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IN HIS KEYNOTE ADDRESS at the Penn Journal of Constitutional Law’s Symposium on Law and Religion last February, Professor Howard Lesnick used a passage from the Gospel According to Luke to consider some of the ways in which differing approaches to religiously grounded obligations find parallels in our thinking about the law.
Lesnick, whose wide-ranging talk touched on many theological and legal theories in the Judeo-Christian tradition, was the opening speaker in a symposium that included, among many others, Penn professors Kermit Roosevelt and David Arthur Skeel as well as Marci Hamilton L’88 of the Cardozo School of Law.
Lesnick cited the “intra-religious dialogue” in Luke’s account of the lawyer who “stood up to test Jesus”, which includes the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The passage is “full of meaning,” Lesnick suggested, “for our understanding of religion, of law, of the relation between them, and of dialogue itself.”
“The spirit that is simply not interested in helping ‘sinners’ to become better people, which characterizes so many political initiatives today, is based on an understanding of the world that views the law as written on the hearts only of the elect, and the rest be damned,” said Lesnick, Penn’s Jefferson B. Fordham Professor of Law. “There is much in the religious tradition that manifests and legitimates such a view. There is, however, no less that reflects and supports a very different view.”
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