James K.A. Smith interview with Joan Lockwood O’Donovan in which she explains that the church’s public proclamation reminds society of the law—and grace—that transcends the state
James K.A. Smith interviews Joan Lockwood O’Donovan with a focus on the rule of law
Christian jurists, theologians, and ethicists have made monumental contributions to this burgeoning field of law and religion study that we have just loosely mapped. I would like to address briefly a few of the main challenges that
lie before Christian jurists and jurisprudence in this new century.
“Metaphors in law are to be narrowly watched,” Justice Benjamin Cardozo once warned, “for starting as devises to liberate thought, they end often by enslaving it.” So it has been with the metaphor of a wall of separation. This metaphor has held popular imagination so firmly that many of us have not noticed that separation of church and
state is no longer the law of the land. In a long series of cases over the past fifteen years, the Supreme Court has abandoned much of its earlier separationism, and reversed several of its harshest cases on point. The Court has upheld government policies that support the public access and activities.
During the past thirty years there has emerged in Europe a standard form of legal regulation of sexual conduct….which I shall call the “standard modern [European] position”…The standard modern European position has two limbs. On the one hand, the state is not authorized to, and does not, make it a punishable offence for adult consenting persons to engage, in private, in immoral sexual acts (for example, homosexual acts). On the other hand, states do have the authority to discourage say homosexual conduct and “”orientation” (ie overtly manifested active willingness to engage in homosexual conduct). And, typically, though not univerally, they do so.
Most citizens of this country and of other advanced western and westernizing nations approve of human rights, some more guardedly than others; and most perceive rights to belong to the moral, political and legal fabric of modern liberal democracy. By rights, I mean rights attributable to subjects, to persons, whether individual or collective ‘persons’. To suggest that rights, freedom, and democracy go together (as does the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which has been the template for subsequent generations of declarations) is a modern truism, which, like most truisms, is largely true. Less clearly perceived, I think, is the extent to which human rights and democracy are bound up with liberal economics and free-market capitalism.