March 30, 2014: The Spirit of the Law: Religious Voices and the Constitution in Modern America

sbgordonThe Rothermel Foundation is pleased to welcome Dr. Sarah Barringer Gordon to New Bern to deliver the second 2014 Rothermel lecture.

A new constitutional world burst into American life in the mid-twentieth century. For the first time, the national constitution’s religion clauses were extended by the United States Supreme Court to all state and local governments. As energized religious individuals and groups probed the new boundaries between religion and government and claimed their sacred rights in court, a complex and evolving landscape of religion and law emerged.

Here is what Harvard University Press says about Dr. Gordon’s book, The Spirit of the Law:

Sarah Gordon tells the stories of passionate believers who turned to the law and the courts to facilitate a dazzling diversity of spiritual practice. Legal decisions revealed the exquisite difficulty of gauging where religion ends and government begins. Controversies over school prayer, public funding, religion in prison, same-sex marriage, and secular rituals roiled long-standing assumptions about religion in public life. The range and depth of such conflicts were remarkable—and ubiquitous.

Telling the story from the ground up, Gordon recovers religious practices and traditions that have generated compelling claims while transforming the law of religion. From isolated schoolchildren to outraged housewives and defiant prisoners, believers invoked legal protection while courts struggled to produce stable constitutional standards. In a field dominated by controversy, the vital connection between popular and legal constitutional understandings has sometimes been obscured. The Spirit of the Law explores this tumultuous constitutional world, demonstrating how religion and law have often seemed irreconcilable, even as they became deeply entwined in modern America.

Dr. Gordon is Arlin M. Adams Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania Law School. She is a widely recognized scholar and commentator on religion in American public life and the law of church and state. Her book, The Spirit of the Law: Religious Voices and the Constitution in Modern America (Harvard, 2010), explores the world of church and state in the 20th century. She is currently working on a third book, tentatively titled The Place of Faith, about religion and property across American national history. Dr.Gordon serves as co-editor of Studies in Legal History the book series of the American Society for Legal History, and is on the boards of the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation, and the McDowell-Hartman Foundation. In 2011 she received the University’s Lindback Award for distinguished teaching, and in 2004 and 2009 the Law School’s Robert A. Gorman Award for Teaching Excellence. In 2012, she was appointed a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.

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The Ethics of Drone Warfare

New Bern Sun-Journal
January 2, 2014

A philosophy scholar talks about the use of military drones and the potential for a “moral hazard” during the first Rothermel Foundation Lecture of 2014 on Sunday, Jan. 12.

John Kaag, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, is the guest speaker for the 2 p.m. lecture at First Presbyterian Church in New Bern.

His talk is entitled “The Ethics of Drone Warfare.”

Drone warfare has been hotly debated in the media, often on the grounds of strategy or international law, he said.

“Some of the easiest, most habitual things in life can be the most morally suspect. As modern warfare becomes increasingly automated and weaponry becomes increasingly precise, we face this unsettling fact with ever greater frequency,” he said in an advance email on his talk.

Recently, the moral consequences of drones warfare has been a point of discussion.

According to a Rothermel release, Kaag was among the first to focus on these consequences.

Some scholars have argued that the precision of drone use in targeted killing makes the employment of these devices not only morally permissible, but morally obligatory. Kaag argues against this position.

In his writings in the New York Times, Kaag argues that drones constitute what ethicists and economist have called a moral hazard, a situation in which individuals are willing to take morally suspect actions if they do not have to face the consequences of these actions.

According to the release, “The moral burden has always been placed on soldiers and commanders in warfare, but as battles are increasingly fought from remote positions, this burden cannot be shouldered with greater awareness and responsibility.”

Kaag has extended this point — focusing on the moral burden of U.S. citizens in regard to this type of warfare — arguing that the use of drones in signature strikes stands to undermine the democratic accountability of modern liberal democracies.

The Rothermel Foundation was originally funded by a bequest from Amel Rothermel of New Bern.

The endowment is administered as a fund of First Presbyterian Church of New Bern. The Foundation is governed by an ecumenical board of trustees, appointed by the Session of First Presbyterian Church in consultation with the ministers of congregations represented on the board.

Contributions to the endowment are accepted from the public.

The foundation has a board that includes members from First Presbyterian Church, Christ Episcopal Church, Temple B’Nai Sholem, Centenary United Methodist Church, Garber United Methodist Church, St. Andrew Lutheran Church, First Baptist Church and St. Paul Catholic Church.

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