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Recasting Religious Freedom: Is Conservative Jurisprudence Backing into Relativism?

562 Dirksen Senate Office Building
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Hadley Arkes has been a member of the Amherst College faculty since 1966, and since 1987 he has been the Edward Ney Professor of Jurisprudence. Since 2016, he has assumed emeritus status. He has written five books with Princeton University Press: Bureaucracy, the Marshall Plan and the National Interest (1972), The Philosopher in the City (1981), First Things (1986), Beyond the Constitution (1990), and The Return of George Sutherland (1994). But his most recent books have been with Cambridge University Press, including Natural Rights and the Right to Choose (2002), and Constitutional Illusions and Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law (2010). His articles have appeared in professional journals, but apart from his writing in more scholarly formats, he has become known to a wider audience through his writings in the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, and National Review. He has been a contributor also to First Things, a journal that took its name from his book of that title. For eight years he wrote a column for Crisis magazine under the title of "Lifewatch" and he has carried over that concern as one of the band of friends who formed the new web journal The Catholic Thing.

He was the main advocate, and architect, of the bill that became known as the Born-Alive Infants’ Protection Act. The account of his experience, in moving the bill through Congress, is contained as an epilogue or memoir in his book, Natural Rights & the Right to Choose. Arkes first prepared his proposal as part of the debating kit assembled for the first George Bush in 1988. The purpose of that proposal was to offer the “most modest first step” of all in legislating on abortion, and opening a conversation even with people who called themselves “pro-choice.” Professor Arkes proposed to begin simply by preserving the life of a child who survived an abortion–contrary to the holding of one federal judge, that such a child was not protected by the laws. Professor Arkes led the testimony on the bill before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House in July 2000, then again in July 2001. The legislative calendar was upended in the aftermath of September 11th, but in March 2002, the bill was brought to the floor of the House, where it passed unanimously. To the surprise of Professor Arkes, the bill was brought to the floor of the Senate on July 18 by the Deputy Majority Leader, Harry Reid, and passed in the same way. On August 5, President Bush signed the bill into law with Professor Arkes in attendance.

Professor Arkes has been the founder, at Amherst, of the Committee for the American Founding, a group of alumni and students seeking to preserve, at Amherst, the doctrines of “natural rights” taught by the American Founders and Lincoln. That interest has been carried over now to the founding of a new center for the jurisprudence of natural law, in Washington, D.C.: the James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights and the American Founding, named for one of the premier minds among the American Founders.