Tag Archives: Religious Freedom

“Religious Education and the Challenge of Pluralism” (Seligman ed.)

This October, Oxford University Press will release “Religious Education and the Challenge of Pluralism” edited by Adam B. Seligman (Boston University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religious Education and the Challenge of PluralismThe essays in this volume offer a groundbreaking comparative analysis of religious education, and state policies towards religious education in seven different countries and in the European Union as a whole. They pose a crucial question: can religious education contribute to a shared public sphere and foster solidarity across different ethnic and religious communities?

In many traditional societies and even in what are largely secular European societies, our place in creation, the meaning of good and evil, and the definition of the good life, virtue, and moral action, are all primarily addressed in religious terms. It is in fact hard to come to grips with these issues without recourse to religious language, traditions, and frames of reference. Yet, religious languages and identities divide as much as unite, and provide a site of contestation and strife as much as a sense of peace and belonging Not surprisingly, different countries approach religious education in dramatically different ways. Religious Education and the Challenge of Pluralism addresses a pervasive problem: how can religious education provide a framework of meaning, replete with its language of inclusion and community, without at the same time drawing borders and so excluding certain individuals and communities from its terms of collective membership and belonging?

The authors offer in-depth analysis of such pluralistic countries as Bulgaria, Israel, Malaysia, and Turkey, as well as Cyprus – a country split along lines of ethno-religious difference. They also examine the connection between religious education and the terms of citizenship in the EU, France, and the USA, illuminating the challenges of educating our citizenry in an age of religious resurgence and global politics.

Trigg, “Religious Diversity”

This past June, Cambridge University Press released “Religious Diversity: Philosophical and Religious Dimensions” by Roger Trigg (University of Oxford).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religious DiversityShould we merely celebrate diversity in the sphere of religion? What of the social cohesion of a country? There is a constant tug between belief in religious truth and the need for respect for other religions. Religious Diversity: Philosophical and Political Dimensions examines how far a firm faith can allow for toleration of difference and respect the need for religious freedom. It elucidates the philosophical credentials of different approaches to truth in religion, ranging from a dogmatic fundamentalism to a pluralism that shades into relativism. Must we resort to a secularism that treats all religion as a personal and private matter, with nothing to contribute to discussions about the common good? How should law approach the issue of religious freedom? Introducing the relevance of central discussions in modern philosophy of religion, the book goes on to examine the political implications of increasing religious diversity in a democracy.

Annicchino on Religious Freedom as a (Non-)Priority in Italy and the EU

Our friend and former guest blogger Pasquale Annicchino (European University Institute) has a strong column on the extent to which religious freedom has, and has not, been a priority for the Italian government and the European Union in general over the last decade or so. He criticizes what he describes as vague sloganeering and lack of action, particularly in the context of the many grave threats posed by ISIS. The column is in Italian, but here is a bit of the original with a quick and dirty translation:

Quello che avviene in queste ore era largamente prevedibile, non era forse evitabile. Sono anni che i principali centri di ricerca, tra tutti il Pew Forum, segnalano la crescita di discriminazioni e persecuzioni ai danni di diverse minoranze religiose in varie zone del mondo. La reazione rispetto a questi dati è stata spesso quella di fare spallucce, di dire che poi, effettivamente, niente di così grave stava succedendo. Il governo italiano, tramite l’azione del Ministero degli Esteri, ha provato negli ultimi anni ad interessarsi al tema della libertà religiosa nel contesto della sua politica estera ma i risultati sono stati praticamente nulli.

[What is happening in these moments was largely foreseeable, though perhaps not avoidable. For years, the principal research centers, foremost among them the Pew Forum, signaled the growth of discrimination and persecution of diverse religious minorities in various regions of the world. The reaction to this data was frequently that of shrugging, or of then saying that, effectively, nothing very serious was happening. The Italian government, through the actions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has tried in the last years to become interested in the subject of religious freedom in the context of its foreign policy but the results have been almost nothing.]

Sniderman et al., “Paradoxes of Liberal Democracy”

This month, Princeton University Press released “Paradoxes of Liberal Democracy: Islam, Western Europe and the Danish Cartoon Crisis” by Paul Sniderman (Stanford University), Michael Peterson, Rune Slothuus, and Rune Stubager (all from Aarhus University, Denmark).  The publisher’s description follows:

Paradoxes of Liberal DemocracyIn 2005, twelve cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, igniting a political firestorm over demands by some Muslims that the claims of their religious faith take precedence over freedom of expression. Given the explosive reaction from Middle Eastern governments, Muslim clerics, and some Danish politicians, the stage was set for a backlash against Muslims in Denmark. But no such backlash occurred.

Paradoxes of Liberal Democracy shows how the majority of ordinary Danish citizens provided a solid wall of support for the rights of their country’s growing Muslim minority, drawing a sharp distinction between Muslim immigrants and Islamic fundamentalists and supporting the civil rights of Muslim immigrants as fully as those of fellow Danes—for example, Christian fundamentalists. Building on randomized experiments conducted as part of large, nationally representative opinion surveys, Paradoxes of Liberal Democracy also demonstrates how the moral covenant underpinning the welfare state simultaneously promotes equal treatment for some Muslim immigrants and opens the door to discrimination against others.

Revealing the strength of Denmark’s commitment to democratic values, Paradoxes of Liberal Democracy underlines the challenges of inclusion but offers hope to those seeking to reconcile the secular values of liberal democracy and the religious faith of Muslim immigrants in Europe.

Conference: “Liberty and Justice for All” (October 2-5)

The Christian Legal Society will be hosting its national conference, “Liberty and Justice for All,” at the Boston Park Plaza on October 2-5:

Lawyers, law students, professors, judges and friends are invited to join us October 2-5 in Boston. We are excited that we will be hearing from great speakers like Professor Robert George, Dr. Russell Moore, Andy Crouch and John Stonestreet, as well as a wonderful religious liberty panel. And of course, we will continue to offer practical workshops and CLEs covering numerous areas of the law: from estate planning to running a Christian law firm to human trafficking to employment law and ethics, just to name a few.

Details are here

Is More Less? Or is More More?

The titular questions refer to the issue of the reduction in the strength and integrity of rights by the increase in their number and scope. The issue is: do you weaken rights by multiplying them and broadening them? Or instead, as the size and scope of government itself expands, is the concomitant expansion of rights (in number and coverage) necessary simply to keep pace?

The best defense of the view that more is less with respect to the First Amendment belongs to Philip Hamburger. Hamburger’s key claim is that as one expands the scope of the rights protected under the First Amendment, one weakens those rights inasmuch as the degree to which one conceives of them as something approaching inviolable (though never actually inviolable) decreases. Where the scope of rights is limited, it requires some really and truly compelling rival concern to overcome the right. But as the scope of the right increases, so too does the need to “balance” the right against rival interests.

That particular “more-is-less” claim depends on the scope given to a protected right. A related “more-is-less” claim focuses on the expansion of the number of protected rights. That’s the claim Steve Smith makes in a hot off the presses post at the Liberty Law blog (if you haven’t seen it, Steve is writing up a storm over there). Steve writes:

[S]uppose we relax our standards, and relax them again, and expand our thinking, and fine-tune our sensibilities and sensitivities, to the point that anything that any favored constituency really, really wants comes to be viewed as a “right.” In other words, we follow the path that the Warren Court– and, truth be told, the Burger Court, and to a significant extent the Rehnquist Court, and even in some respects the Roberts court– followed. Or we heed the prescriptions of political theorists and constitutional scholars to codify as “rights” all manner of privacy and dignitary and equality and self-fulfillment interests. Perhaps we use as a guide Martha Nussbaum’s list of essential human “capabilities” without which it is ostensibly impossible to be “truly” or “really human.” These would include things like the use of senses, imagination, and thought; bodily health; and bodily integrity (including “opportunities for sexual satisfaction”). Without “opportunities for sexual satisfaction,” your life is not “really human”; so surely you must have a right to such opportunities.

Under this impulse, rights would multiply like rabbits. But given some such vastly expanded inventory of rights, it will be impossible to give all of these rights…“compelling interest” protection. For one thing, government would thereby be effectively paralyzed, because just about anything government might do will run up against one of more of the newly articulated “rights.” For another, some of these diffuse rights are sure to conflict with others. For still another, government’s rights-oriented obligation now is not just to leave people alone in certain respects, but affirmatively to supply people with lots of desired things: and in a world of scarcity there is only so much that government can supply (or can mandate that employers, say, must supply)….

Now, to say that something is a right is basically to say that it should be taken into account, or given “weight,” in the balancing of competing interests that goes into the formulation and assessment of laws and government policies. Government should not infringe the “right”– unless, of course, there is some good reason to do so.

Though this is strictly speaking a claim about how the increasing number of rights weakens the protection of such rights, the connection to the issue of scope is evident. Take the RFRA rule that only those religious burdens that are “substantial” trigger the law’s protection. A religious burden isn’t enough. It has to be a really, really big, terrible burden. The more-is-less claim is that by broadening the scope of protection and increasing the number of things that we protect in the name of religious freedom, we’ve now got to have some mechanism to limit the kinds of claims that merit protection in the first place. So we superimpose the language of “substantiality” and we talk about the shifting of burdens and the balancing of interests because we’ve watered down the basic right so much that we don’t even really know what it is that counts as the right in the first place any longer.

But there is another side to the story. That side is admirably represented by John Inazu in this paper–More is More: Strengthening Free Exercise, Speech, and Association. John argues, to the contrary, that the thesis of “rights confinement” as giving strength to existing rights does not account for the ways in which cultural developments can affect the scope of rights. In the First Amendment context, some explanations for weakening of the right of religious freedom include decline in popular support for the right, the ideological cabining of the right (as, John argues, has happened to religious freedom but not to the freedom of speech), and (most importantly I believe) changing cultural views about what constitutes a government interest–that is, in what government ought to be interested in at all.

Here I want to note an overlapping position in the more-is-less and more-is-more views. They seem opposed. But I wonder. Both recognize that a major part of the difficulty is not the individual right in question and our feelings about it, but the expanding scope of what is deemed a concern of the state. Both, that is, locate the crux of the more/less debate in changing societal perspectives on the fundamental nature of government and its role in the lives of the citizen.

If that is true, let me offer a point of agreement with John Inazu, and then perhaps a point of difference. The point of agreement is that in a society in which the government takes on more and more of a place and a role in the life of the citizenry, the protection of rights becomes a zero sum game. More is more, because every inch gained is a gain for the right, and every inch lost is a gain for the state. The point of difference is that if this is so, then one should expect that with time it will begin to affect all rights, very much including the right of free speech. That is, the particular explanations for the more is more thesis that affect religious freedom (loss of the right’s prestige in popular sentiment) will eventually hit other freedoms too. That is because the key issue is not evolving cultural perceptions of the right’s strength and ambit, but evolving cultural perceptions of the strength and ambit of the state’s proper power.

My Review of Steve Smith’s Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom

I’ve got a review of Steve’s book over at The University Bookman. A bit from the beginning:

In legal scholarship, as in any literature, style matters as much as content. The subjects authors explore, their manners and patterns of thought, the metaphors and idioms they select, the grace with which they address the audience and carry it along—in sum, the personal qualities that emerge in the telling of the tale—are remembered long after the details of the argument have faded. Over the duration of a scholarly life, a writer constructs a personality. And as the relationship of author and reader matures across the years, the publication of a new piece is the occasion to look not so much for argumentative roundhouse punches that could have been thrown anywhere by anybody, as for an old friend.

This is the way I come to the work of Steven D. Smith, the most penetrating and thoughtful scholar of religious freedom of our generation, and that rare author in American legal academia whom it is a joy to read. His new book, The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom, represents a distinctively and recognizably Smith-esque contribution. His authorial method has always been primarily diagnostic: he describes the existing legal and historical landscape, and in so doing brings a particular critical perspective that generally runs more or less against the current. Toward the conclusion of his work, Smith often gestures toward several possible resolutions to the problems he has discussed, but they are rarely more than that: soft speculations, almost afterthoughts, about a few pathways out of the forest. But the heart of a Steve Smith book is in the careful exposition of a problem. He has cultivated this method over the years with consistent, wry panache to great effect—whether the subject is the healthful absence of a single theory of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, or the contemporary obsession with the value of equality, or the unsustainable claims about the “reason” that inheres in constitutional law and scholarship. Always, Smith offers an alternative historical and doctrinal description. Always, he hints suggestively at contrarian possibilities and ends. Always, the leitmotivs are skepticism and decline.

Some Notes on the Libertas Project’s Religious Freedom Workshop

I am just back from passing a wonderful few days of fellowship and reflection at the Libertas Project’s workshop on religious freedom, hosted by the gracious and erudite Michael Moreland at Villanova Law School and sponsored by the generous Templeton Foundation. Together with other MOJ denizens Kevin Walsh and Michael Scaperlanda, I had the pleasure of talking together with a terrific group of learned political theorists, historians, theologians, and law professors about various issues–old and new–concerning the historical trajectory and current condition of the right of religious freedom.

Zak Calo and I had the privilege of moderating the seven sessions of the workshop. And the three of us–Michael, Zak, and I–worked together to assemble a panoramic set of readings to direct the group’s attentions and reflections:

  • Chapters from Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation and Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God kicked things off
  • A historical session on Burke, the relationship of establishment and regimes of religious toleration, and the intellectual history of the maxim, “Christianity is part of the common law”
  • A session that included readings by Murray and Niebuhr set against United States v. Seeger
  • A session that considered Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Address, Micah Schwartzman’s article about the moral justifiability of religion’s special constitutional protection, and Town of Greece v. Galloway
  • And finally a few sessions devoted to Steve Smith’s recent book, The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom, with applications and speculations about various contemporary controversies

In all it was an extremely successful and productive event bringing together a broad range of disciplinary expertise and insight. I’ll have a bit more to say about some of the more particular subjects that interested me, but for now just want to congratulate Michael on organizing this excellent conference.

Shiffrin on Hobby Lobby

First Amendment scholar Steven Shiffrin has a typically thoughtful post on the Hobby Lobby decision. Part of what makes the post so good is that it follows from Steve’s own longstanding and (to me) persuasive criticisms of the extraordinary lengths to which we are prepared to recognize rights of free speech. Parenthetically, the last time I checked, Steve is not particularly well-known for his dyed-in-the-wool conservatism. But setting aside that rather tedious ideological point, it is quite striking to see the expansive interpretation of the rights of speech (whatever the source–constitutional or statutory) in conjunction with what critics of decisions like Hobby Lobby argue should be a narrowing of the rights of religious freedom. Steven goes through a few of the issues, but among the best parts of Steve’s post is the following:

I am puzzled by the selective tolerance of secular liberals. These liberals are prepared to protect speech involving depictions of animal cruelty, gruesomely violent video games sold to children, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress at military funerals. They would also agree that the state should not compel people to violate their conscience without substantial justification.

Although the Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby makes clear that none of the involved employees would be denied access to insurance coverage for contraceptives, most secular liberals would deny the freedom of religion claim….

Why protect those who traffic in depictions of the abuse of animals and the like, but not protect the conscience of conservative Christians?

Annicchino on the EU and Religious Freedom

Pasquale Annicchino (European University Institute) has posted an new paper on SSRN, Is the European Union Going Deep on Democracy and Religious Freedom. Here’s the abstract:

In recent years the European Union has begun to explicitly affirm a foreign policy role for freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). The initial reaction to this trend among many scholars and policy analysts has largely been that of caution—if not outright skepticism—regarding the practical import of the changes. However there are signs of continuing momentum. While the EU’s record thus far does not yet reflect a fully comprehensive strategy for integrating FoRB into its broader agenda for promoting deep democracy, it has been able to enlarge the role of FoRB in its external action on a step-by-step basis.