Friday, July 4, 2014

How Religion Influences Justice

Justice, Psychology, and Religion Part 1

On the street, U.S. news watchers refer to June 30 2014 headlines and say, “Hobby Lobby won and women lost." As with many difficult cases, the decision was split 5-4 in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion and Justice Ginsburg wrote the dissenting opinion.

The decision stimulated much talk. Many social issues came to the fore- women’s rights, religious freedom, birth control, and religious beliefs held by owners of private companies.

The 5-4 split is not just a matter of reasoned opinion. 
The winners were joyful. There’s an anger driven reaction as well. Here’s a quote from the New York Times
“Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “Not so today.”
The court’s action, she added, even “undermines confidence in this institution.”

How religion affects justice.

I found a helpful summary of research linking a judge’s religion to decision-making. The article by Brian Bornstein and Monica Miller is available online.

The attitudes of the Supreme Court justices predicts which cases they select for review, who writes the majority opinion, and the outcome.

Conservative and Liberal Outcomes
Conservative vs. liberal beliefs are good predictors of how Supreme Court Justices vote in matters of criminal defendants or prisoner rights.

Stuart Nagel (1964 & 1969) analyzed decisions by 313 judges in 1955 and found that Catholic judges were more liberal than Protestant Judges in several types of cases-- for example divorce settlements and employee injury.

Sheldon Goldman (1966 & 1975) also found Catholic judges to be more liberal in some types of cases than were Protestant judges. It appears to have been better to have a Catholic judge if you were injured or suffered economic harm.

When it comes to LGBT issues, Jewish judges were more liberal than were Protestant or Catholic judges for the years 1981-2000 (Daniel Pinello, 2003).

Death, Sex, Obscenity and Religion
Decisions about death penalty, gender discrimination, and obscenity were analyzed by Songer and Tabrizi.

Evangelical judges were more conservative than were Jewish and Protestant judges. 

The likelihood of support for the death penalty, gender discrimination, and restricted speech was higher for Evangelical judges. Jewish judges were more liberal. Judges associated with mainline Protestant groups were liberal in death penalty and obscenity cases. Catholic judges were conservative in matters of obscenity, liberal on gender discrimination decisions, but middle of the road on death penalty cases.

Religious Freedom
Barbara Yarnold studied 1,356 cases between 1970 and 1990. All judges supported religion but Catholic and Baptist judges were the most pro-religious.

In a study of 729 cases by Gregory Sisk (2004) and others, religion had the greatest influence on judicial decision-making.


Religion is often bound up with matters of morality and justice.
            Religious and nonreligious persons do well to understand the religious beliefs of decision makers.

The religious beliefs of judges often predict how they will vote.

Men often decide what happens to women. 
Gender matters- no woman on the U.S. Supreme Court supported the majority decision. (There are three female justices on the U.S. Supreme Court).
Highly intelligent people disagree on the right course of action.

Intelligence is a necessary but not a sufficient basis for making a moral judgment.

Reason can lead to right and wrong outcomes in matters of morality and justice.
Logical reasoning is only a tool, which can be used for good or evil.

The lives of millions of people can be affected by the decision of one person.

For the empirical studies cited in this post, see the Bornstein and Miller article, Does a Judge’s Religion Influence Decision Making? Published in Court Review Volume 45.

For a summary of the influence of conservative Christian values on U.S. Law, see the recent summary by Brad Reid
Reid, B. (2012). An Overview of Conservative Christian Religious Cultural Norms and U.S. Law. Culture & Religion Review Journal, 2, 1-18.

Link to the slip opinion on the Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby case.

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