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Friday, October 14, 2011

Liveblogging the Matters of Faith Conference

I'm privileged today to be attending a conference at the University of Alabama School of Law titled Matters of Faith. It's moderated by our friend Austin Sarat from Amherst and the papers will be published in an edited book. The papers are terrific and I hope the authors will put them up on SSRN in time.

The first paper was given by my friend Caroline Mala Corbin of the University of Miami. Titled "Expanding the Bob Jones Compromise," it argues that the holding in Bob Jones should be expanded to withhold government funding, tax-exempt status, and other forms of support from churches that engage in invidious sex discrimination. Although I disagree with her, Caroline does a great job of pushing this argument, especially from a doctrinal perspective. During the discussion, as I understand it, she was pushed on just how far the "moral energy" that undergirds her project extends, what limits it has, and why, if properly applied, it does not require government to go even further. Part of her answer is that freedom of association protects churches in many such cases, although it does not require positive government support. I hope that Caroline will grapple more with whether she genuinely thinks Dale was rightly decided (in theory; she believes it was wrongly decided on the facts) and, if so, how it should be applied. Many people who might find her proposal intuitively attractive might feel differently if it turned out that it ultimately pushes us toward more intrusive government action. I also, and this is a pet issue of mine, think that her proposal can't avoid making some very strong truth-claims about religion, religious doctrine, and the relationship between those things and public values.

Right now Corey Brettschneider, of the Department of Political Science at Brown, is giving a paper called "How Should Liberal Democracies Respond to Faith Based Groups That Advocate Discrimination?: State Funding and Non-Profit Status." He argues, quite similarly to Caroline but even more stringently, that the state must refrain from using its coercive power to restrict discriminatory speech by private groups, but ought to use its "expressive" power, including the denial of non-profit status, to "criticize" groups that discriminate, in both their conduct and, in some cases, their speech. (For instance, he thinks Westboro Baptist Church should be denied tax-exempt status.).

We will be seeing some very different points of view this afternoon. More later.

Posted by Paul Horwitz on October 14, 2011 at 12:26 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink

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