Justice Jackson on Religious Frauds, Easter Bunnies, and Judging
October 5, 2021 |
I was recently reminded of Justice Jackson's brilliant dissenting opinion in U.S. v. Ballard; it's much worth reading in its entirety (it's mostly about whether someone could be prosecuted for fraud in religious fundraising), but here's one passage:
I do not know what degree of skepticism or disbelief in a religious representation amounts to actionable fraud…. Some who profess belief in the Bible read literally what others read as allegory or metaphor, as they read Aesop's fables. Religious symbolism is even used by some with the same mental reservations one has in teaching of Santa Claus or Uncle Sam or Easter bunnies or dispassionate judges.
It is hard in matters so mystical to say how literally one is bound to believe the doctrine he teaches and even more difficult to say how far it is reliance upon a teacher's literal belief which induces followers to give him money…. When does less than full belief in a professed credo become actionable fraud if one is soliciting gifts or legacies? Such inquiries may discomfort orthodox as well as unconventional religious teachers, for even the most regular of them are sometimes accused of taking their orthodoxy with a grain of salt….