Saturday, January 13, 2007

Diverse Meanings of "Religious Freedom" & "Religious Establishment"

People often speak as though the meanings of "religious freedom" and "religious establishment" were univocal. Yet, historically, there has been a range of meaning, encompassing a number of diverse institutional arrangements between church and state.

Here's the list I've come up with so far. These are "pure" types; actually existing arrangements can mix and match. Feel free to suggest additional types if my list isn't exhaustive.

● Civil officers can hold church positions (e.g., the king of England is the “head of the Church of England”). Civil officers can appoint church officials (the “investiture” controversy in the eleventh century).
● Church officials can exercise civil power. (Article 23 of the Augsburg Confession begins its discussion of “the power of bishops” talking about bishops exercising civil power. Think also of “bishoprics,” still exemplified in modern times by the power of the “bishop” in chess games.)
● Church officials can require that government implement given policies, on threat of excommunication or ecclesiastical discipline.
● The state can enforce doctrines and practices, and legally suppress disobedience or dissent. (Lots of examples historically, including the forced merger of Lutheran and Reformed churches that prompted the immigration that led to the forming of the LCMS. But also see the subscription list at the beginning of the Book of Concord.)
● The government provides tax support to authorized churches, but does not suppress dissent. (Massachusetts Constitution, 1780, which protects "freedom of conscience" while establishing tax support for churches.) The government requires the paying of the tithe to church officials.
● Government officials may be required to affirm certain religious beliefs. (In the past U.S. states have required office holders to affirm belief in the “Trinity,” “Protestant religion,” monotheism, etc.)
● Government constitutions or officers may affirm or acknowledge religious beliefs. (State constitutions that start with verbiage like, "Recognizing the blessings of the Almighty", Washington's addition of, “So help me God,” the Scottish Covenant, etc.)
● Laws may reflect the preferences of religious people (preferences that non-religious people may not share). (These preferences would nonetheless be based on natural reasoning, so this is different than laws that may reflect revealed, as opposed to natural, truth.)

The Confessions certainly reject the first two types of establishment, and just as clearly accepts the propriety of the last type of "establishment." I think that the other five types of establishment have been practiced by Lutherans at one time or another (a some have of these are arguably recognized, if not endorsed, by the Confessions). That does not necessarily mean that the logic of the Confessions endorses those practices. But I'm willing to entertain the possibility that the Confessions admit a wider variation in practice than does the U.S. Supreme Court's understanding of religious establishment.


Blogger CPA said...

Good post.

I've been trying to make this point for a long time -- it is amazing the degree to which some confessional Lutherans think the First Amendment must be in the Augusburg Confession somewhere. An illustration of the degree to which like a good Bible-believing Christian who hasn't read the Bible much, they believe that "the confessions are good" and that therefore "anything I think is good must be in the confessions."

There's another form as well. In the pre-1688 charter of the Massachusetts Bay colony, full citizenship (including voting rights) was extended to all those who were communing members of a recognized church, but only to them.

Also you might want to distinguish the idea of the requiring government officials to believe certain things and requiring to do certain things. I'm thinking of the test act which required each member of Parliament to publicly commune at a C of E altar at least once a year (the aim was to exclude Catholics.) Beliefs were much freer.

Another version is the idea that officials must take an oath (which excludes Quakers -- that's why the Constitution says "oath or affirmation" to not exclude them) -- but was also intended to exclude anyone who does not believe in a supernatural lawgiver and post-mortem judgment (otherwise you cannot trust them to not violate their oath.)

Another term is "confessional state" -- this is used for any state which establishes a specific doctrine as the state endorsed belief. So Britain before 1832 had an established church and was a confessional state, but after 1832 still had an established church, but was no longer a confessional state.

January 15, 2007 1:27 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I don't think I've heard of the "behavior" requirement before.

I'm aware of the "oath-as-implicit-confession-that-God-exists-and-he-judges" position -- this was an argument that the U.S. Constitution implicitly acknowledges God -- but, I don't know, I've never felt it particularly compelling. If you're an atheist, after all, it seems to me you'd have little compunction about taking an oath enforced by the judgment of a god you do not believe in.

"If I do not abide by this promise, may Thor strike me down."

But you're right, the claim does exist.

Finally, I meant "constitutional" confession to include the confessional state. The example I used was of the Scottish "national covenant."

There's a small denomination, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, they run Geneva College in PA, that until recently prohibited members from voting (or at least counseled against it) because the U.S. did not have a national covenant like Scotland did.

January 15, 2007 7:23 PM  

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