Argument Analysis: Legion v. American Humanist Association

Monica L. Waller, arguing for respondent in American Legion v. American Humanist Assoc., 2-27-19Jackson Foster is a freshman at UA, majoring in Religious Studies and History and minoring in the Blount Undergraduate Initiative and Randall Research Scholars Program. He is currently studying the intersections between law, politics, and religion in Dr. Altman’s REL130 course. This piece was originally published in High School SCOTUS, a national Supreme Court blog comprised of young students like Jackson.

The Supreme Court heard arguments last month in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, a case involving a 40-foot Peace Cross situated in a Maryland public park. Before (and since) the argument, American Legion has received special attention from the constitutional scholar and layman alike. It has been enveloped in media scrutiny (see Nina Totenberg’s Cross Clash Could Change Rules For Separation Of Church And State); it is one of the first Establishment Clause cases in the Kavanaugh era, and it may spell the end of the Lemon test.

While constitutional considerations carry great weight, they miss the heart of this case. American Legion does not so much implicate the Establishment Clause or the Lemon test as it implicates American civil religion. The questions argued in the case, therefore, can be nicely distilled to one: Is the cross civil or sectarian? Continue reading

Common, Yes, But Also Compelling

Picture 6 Having just come from the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, where scholars of religions’ input on the topic of climate change was encouraged, inasmuch as we are presumed to have some special expertise based on what we happen to study — as phrased in a memo sent last year to the chairs of its various program units, written by our then incoming President:

It is our scholarly duty, I would argue, that we bring forward a scholarship from a wide set of traditions that may suggest a meaningful set of actions in response to an unprecedented and shared crisis…

— and at which, in my reply to a session on interreligious dialogue, I once again critiqued a statement from 1997 in which Jacob Neusner argued that the:

special promise of the academic study of religion is to nurture this country’s resources for tolerance for difference, our capacity to learn from each other, and to respect each other…

I find it interesting to turn attention to the manner in which scholars of religion apply their work to domains outside those of their expertise. Continue reading

Where Are They Now?

USSupremeCourtNow there’s a rag-tag group of undergraduate liberal arts majors, if ever I saw one.

Samuel Alito, B.A. in Public & International Affairs (Princeton University 1972)
Stephen Breyer, B.A. in Philosophy (Stanford University, 1959)
Ruth Bader Ginzburg, B.A. in Government (Cornell University, 1954)
Elena Kagan, B.A. in History (Princeton University, 1981)
Anthony Kennedy, B.A. in Political Science (Stanford University, 1958)
John Roberts, A.B. in History (Harvard College, 1976)
Antonin Scalia, B.A. in History (Georgetown University, 1957)
Sonia Sotomayor, B.A. in History (Princeton University, 1976)
Clarence Thomas, A.B. in English (Holy Cross, 1971)

They seem to have made something of themselves, given that they now get to decide on the parameters of our entire society; so maybe you can make something of yourself too, when you major in the Humanities. (This is the first in what will become an ongoing series, coz you never know who started out as a liberal arts major.)