that the free-exercise provision of the first amendment does not provide religious exemption from laws of general applicability. Smith and Black were members of the Native American Church and had been fired from their jobs for having ingested peyote during a religious ceremony—they argued that they should be entitled to unemployment benefits as their having ingested peyote during a religious ceremony should be protected under the First Amendment, but the court determined it was not (effectively, nearly eliminating the Sherbert Test in the process). In 1993, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in order to reinstitute protections from religious discrimination which result from such (apparently) religiously-neutral laws (that is, prohibitions on drug-use may be religiously neutral, and yet have discriminatory differential effects nonetheless, as was apparent in Smith).

In 1997, SCOTUS decided City of Boerne v. Flores determining that Congress had exceeded its power in extending RFRA beyond the federal government to states, and so, many states began passing their own RFRA legislation in response to bridge that gap once more. Indiana’s law is the latest, but, again, that does not mean it’s the same as others by the same name. There are extremely important—and disconcerting— differences.

One significant difference is how the Indiana RFRA defines religious exercise. Section five reads, “As used in this chapter, ‘exercise of religion’ includes any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” This is in stark contrast to how religious exercise is understood under federal law, where the exercise in question must be the result of a belief which is religious in nature (general understood as part of comprehensive doctrine dealing with issues of ‘ultimate concern’ or something similar) and sincerely held. Though sincerity is (sometimes, but) rarely questioned in religious freedom claims (by the court or by other litigating parties), the more narrow understanding of religious exercise prevents abuse of the law and pre-textual claims to religious belief.

Another significant difference is that in Indiana, unlike e.g., Illinois, there are no protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity under state law. Some individual cities in Indiana do have such protections by way of city ordinances, but state law pre-empts local law when the two conflict. Since the law has not gone into effect yet, and consequently has not yet been tested, it is unclear whether the state courts would determine that protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation constitutes a “compelling interest” of the government (or, depending on the case, what the ‘least restrictive means’ of achieving it would be), but, the lack of protection in state law means at the very least that it will be unclear to those who would claim such discrimination is religious exercise whether or not the law allows it (and some folks have already interpreted it to mean that it does). Potentially, the lack of such protections — and Pence’s refusal to institute them — could mean that it will be more difficult to demonstrate that preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a compelling state interest.

Further, Indiana’s RFRA explicitly extends the notion of personhood for the purposes of religious exercise very broadly—perhaps unsurprising in the wake of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, but, still troubling, especially when we consider the context of its definition of ‘religious exercise’: “As used in this chapter, ‘person’ includes the following: (1) An individual. (2) An organization, a religious society, a church, a body of communicants, or a group organized and operated primarily for religious purposes. (3) A partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm, a society, a joint-stock company, an unincorporated association, or another entity that: (A) may sue and be sued; and (B) exercises practices that are compelled or limited by a system of religious belief held by: (i) an individual; or (ii) the individuals; who have control and substantial ownership of the entity, regardless of whether the entity is organized and operated for profit or nonprofit purposes.”

There are other differences between Indiana’s recently passed RFRA and those that are in place elsewhere, but you get the point. This is not your ordinary RFRA, and the difference is dreadful.

UPDATE: I didn’t see this until after I hit post, but one Indiana lawmaker certainly appears to think that preventing discrimination on the basis on sexual orientation is not a compelling interest (but he also seems confused about the law in other ways).

Philosopher Christia Mercer discusses Obama’s comments on Christianity

A lot of valuable historical context.

Obama’s comments about Christianity were much more reserved than they could have been. In the winter of 2015, we should not lose sight of the vast and gruesome horrors rendered in the name of the Christian God following 1615. Arrogance reigned, anxiety soared and the people of Europe died in huge bloody numbers. The source of terrorist acts in our era is not Islam any more than Christianity was the cause of the thousands upon thousands who died in the Thirty Years War. The source of such religiously motivated violence is a volatile mixture of intolerance, ignorance, fear, economic disadvantage, and political machinations. The president’s comparison between Islam and Christianity is important: any religion can be used to promote crimes against humanity.

Islamophobic ads vs. Ms. Marvel

A while back the Freedom Defense Initiative started taking out Islamophobic ads on buses around San Francisco (the original ads are not pictured; they are offensive enough I didn’t think it was worth it). Turns out, a vigilante (presumably, without super powers) has found a way to improve them — the ads are being defaced with new wording, and images of Kamala Khan, who is both the latest woman in the Marvel universe to take on the title of Ms. Marvel and Marvel’s first Muslim headlining character.  Via Toybox at io9.

Ms. Marvel bus ad

The Pope on the complementarity of man and woman – or how times aren’t really a’ changing,

From a status update by Mary Anne Case:

Mere weeks after its Synod on the Family, the Vatican is sponsoring, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a much less publicized International Interreligious Colloquium on The Complementarity of Man and Woman, whose speakers include an international cast of culture warriors from Rick Warren to Nazir Ali, as well as high level Mormon, Sikh, Islamic and rabbinical representatives and a Daoist proponent of Yin and Yang. On the good news front, Pope Francis opened the meeting by acknowledging that “You must admit that “complementarity” does not roll lightly off the tongue!” and “When we speak of complementarity between man and woman in this context, let us not confuse that term with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern.” But, as I watch the vapid videos (with clips from the Manif pour Tous) and listen to the speeches, the bad outweighs the good.  

The program and speakers – which include Prudence Allen, author of The Concept of Woman – are available here.

And here is a transcript of the Pope’s opening speech.

At last a really big blow to creationism

From the Pope

The theories of evolution and the Big Bang are real and God is not “a magician with a magic wand”, Pope Francis has declared.

Speaking at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pope made comments which experts said put an end to the “pseudo theories” of creationism and intelligent design that some argue were encouraged by his predecessor, Benedict XVI.

Francis explained that both scientific theories were not incompatible with the existence of a creator – arguing instead that they “require it”.

“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” Francis said.

He added: “He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfilment.

Thanks to Montchiloff and kukla on Facebook.

Notre Dame appeals to SCOTUS over ACA

The University of Notre Dame has appealed to the Supreme Court, requesting that it require the lower courts reconsider its case against the HHS mandate in the light of the Hobby Lobby decision. Notre Dame lost its previous appeal, in which three anonymous students filed an intervening suit.

One unique feature of the legal complaint that Notre Dame is asking be reconsidered is that it asserts government regulation which treats religious universities as distinct from houses of worship violates the university’s religious belief in the unity of the Church. In its complaint, the university writes,

The U.S. Government Mandate also improperly attempts to sever Notre Dame from the Roman Catholic Church. Notre Dame sincerely believes in the unity of the Catholic Church, including that Catholic educational institutions, especially Notre Dame, are by definition the “heart of the church” or Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Notre Dame’s mission is just as central to Catholic faith and life as the mission of Catholic houses of worship. Yet, the U.S. Government Mandate would limit the definition of “religious employers” to houses of worship, attempting to sever the Church from its heart and to divide the unified Church. The U.S. Government mandate would thus turn the broad right to Religious Exercise into a narrow Right to Worship.*

Irrespective of what one thinks about religious freedom, women’s rights to healthcare, or potential violations of the establishment clause, this is a troubling argument. If religiously-affiliated universities could not be treated as distinct from houses of worship without violating religious exercise rights, then effectively, students at those universities could not be protected from sexual misconduct, harassment, or discrimination by Title IX as Title IX is not applicable to houses of worship (nor could it be).

*It is worth noting that Notre Dame has argued in court in the past (cf. Laskowski v. Spellings and  Am. Jewish Cong. v. Corp. for Nat’l. & Cmty. Serv.) that activities such as the provision of healthcare coverage benefits do not constitute religious exercise.

Schliesser on de Gournay: sexism is “serious blasphemy”

Yesterday, at his Digressions & Impressions blog, Eric Schliesser posted a (second) lovely discussion of 17th century philosopher Marie de Gournay and her account of the Church’s role in the subordination of women. Strikingly, de Gournay argues that, in having played this role, Christianity also oppresses men, by encouraging them to make idols of themselves.

For, men have chosen to let themselves be ruled by “superiority of…strength” (73) and not their rational faculty. In fact, she argues that in so doing men have committed “serious blasphemy” because men have elevated themselves above women. For, women are “worthy of being made in the image of the Creator, of benefiting from the most holy Eucharist and the mysteries of redemption and of paradise, and of the vision–indeed, the possession–of God.” (73) Man’s political decision to deny women “the advantages or privileges of man” is, thus, a way to make an idol of himself. 

De Gournay’s argument is a powerful reply to the Pauline-Augustinian argument that woman only expresses God’s image when she is united to man (de Trinitate, Book 12, Ch. 7). I know what I’ll be adding to the syllabus the next time I teach philosophy of gender. Thanks, Eric!