I urge you to read this column by one Stanley Fish, in which our intrepid edumacator enters the ring, wrestles with ostrich, is distracted by passing bird, hums familiar tune, waves hello, pirhouettes, does double-take, bows, exits, pursued by bear. He's trying to talk about the proper spheres of church and state, but confounds himself by trying to "assimilate" everyone's argument without judgement or prejudice. Reading Fish as he reads public debate is a lot like watching a person try to jam a Betamax tape into a DVD player.
But the logic and force of Locke’s arguments depend upon his conceiving of religion as a private matter, as a relationship between one’s soul and one’s God, and therefore as a practice exercised in the church or synagogue or mosque rather than in the arena of political action. If, however, your religious beliefs take a more robust form than Locke’s and require that you labor to bring the world into conformity with God’s word and will, the Johnson amendment, or any other limitation on the free exercise of what you take to be your religious duty, will be seen as an unconstitutional interference by the state in the proper business of the church.His "conceiving." How about: insistence. Locke aside, the framers of the American government were explicit in laying out proscriptions on religious interference in political life, and the notion that the American state as it is constituted can't inquire into explicitly political activity within chuches because such inquiry violates the right to free exercise is casuistry of the highest order. I admire its audacity.
Fish has some severely crackpot notions about the nature of academic investigation:
For a moment I thought I could get clarity on this puzzle by assimilating it to my argument (in previous columns) about what is and is not appropriate behavior for college and university teachers. My position follows from the notion of the distinctiveness of tasks. If the point of academic inquiry is to interrogate diverse bodies of material with a view toward understanding their structure, history, intellectual affinities, etc., taking classroom time to make your students into good citizens or to improve their character or to move them in some political direction is a departure from that point and a blurring of the task’s distinctiveness. There is no limit, I contend, on the topics instructors can take up, but there is a limit on where they can take them. Instruction must stop at the water’s edge of politics and action in the world. Teaching isn’t preaching; the lectern should not be used as a pulpit.Fish's insistence on absolute and universal agnosticism toward all matters seems principally designed to forestall any possibility that he might have to offer a judgment and defend it on its merits. To his credit, he uses it successfully. The New York Times and Florida International University both pay him to hem and haw noncomittally on all manner of topics. The only principle he strenuously defends is his absolute right to say nothing at all. Must be exhausting.
I've often suggested that if American liberals were really serious about limiting the scope of private gun ownership, they'd try to amend the Constitution to clarify or alter the 2nd Amendment in that direction. Likewise, if the various and sundry faithful in America wish to blend religion and politics in order to "labor to bring the world into conformity with God’s word and will," then they could address the 1st Amendment. The sacrosanctity of the Constitution and Bill of Rights is an invention of the second half of the 20th Century. No document that so plainly lays out the proper procedure for its own alteration can be realistically construed as fixed. It's not the Torah.
Extra special bonus points to Fish, though, for avoiding a pebble on the road by driving off the cliff:
The bottom line is that there is no rational or principled or constitutional resolution to this conflict. The resolution, if there is one, will have to be political.The insistence that rationality, principle, and the Constitution exist totally outside the realm of the political is tellingly absurd. Of course the resolution is political: it's a question about religion and politics. It's being adjudicated by the courts . . . unless Diamond J. himself descends again to rule on the matter by decree, and even then it would be a decree about politics. It's a purely political conflict within a purely political arena, and Fish's dogged insistence that this both is and is not so doesn't make him a dispassionate, objective scholar in a universe of pure form and reason, illuminating "structure, history, intellectual affinities, etc." It makes him a jackass.