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“The Transformation of Politicised Religion: From Zealots into Leaders” (Elsenhans et al., eds.)

Last month, Ashgate Publishing released “The Transformation of Politicised Religion: From Zealots into Leaders” edited by Harmut Elsenhans (University of Leipzig, Germany), Rachid Ouaissa (Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany), Sebastian Schwecke (University of Göttingen, Germany), and Mary Ann Tétreault (Trinity University, USA). The publisher’s description follows:

Including contributions from leading scholars from Algeria, France, Germany, India and the United States this book traces the rise and turn to moderation of the New Cultural Identitarian Political Movements, often labelled in the West as fundamentalists. Arguing that culturally based ideologies are often the instruments, rather than the motivating force though which segments of a rising middle strata challenge entrenched elites the expert contributors trace the rise of these movements to changes in their respective countries’ political economy and class structures. This approach explains why, as a result of an ongoing contestation and recreation of bourgeois values, the more powerful of these movements then tend towards moderation. As Western countries realise the need to engage with the more moderate wings of fundamentalist political groups their rationale and aims become of increasing importance and so academics, decision-makers and business people interested in South Asia and the Muslim world will find this an invaluable account.

Movsesian Review of “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms”

The Library of Law and Liberty has posted my review of Gerard Russell’s Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, a new book on Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. Russell describes the history and present circumstances of these groups, including their struggle to emigrate and find new homes in places like the United States:

Will these communities survive in their new environments? Russell hopes so. He describes some touching examples of endurance, like the time he heard a clerk speaking Aramaic in a supermarket in suburban Detroit. But he wonders how long it can last. For all its great achievements, America has a way of destroying traditional identities, and it’s difficult to maintain one’s distinctive customs for very long. He wonders whether escape to the West isn’t “a back-loaded contract for immigrant communities—get the benefit of prosperity now, pay the loss of identity later.” Still, it beats annihilation, which is what threatens these groups at home.

You can read the whole review here.

Around the Web This Week

Some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week:

CLR Participates in International Moot Court in Venice

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Posing a Question in Venice

As regular readers know, I’ve spent this week at a terrific new program at the Fondazione Marcianum in Venice, an international moot court competition on law and religion. The Marcianum gathered law student teams from the US and Europe to argue a hypothetical case before two courts, the European Court of Human Rights and the US Supreme Court. Along with Notre Dame’s Bill Kelley and Judge (and CLR Board member) Richard Sullivan of the SDNY, I served as a judge on the American court. That’s us, in action, above. Mark Hill of Cardiff University, Renata Uitz of Central European University, and Louis-Leon Christians of Catholic University of Louvain made up the European side. Both courts were ably assisted by PhD students from the Marcianum, who served as our shadow clerks, helping us with research and the development of our ideas.

The case was a very topical one. A private, family owned firm had dismissed an employee for making a negative comment about creationism, in violation of the business’s code of conduct, which prohibited anti-religious statements. In the European version, the domestic courts ruled in favor of the firm, and the employee brought a claim under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the American version, the employee sued for employment discrimination, arguing that he had been dismissed on account of his religious views; the employer maintained that, even if Title VII applied, RFRA allowed for an accommodation in these circumstances.

Lots of issues here, and the student teams did a remarkable job addressing them. Special credit goes to the two Italian teams, from the Universities of Milan and Macerata,who had to learn an entirely new legal system and argue in a foreign language. In the end, our panel gave the 500 euro award for best team to the entrants from Emory Law School. They did their school, and especially Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion, proud. On the European side, the award went to the team from Inner Temple.

This was an absolutely wonderful event. It was a lot of work for the students and the judges (not that I’m complaining!), but extremely valuable and tremendous fun. I imagine the most valuable aspect, for the students, was learning how another legal system would handle these issues. The Americans were struck by the argument style in the European Court — 30 minutes of presentation followed by five minutes to answer questions from the bench — and the Europeans were surprised at the more assertive, freewheeling style of argument in an American court. But they adjusted very well.

I hope the Marcianum continues this event. Law and religion has gone global, and comparative law is an increasingly important component of a legal education on both sides of the Atlantic. I’ll write more when I return to NY, but, for now, a very warm thank you to the Marcianum for hosting this event, and especially to Professor Andrea Pin, who invited me and had a major role in the entire enterprise. And thanks to the readers of our blog who stopped by to say hello!

Holt v. Hobbs Podcast

Mark and I have recorded a podcast on this week’s Supreme Court decision in Holt v. Hobbs, the prison beard case. We discuss the facts, the holding, and broader implications for RFRA and religious liberty.

 

Pope Francis on Charlie Hebdo: Not WEIRD

pope 2On a plane home from the Philippines yesterday, Pope Francis clarified remarks he made last week, on a plane to the Philippines, about the Charlie Hebdo massacre. (These papal plane trips are really good copy. The Vatican press corps must fight over passes). In last week’s remarks, while condemning the Paris murders, the Pope also cautioned against disparaging people’s religion in a way that leads, quite naturally, to a violent response. In a widely quoted remark, the Pope said that even a friend could expect a punch in the nose if he “says a swear word against my mother.”  That, the Pope said, is “normal.”

I was struck by the different reactions people I know had to the Pope’s remarks. Some Eastern Christians, who have more reason than most to resent Islamist brutality, told me the Pope was correct. The Paris massacre was horrible, but the magazine should have shown more respect for religious belief, Muslim and Christian. Most of my American friends, by contrast, thought the Pope was wrong. And many in the Western media, on both the left and right, quickly denounced his remarks. Was Pope Francis advocating censorship? Was he signaling a tacit alliance with Muslims to fight the Enlightenment and insulate religion from criticism?

Yesterday, the Pope explained his meaning. According to CBS News:

Pope Francis said he wasn’t justifying violence when he said a friend who had cursed his mother could “expect a punch” in return. Rather, he says he was only expressing a very human response to a provocation, and that greater prudence would have avoided such offense.… Francis said: “In theory we can say a violent reaction to an offense or provocation isn’t a good thing … In theory we can say that we have the freedom to express ourselves. But we are human. And there is prudence, which is a virtue of human coexistence.”

In other words, the Pope was not excusing the Paris murders or saying that religions can’t be criticized. He was making the rather sensible observation that people react badly when you insult their religion and that wisdom, not to mention civility, counsels a certain restraint. You have the legal right to say whatever you want, but why say whatever you want?

The example the Pope gave is suggestive. Most people have a special respect for their mothers. Other people’s mothers are not beyond criticism, of course, but there are limits to what you can say about them. This explains why the worst schoolyard curse–it used to be, anyway; based on what I hear on the sidewalks of New York, it isn’t any longer–involves someone else’s mother.

In most of the world, people view religion the same way, as a matter deserving special respect. It’s the so-called WEIRD societies–Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich and Democratic–that fail to do so. In WEIRD societies, individual rights, including the right to express oneself, have priority. (At least when it comes to insulting religion; other subjects, significantly, are off-limits). Autonomy, not divinity, is the key value; insults to religion have less moral valence than restrictions on liberty. These are generalizations, but social science research supports them and they seem intuitively correct. In fact, according to psychologist Jonathan Haidt, whose book on the subject, The Righteous Mind, is well worth the read, America is the WEIRDest society in the world, and America’s educated upper-middle class, the sort of people who make up our editorial pages, is the WEIRDest group in America. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Western media would find the Pope’s remarks incomprehensible.

The murders at Charlie Hebdo were not justified, and we oughtn’t surrender our values to placate Islamists. But it’s worth remembering that much of the world, not only Islamists, sees things rather differently from us.

“‘Settling the Peace of the Church': 1662 Revisited” (Keeble, ed.)

In December, Oxford University Press will release “‘Settling the Peace of the Church': 1662 Revisited”  edited by N. H. Keeble (University of Stirling). The publisher’s description follows:

The 1662 Act of Uniformity and the consequent “ejections” on August 24 (St. Bartholomew’s Day) of those who refused to comply with its stringent conditions comprise perhaps the single most significant episode in post-Reformation English religious history. Intended, in its own words, “to settle the peace of the church” by banishing dissent and outlawing Puritan opinion it instead led to penal religious legislation and persecution, vituperative controversy, and repeated attempts to diversify the religious life of the nation until, with the Toleration Act of 1689, its aspiration was finally abandoned and the freedom of the individual conscience and the right to dissent were, within limits, legally recognised. Bartholomew Day was hence, unintentionally but momentously, the first step towards today’s pluralist and multicultural society.

This volume brings together nine original essays which on the basis of new research examine afresh the nature and occasion of the Act, its repercussions and consequences and the competing ways in which its effects were shaped in public memory. A substantial introduction sets out the historical context. The result is an interdisciplinary volume which avoids partisanship to engage with episcopalian, nonconformist, and separatist perspectives; it understands “English” history as part of “British” history, taking in the Scottish and Irish experience; it recognises the importance of European and transatlantic relations by including the Netherlands and New England in its scope; and it engages with literary history in its discussions of the memorialisation of these events in autobiography, memoirs, and historiography. This collection constitutes the most wide-ranging and sustained discussion of this episode for fifty years.

Around the Web this Week

Some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week:

The Obama Effect?

President_Barack_ObamaIn The American Interest this week, sociologist Peter Berger has a provocative essay on the controversy over the City of Houston’s demand for sermons several pastors have delivered on the topics of homosexuality and gender identity. Berger says the roots of the controversy lie in the Obama Administration’s disregard for religion. He makes a powerful point, but I wonder whether he overstates things.

The City of Houston’s demand came in the form of subpoenas in a lawsuit over a petition to repeal a city anti-discrimination ordinance. As I explained in an earlier post, the city’s demand was outrageous, even given the freewheeling standards of American litigation, and the city has in fact narrowed its request. Some smart observers think this “narrowing” is just a publicity stunt. In my opinion, the new subpoenas, which ask only for communications that relate to the petition and ordinance themselves, stand a better chance of surviving. We’ll see how the court rules.

But leave aside that narrow, procedural matter for now. Here’s a more important question. Why did the city issue the offensive subpoenas in the first place? America has a long tradition of respecting religion, and the idea that government would demand to know what pastors were saying in their own churches should have set off all kinds of alarms. We don’t do that sort of thing in our country.

Berger says the episode reflects America’s decreasing regard for religion and religious believers. And he lays the blame largely at the door of the Obama Administration:

This episode in the heart of the Bible Belt can be placed, first, in the national context of the Obama presidency, and then in a broad international context and its odd linkage of homosexuality and religious freedom. I’m not sure whether President Obama still has a “bully pulpit”; at this moment even close political allies of his don’t want to listen to his sermons, if they don’t flee from the congregation altogether. All the same, every presidency creates an institutional culture, which trickles down all the way to city halls in the provinces. This administration has shown itself remarkably tone-deaf regarding religion. This was sharply illuminated at the launching of Obamacare, when the administration was actually surprised to discover that Catholics (strange to say!) actually care about contraception and abortion. Eric Holder’s Department of Justice has repeatedly demonstrated that it cares less about religious freedom as against its version of civil rights. Perhaps one reason for the widespread failure to perceive this attitude toward the First Amendment is that Barack Obama is seen through the lens of race–“the first black president”. I think a better vision comes through the lens of class–“the first New Class president”–put differently, the first president, at least since Woodrow Wilson, whose view of the world has been shaped by the culture of elite academia. This is evident across the spectrum of policy issues, but notably so on issues involving gender and religion.

Now, there’s much in what Berger says. The Obama Administration has shown little enthusiasm for religious freedom. True, the Administration  intervened recently to protect a prison inmate’s right to wear a 1/4-inch beard for religious reasons. But in the two major religious freedom cases of its tenure, Hobby Lobby and Hosanna-Tabor, the Administration created obstacles for religious freedom in needlessly inflammatory ways. It insisted on the Contraception Mandate, even though it knew the mandate would gravely trouble some Christians and even though alternatives existed that could have given the Administration most of what it wanted. It accepted compromise only grudgingly and litigated the case to the bitter end. And in Hosanna-Tabor, the Administration argued that the Religion Clauses had nothing at all to do with a church’s decision to select its own minister–a position a unanimous Supreme Court rejected as “remarkable.”

Still, when it comes to a declining respect for religion in America, I’m not sure the Administration is a cause so much as an effect. Perhaps its actions reflect a broader cultural shift to secularism. Most likely, there is mutual reinforcement. A growing cultural secularism, embodied, for political purposes, in the Democratic Party, contributed to the President’s election; and the President’s election in turn has contributed to a growing secularism. This growing secularism leads many people to view religion–traditional religion, anyway–with antipathy. And that antipathy leads to things like the Houston subpoenas. It’s a vicious circle–or virtuous one, I suppose, depending on your view of things.

Also, it’s not clear things are so bad for traditional religion now, or that they were so good before. As Yuval Levin wrote recently in First Things, religious conservatives seem to have overestimated their cultural ascendancy during the Bush Administration–so did their opponents, as I recall; remember those cartoon maps of “Jesus Land”? –and may underestimate their influence today. According to a recent Pew survey, almost 50% of Americans think churches and houses of worship should express their views on political and social issues, an increase of six percent since 2010. Three-quarters of the public think religion’s influence in our national life is declining–and most of those people think it’s a bad thing. If anything, the Obama Administration seems to be contributing to a pro-religion backlash.

Well, these are complicated issues. Berger’s essay is very worthwhile. You can read the whole thing here.

Al-Jabri, “Democracy, Human Rights and Law in Islamic Thought”

This November, I.B. Tauris Publishers will release “Democracy, Human Rights and Law in Islamic Thought” by Mohammed Abed Al-Jabri (Mohammed V University, Morocco).  The publisher’s description follows:

9781780766508Mohammad Abed al-Jabri is one of the most influential political philosophers in the contemporary Middle East. A critical rationalist in the tradition of Avincenna and Averroes, he emphasizes the distinctive political and cultural heritage of the Arab world whilst rejecting the philosophical discourses that have been used to obscure its democratic deficit. This volume introduces an English-language audience for the first time to writings that have had a major impact on Arab political thought. Wide-ranging in scope yet focused in detail, these essays interrogate concepts such as democracy, law, and human rights, looking at how they have been applied in the history of the Arab world, and show that they are determined by political and social context, not by Islamic doctrine. Jabri argues that in order to develop democratic societies in which human rights are respected, the Arab world cannot simply rely on old texts and traditions. Nor can it import democratic models from the West. Instead, he says, a new tradition will have to be forged by today’s Arabs themselves, on their own terms.