Christianity and Crimes Against the State
Christianity and the Criminal Law, eds. Norman Doe, Dick Helmholz, Mark Hill, & John Witte, Jr. (London: Routledge), Forthcoming
19 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2020 Last revised: 26 Jan 2020
Date Written: December 10, 2019
This chapter explores Christianity’s influence on the scope and limits of “crimes against the state,” understood as criminal conduct that amounts to political disloyalty, threats to the constitutional order, or interference with law enforcement. The chapter argues that early Christianity, as reflected in the New Testament and other early Christian and Roman writings, entailed an ambiguity about secular government. On the one hand, Christians were to “give unto Caesar” what belonged to him. On the other, they were to “obey God rather than men.” As Christians came to political power, they relied on New Testament norms alternately to increase and to limit the claims of the secular government’s power. Christians have therefore used the coercive power of the state to enforce their view of Christianity, thereby increasing the number and scope of crimes against the state. Yet Christians have also pushed for limits on the power of the secular government in the form of structural restraints or, more recently, constitutional rights — limits that benefit everyone. The chapter considers Henry VIII’s use of treason to enforce his politico-religious regime and the landmark decisions in Bushell’s Case (1670) and West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943).
Keywords: criminal law, constitutional law, Christianity, legal history, First Amendment
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