Tag Archives: Religious Freedom

Notre Dame Law Review Symposium on Dignitatis Humanae (Nov. 5-6)

University_of_Notre_Dame_739399_i0Next month, Marc and I will both be presenting papers at a symposium on the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the Vatican II declaration on religious freedom. The symposium, sponsored by the Notre Dame Law Review, will take place in South Bend. In addition to Marc and myself, panelists include Thomas Berg of the University of St. Thomas School of Law, Paul Horwitz of the University of Alabama School of Law, Christopher Lund of Wayne State University Law School; Brett Scharffs of Brigham Young University Law School, Steven Smith of the University of San Diego School of Law, Anna Su of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, and Richard Garnett and Phillip Muñoz of Notre Dame Law School.  The panels will be moderated by Judge Richard Sullivan of the Southern District of New York. The Symposium will feature a keynote address from John H. Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America.

Further details are here. CLR Forum readers, please stop by and say hello!

Gamwell, “Religion Among We the People”

In November, SUNY Press will release “Religion Among We the People: Conversations on Democracy and the Divine Good” by Franklin I. Gamwell (University of Chicago). The publisher’s description follows:

Franklin I. Gamwell holds that democracy with religious freedom is dependent on metaphysical theism. Democratic politics can be neutral to all religious convictions only if its constitution establishes a full and free discourse about the ultimate terms of justice and their application to decisions of the state, and the divine good is the true ground of justice. Notably, Gamwell’s view challenges virtually all current accounts of democracy with religious freedom. This uncommon position emerges through a series of essays in which Gamwell engages a variety of conversation partners, including Thomas Jefferson, David Strauss, Abraham Lincoln, Jürgen Habermas, Alfred North Whitehead, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Iris Murdoch. Discussions of Jefferson, Lincoln, and the US Constitution illustrate the promise of neoclassical metaphysics as a context for interpreting US history. Gamwell then defends his metaphysics against both modern refusals of metaphysics and accounts of ultimate reality offered by Niebuhr and Murdoch.

Religious Freedom and the Supreme Court: A Conversation with Judge Richard Sullivan (Oct. 27)

220px-Richard_J._SullivanThe Center for Law and Religion invites you to join us for a conversation with United States District Judge Richard J. Sullivan (left) about current and potential issues before the U.S. Supreme Court involving religious freedom. Topics will include the ongoing contraception mandate litigation, conflicts between the rights of same-sex couples and rights of religious conscience, and the future of religious freedom in the United States. Light refreshments will be provided.

The event will take place on  Tuesday, October 27, 2015, from 6-8 p.m., at the offices of Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett,  425 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10017. It will be hosted by Mary Kay Vyskocil, St. John’s Law Class of ’83. The event is free, but space is limited and advance registration is required. To attend, please RSVP to Jean Nolan at 718-990-8059 or nolanj@stjohns.edu by October 21, 2015.

Mahmood, “Religious Difference in a Secular Age”

In November, Princeton University Press will release “Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report” by Saba Mahmood (University of California, Berkeley). The publisher’s description follows:

The plight of religious minorities in the Middle East is often attributed to the failure of secularism to take root in the region. Religious Difference in a Secular Age challenges this assessment by examining four cornerstones of secularism—political and civil equality, minority rights, religious freedom, and the legal separation of private and public domains.

Drawing on her extensive fieldwork in Egypt with Coptic Orthodox Christians and Bahais—religious minorities in a predominantly Muslim country—Saba Mahmood shows how modern secular governance has exacerbated religious tensions and inequalities rather than reduced them. Tracing the historical career of secular legal concepts in the colonial and postcolonial Middle East, she explores how contradictions at the very heart of political secularism have aggravated and amplified existing forms of Islamic hierarchy, bringing minority relations in Egypt to a new historical impasse. Through a close examination of Egyptian court cases and constitutional debates about minority rights, conflicts around family law, and controversies over freedom of expression, Mahmood invites us to reflect on the entwined histories of secularism in the Middle East and Europe.

A provocative work of scholarship, Religious Difference in a Secular Age challenges us to rethink the promise and limits of the secular ideal of religious equality.

Amirpur, “New Thinking in Islam”

This month, the University of Chicago Press releases “New Thinking in Islam: The Jihad for Democracy, Freedom and Women’s Rights,” by Katajun Amirpur (Hamburg University).  The publisher’s description follows: 

In Rethinking Islam, Katajun Amirpur argues that the West’s impression of Islam as a backward-looking faith, resistant to post-Enlightenment thinking, is misleading and—due to its effects on political discourse—damaging. Introducing readers to key thinkers and activists—such as Abu Zaid, a free-thinking Egyptian Qur’an scholar; Abdolkarim Soroush, an academic and former member of Khomeini’s Cultural Revolution Committee; and Amina Wadud, an American feminist who was the first woman to lead the faithful in Friday Prayer—Amirpur reveals a powerful yet lesser-known tradition of inquiry and dissent within Islam, one that is committed to democracy and human rights. By examining these and many other similar figures’ ideas, she reveals the many ways they reject fundamentalist assertions and instead call for a diversity of opinion, greater freedom, and equality of the sexes. 

“Freedom of Religion in the 21st Century” (Ziebertz and Ballin eds.)

In October, Brill will release “Freedom of Religion in the 21st Century: A Human Rights Perspective on the Relation Between Politics and Religion,” edited by Hans-Georg Ziebertz  (University of Würzburg) and Ernst Hirsch Ballin (Tillburg University). The publisher’s description follows: 

Freedom of religion consists of the right to practice, to manifest and to change one’s religion. The modern democratic state is neutral towards the variety of religions, but protects the right of citizens to practice their different religious beliefs. Recent history shows that a number of religious claims challenge the neutral state. This happens especially when secularity is rejected as the basis of the modern state. How can conflicting interpretations of the relation between religion and state be balanced in our world? This book reflects on conflicts that seem to be implied in the freedom of religion, on its causes and how they can be overcome.

Adrian, “Religious Freedom at Risk”

In October, Springer will release “Religious Freedom at Risk: The EU, French Schools, and Why the Veil Was Banned,” by Melanie Adrian (Carleton University). The publisher’s description follows:

This book examines matters of religious freedom in Europe, considers the work of the European Court of Human Rights in this area, explores issues of multiculturalism and secularism in France, of women in Islam, and of Muslims in the West. The work presents legal analysis and ethnographic fieldwork, focusing on concepts such as laïcité, submission, equality and the role of the state in public education, amongst others. Through this book, the reader can visit inside a French public school located in a low-income neighborhood just south of Paris and learn about the complex dynamics that led up to the passing of the 2004 law banning Muslim headscarves. The chapters bring to light the actors and cultures within the school that set the stage for the passing of the law and the political philosophy that supports it. School culture and philosophy are compared and contrasted to the thoughts and opinions of the teachers, administrators and students to gage how religious freedom and identity are understood. The book goes on to explore the issue of religious freedom at the European Court of Human Rights. The author argues that the right to religious freedom has been too narrowly understood and is being fenced in by static visions of Islam. This jeopardizes the idea of religious freedom more broadly. By becoming entangled with regional and domestic politics, the Court is neglecting important nuances and is jeopardizing secularism, pluralism and democracy. This is a highly readable and accessible book that will appeal to students and scholars of law, anthropology, religious studies and philosophy of religion.

Janssen, “Faith in Public Debate”

In April, Intersentia published “Faith in Public Debate: On Freedom of Expression, Hate Speech and Religion in France and The Netherlands,” by Esther Janssen (University of Amsterdam).  The publisher’s description follows: 

Should a politician be free to fiercely attack the religion of a sector of the population? Should he be allowed to strongly reject the culture of a
 particular minority group? Should religious adherents be allowed to advocate the transition from a democratic to a theocratic state? Should a satirical magazine be free to mock religious figures and practices? These sort of questions concern ‘the place of faith in public debate’ and continue to dominate public discussion that has been fuelled by a series of events, including the terrorist attacks in New York, Madrid and London; the assassination of Dutch film director Theo van Gogh; the affair of the Danish Cartoons; the prosecution of Dutch politician Geert Wilders for his statements on Islam and Muslims; and the terrorist attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

The overarching question triggered by these events concerns the relationship between freedom of expression and the regulation of ‘hate speech’; which forms of hate speech should the state prohibit, on what grounds and by which means? Notably, the restriction of hate speech uttered in the context of the public debate about multiculturalism, immigration, integration and Islam, and of religious fundamentalism has become a topic of lively discussion.

This research constitutes the first international comparative study that provides a profound analysis of the law on hate speech in France and the Netherlands and under European and international law. It thoroughly examines the national legislation, its drafting history, policy and other legal documents and case law including famous legal cases against Dutch politician Geert Wilders, French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen and le Front National, French comedian Dieudonné and satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. It also makes reference to the most recent international hate speech literature and discusses its key issues. This book can, thereby, form a source of inspiration for anyone interested or involved in the regulation of hate speech: academics; legislators; judges; prosecutors; politicians; interested citizens; and involved NGO’s and can contribute to the ‘faith in public debate’, by elucidating its possible boundaries.

Hurd, “Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion”

In September, Princeton University Press will release “Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion” by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (Northwestern University). The publisher’s description follows:

In recent years, North American and European nations have sought to legally remake religion in other countries through an unprecedented array of international initiatives. Policymakers have rallied around the notion that the fostering of religious freedom, interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and protections for religious minorities are the keys to combating persecution and discrimination. Beyond Religious Freedom persuasively argues that these initiatives create the very social tensions and divisions they are meant to overcome.

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd looks at three critical channels of state-sponsored intervention: international religious freedom advocacy, development assistance and nation building, and international law. She shows how these initiatives make religious difference a matter of law, resulting in a divide that favors forms of religion authorized by those in power and excludes other ways of being and belonging. In exploring the dizzying power dynamics and blurred boundaries that characterize relations between “expert religion,” “governed religion,” and “lived religion,” Hurd charts new territory in the study of religion in global politics.

Same-Sex Marriage and Our New Religious Politics


Photo from Wikimedia

In the last week, two interesting polls have appeared, one from the Associated Press and the other from the Washington Post, on Americans’ reactions to the Supreme Court’s June ruling in the same-sex marriage case, Obergefell v. Hodges. Taken together, the polls reveal that America is more divided on the question than first appeared. And the polls reflect an unfortunate, new religious dimension in American politics.

Notwithstanding the widespread acclaim for the decision in the days following Obergefell, it turns out that many Americans do not favor making same-sex marriage a constitutional right. In the AP poll, only 39% said they approved of the Court’s ruling, while 41% said they disapproved. In the Washington Post poll, a bare majority, 52%, said they approved the Court’s decision, while 44% disapproved. These results are much closer than one would have expected, given the immediate media reaction to the ruling.

Now, the fact that many Americans disapprove of the Court’s decision doesn’t mean the decision is wrong. Constitutional law doesn’t turn on opinion polls. (As it happens, I think the Court’s opinion is wrong as a constitutional matter, for reasons I explain here). And one must be careful about reading too much into polls, especially polls that follow an unusual recent event. In time, public opinion may settle in favor of the Court’s decision, especially given the fact that younger Americans apparently support same-sex marriage in significant numbers. Besides, people could disapprove of the Court’s decision for reasons that do not directly relate to the merits. Americans are generally in a bad mood about the state of our country these days, and the polls may simply reflect that dissatisfaction.

All that said, these polls seem significant to me, for three reasons. First, they demonstrate that opposition to the Court’s decision is not a fringe phenomenon. Forty-four percent of the country is not an insignificant group. Dissenters may be reticent about expressing their opinion publicly—or, indeed, to pollsters, which suggests the percentage of opponents may be even higher—but they are not a trivial proportion of the population. America is apparently still divided on the question of same-sex marriage, and this division will doubtless make itself apparent in our politics. More on this below.

Second, the results hint that some people who oppose the Court’s decision may do so out of concern for religious freedom. In the AP poll, for example, 56% said that religious liberty should take precedence over gay rights, the implication being that people anticipate a conflict between the two. They should. At oral argument in Obergefell, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli himself acknowledged the potential for conflict, on questions like tax exemptions for religiously-affiliated institutions that oppose same-sex marriage.

Finally, there is an unmistakable partisan divide. In the AP poll, a large majority of Democrats gave priority to gay rights, while a large majority of Republicans said religious freedom is more important. The extent of the divide is truly startling. “By a 64-32 margin, most Democrats said it’s more important to protect gay rights than religious liberties when the two are in conflict,” the AP reports. “Republicans said the opposite, by 82-17.”

This polarization is worrisome. Up till now, America has been spared the bitterness of religious politics. Unlike some countries in Europe, we have not had clerical and anti-clerical parties. True, particular religious groups have gravitated toward one or another political party. In New England, for example, Irish Catholics were historically Democrats and mainline Protestants Republicans, a conflict memorialized in films like John Ford’s The Last Hurrah.

But we have never had secular and religious parties as such. Both parties saw religion, in general, as a good thing, and religious liberty as a fundamental American value. Tocqueville noticed this and found it refreshing. “In the United States,” he observed, “if a politician attacks a sect, this may not prevent the partisans of that very sect from supporting him; but if he attacks all the sects together, everyone abandons him, and he remains alone.”

Perhaps the political consensus on the value of religion is breaking down. More and more, one of our two major political parties is identifying itself as secular, and the other as religious. That’s not to say that all Democrats are secularists and all Republicans religious believers—of course not. Just ask the folks at Secular Right. And people could value religious freedom but believe other interests outweigh it in particular cases. Still, there seems a clear trend: religious freedom is becoming a partisan issue. That’s a very bad thing for America. You might even say it’s un-American. Let’s hope the trend doesn’t continue.