Tag Archives: Religious Freedom

Schindler & Healy, “Freedom, Truth and Human Dignity”

The concept of human dignity features prominently in international human ResizeImageHandlerrights law, including the law on religious freedom. The word bears many different meanings, though, which is one reason why human rights law is so complicated and varied.

One famous attempt to justify religious freedom in terms of human dignity is contained in the Vatican II document, Dignitatis Humane. In July, Eerdman’s will release a new book on the subject, Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity: The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, by David L. Schindler (Gonzaga) and Nicholas J. Healy (Catholic University of America). The publisher’s description follows:

Pope Paul VI characterized the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom —Dignitatis Humanae — as one of the greatest documents of Vatican II. It is also perhaps the most intensely debated document of the Council; both the drafting of the Declaration of Religious Freedom and its reception have been marked by deep disagreements about what this teaching means for the Church.

In this book David Schindler and Nicholas Healy promote a deeper understanding of this important document. In addition to presenting a new translation of the approved text of the Declaration,Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity makes available for the first time in English the five drafts of the document that were presented to the Council bishops leading up to the final version. The book also includes an original interpretive essay on Dignitatis Humanae by Schindler and an essay on the genesis and redaction history of the text by Healy.

Fewer Christians, More Nones

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Image from Patheos

That’s the takeaway from the latest Pew survey of American religion, released with great fanfare this week. The percentage of Americans who describe themselves as Christians has dropped sharply, by nearly eight percent since the last analogous Pew survey, in 2007. Most of the decline comes from mainline Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church. The percentage of Americans who call themselves Evangelicals has stayed roughly the same.

A corresponding increase has occurred in the number of Americans who say they are religiously unaffiliated–the so-called “Nones.” In the 2007 survey, roughly 16% of Americans described themselves as unaffiliated. Now it’s about 23%, a seven percent rise. When one looks at younger Americans, the numbers are even more stark. More than one-third of Millennials say they are religiously unaffiliated. The younger Americans are, the more they have checked out of religious institutions.

Some argue that surveys like Pew’s overstate the percentage of American Nones, and I’m curious what sociologists will say about these numbers. But the trend is clear, at least for the moment. A significant and growing percentage of Americans are detaching from organized religion, especially from the historically important mainline churches. A minority of American Nones–a growing number, according to Pew–describe themselves as atheists or agnostics. But the majority of Nones do not have problems with belief as such. They reject, or are at least indifferent to, the claims of organized religion. They are the so-called “spiritual but not religious,” or, perhaps “religious indifferents.”

A few quick observations. First, it seems unlikely that these new Nones have had sudden, reverse-Damascus Road experiences in the last several years. I suspect many of the new Nones already had weak commitments to their religious institutions–or, in the case of Millennials, commitments that never really formed–and now have dropped out completely. Church membership confers less social status than it used to do–in some settings, it confers negative social status–and the marginal probably feel more comfortable cutting their ties completely. So the decline in genuine religious attachment is probably not as precipitous as the Pew numbers would suggest.

Second, one often hears that Christianity’s identification with conservatism explains the Nones. People, especially the Millennials, don’t care for conservatism, and so avoid conservative Christian churches. But it’s precisely the liberal churches that have experienced the greatest decline in the last several years. Plus, George W. Bush has been out of office for six years, during which time we have had a president who touts his liberal Christianity on many occasions. If it were just about politics, you would expect the liberal Christian churches to be gaining ground. But they’re falling further behind. Perhaps the association with conservatism is so profound and odious that people don’t want to be affiliated even with liberal Christian churches. Whatever the explanation, the political dynamic seems to be complicated.

Finally, it’s hard to see how the rise of the Nones is good for religious freedom. As people check out of organized religion, they are less likely to view it as important and worthy of protection. People with even marginal affiliations may still understand and endorse the importance of religious commitment. The fact that they affiliate at all shows that religion makes up at least some part of their identity. Once people cut their ties completely, however, they are much less likely to be sympathetic to religious communities. If the future of religious freedom depends on the ability of believers to persuade our fellow citizens that faith commitments deserve respect and protection, that task may well become more difficult in the years ahead.

Oxford Conference on Magna Carta (June 21-24)

The International Center for Law and Religion Studies and the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion will host the 2015 Oxford Conference next month. This year’s theme is “Magna Carta and Freedom of Religion or Belief.” Here’s a description:

The International Center for Law and Religion Studies, in cooperation with the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, is hosting its 2015 Oxford Conference, June 21-24, 2015, at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford. The event will begin with dinner on Sunday evening and continue with presentations on Monday addressing the conference theme, Magna Carta and Freedom of Religion or Belief. On Tuesday, participants will visit Runnymede and locations in London, with dinner at Inner Temple, featuring keynote speaker Rt Hon Lord Igor Judge. On Wednesday, all participants are invited to join, once again at St. Hugh’s College, in the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion Academy.

For further details, click here.

Routledge Handbook of Law and Religion (Ferrari, ed.)

In March, Routledge released its new Routledge Handbook of Law and Religion,rout edited by Silvio Ferrari (University of Milan). The publisher’s description follows:

The field of law and religion studies has undergone a profound transformation over the last thirty years, looking beyond traditional relationships between State and religious communities to include rights of religious liberty and the role of religion in the public space.

This handbook features new, specially commissioned papers by a range of eminent scholars that offer a comprehensive overview of the field of law and religion. The book takes on an interdisciplinary approach, drawing from anthropology, sociology, theology and political science in order to explore how laws and court decisions concerning religion contribute to the shape of the public space.

Key themes within the book include:

  1. Religions symbols in the public space;
  2. Religion and security;
  3. Freedom of religion and cultural rights;
  4. Defamation and hate speech;
  5. Gender, religion and law;

This advanced level reference work is essential reading for students, researchers and scholars of law and religion, as well as policy makers in the field.

Witte, “The Western Case for Monogamy Over Polygamy”

In May, Cambridge University Press will release “The Western Case for Monogamy Over Polygamy” by John Witte, Jr. (Emory University). The publisher’s description follows:

For more than 2,500 years, the Western tradition has embraced monogamous marriage as an essential institution for the flourishing of men and women, parents and children, society and the state. At the same time, polygamy has been considered a serious crime that harms wives and children, correlates with sundry other crimes and abuses, and threatens good citizenship and political stability. The West has thus long punished all manner of plural marriages and denounced the polygamous teachings of selected Jews, Muslims, Anabaptists, Mormons, and others. John Witte, Jr. carefully documents the Western case for monogamy over polygamy from antiquity until today. He analyzes the historical claims that polygamy is biblical, natural, and useful alongside modern claims that anti-polygamy laws violate personal and religious freedom. While giving the arguments pro and con a full hearing, Witte concludes that the Western historical case against polygamy remains compelling and urges Western nations to hold the line on monogamy.

Thomas More, Villain

Anton Lesser Thomas More

Anton Lesser as Thomas More in Wolf Hall (BBC)

When it comes to up-market historical fiction, nobody delivers like the Tudors. There’s so much entertainment value in that Renaissance dynasty: royalty; costumes; cool accents; lust and murder; political and religious intrigue; the works—plus enough history to make you feel virtuous for watching. In the 1930s, studios turned out films like The Private Life of Henry VIII and Fire over England, which, for my money, still has the best portrayal of Elizabeth on film, by the great British actress Flora Robson. In the 1960s, there was Anne of the Thousand Days. Forty years ago, PBS broadcast Elizabeth R and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. More recently, there was Showtime’s The Tudors. And now on PBS’s Masterpiece there is Wolf Hall, a BBC dramatization of Hilary Mantel’s 2009 novel.

All historical fiction involves anachronism, of course, and depictions of the Tudors often reveal more about contemporary issues than they do about the past. Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons portrayed Thomas More as a liberal dissenter from state ideology, a man committed to individual conscience and the rule of law. (In the 1960s, liberals identified with such people). Glenda Jackson’s 1971 portrayal made Elizabeth an icon for the rising feminist movement.

I was able to catch an episode of Wolf Hall on Sunday, and it seems to me the new series likewise reflects our current cultural moment. Maybe I spend too much time thinking about these things, but to me it is impossible to miss the allusions to current debates about rational government and religious belief. The message, for religious liberty, is not a congenial one.

Wolf Hall—which, incidentally, has great production values and wonderful performances, especially by Damian Lewis as Henry VIII—inverts the conventional portrayal of the Henrician Reformation. Most past film and television versions, even those sympathetic to Henry, show More as a kind of hero, a noble, if misguided, martyr for freedom of conscience. In Mantel’s version, by contrast, it’s Cromwell, the supporter of state orthodoxy and More’s tormentor, who is the hero. And More, the man who resisted the state from religious conviction, is the unalloyed villain.

Now, More was a more complicated figure than widely understood. Even saints have failings. He may have been, as Swift famously wrote, “a person of the greatest virtue this kingdom ever produced,” but, as chancellor, he persecuted Protestants and approved burning heretics at the stake. Mantel’s portrayal goes beyond offering a helpful corrective to the conventional wisdom, though. Her More is not deeper or truer to the historical record. He is simply evil, a nasty piece of work—cold, fanatical, and sadistic.

Mantel’s Cromwell, by contrast, is warm, self-effacing, and pragmatic, even wistful—a family man, though with a ruthless edge. As between him and More, he is easily the more reasonable. Religious enthusiasm is not for him; he is far too insightful and levelheaded. He is also more compassionate. When More tells him that torture is for the victim’s own good—the real More forcefully denied that he ever tortured anyone—Cromwell is aghast. Cromwell is far too tender-hearted to believe something like that. He cannot bear to see someone burned at the stake for heresy. More, we gather, would be delighted.

I know nothing about Mantel’s politics. Perhaps her choices in Wolf Hall are purely aesthetic. Maybe she set herself the artistic challenge of portraying Cromwell, one of British history’s great villains, in a favorable light. But I’m guessing she has an agenda. Increasingly, secular liberals are losing patience with claims for religious liberty, particularly from traditionalists who dissent from progressive orthodoxy. Only fanatics could object to progressive goals like the Contraception Mandate and same-sex marriage, they believe, and it’s wrong to accommodate such people. Accommodation encourages backward and malevolent attitudes that cause innocent people grave harm.

In its biased portrayal of More, British history’s great example of religious resistance to state orthodoxy, Wolf Hall is sending its audience a message: Don’t think this man was at all admirable. He was a dangerous head case. And, by extension, be careful of his analogues today, who continue to oppose religious fanaticism to tolerance, reason, and progress. Cromwell, and pragmatic people like him who protect us from the forces of reaction, are the real heroes.

It’s a powerful message, and one with increasing influence. Perhaps this explains why PBS is advertising Wolf Hall as “a historical drama for a modern audience.” The fact that this hatchet job on Thomas More appears in an impeccably well-done BBC production—surely the gold standard in upper middle class entertainment—shows how fast our culture is changing, and how much work defenders of religious liberty have before them.

Munoz, “Religious Liberty and the American Supreme Court: The Essential Cases and Documents, Updated Edition”

In March, Rowman & Littlefield released “Religious Liberty and the American Supreme Court: The Essential Cases and Documents, Updated Edition” by Vincent Phillip Munoz (University of Notre Dame). The publisher’s description follows:

Throughout American history, legal battles concerning the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty have been among the most contentious issue of the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Religious Liberty and the American Supreme Court: The Essential Cases and Documents represents the most authoritative and up-to-date overview of the landmark cases that have defined religious freedom in America. Noted religious liberty expert Vincent Philip Munoz (Notre Dame) provides carefully edited excerpts from over fifty of the most important Supreme Court religious liberty cases. In addition, Munoz’s substantive introduction offers an overview on the constitutional history of religious liberty in America. Introductory headnotes to each case provides the constitutional and historical context. Religious Liberty and the American Supreme Court is an indispensable resource for anyone interested matters of religious freedom from the Republic’s earliest days to current debates.

Shiffrin on Progressive Preference for Speech Over Religion

Professor Steve Shiffrin is an enormously thoughtful scholar of the First Amendment. He is a constant and welcome reminder to me that alignment in political views is in the end rather minor indeed in the greater scheme of scholarly affinity and insight. My own work has been very much influenced by Steve’s even as his politics and my own differ in various ways.

Steve has a smart post on the religious accommodation controversy. In it, he picks up a theme that has characterized some of his work on the Speech Clause–that is, its arguably indefensible modern scope. He writes:

Why do liberals value freedom of speech over freedom of religion? Why should the state tolerate hate speech on the basis of sexual orientation (not to mention race)? If permitting some religious individuals the ability to discriminate against gays and lesbians in the purchasing of products and services is a stigmatizing denial of equality, how much more stigmatizing is virulent hate speech? In addition, however difficult it might be for many liberals to muster any empathy for the evangelical Christian who feels a religious obligation not to serve gays or lesbians, the explicitly homophobic hate monger is surely worthy of substantially less respect which is to say – no respect.

Some liberals will say that the hate speech example involves speech, and discrimination is conduct. But speech is conduct, as is defamation, most forms of fraud, and perjury. Other liberals will say that in the area of free speech, we do not take the value of speech into account. This is true much of the time, but there are exceptions (obscenity, fighting words, commercial speech, near obscene speech, and private speech) and there should be more of them (depictions of animal cruelty targeted to sadists or masochists, gruesomely violent video games). Why shouldn’t this be one of the exceptions? Note these are the same liberals who believe that equality on the basis of sexual orientation should be a Constitutional right. In other words, they believe that homophobia like racism should be renounced in our Constitution. Of course, everyone should have a right to question the wisdom of our constitutional rights, even the equal protection clause, but that should not implicate a right to stigmatize and libel citizens on the basis of sexual orientation (or race).

It’s an interesting set of questions. For more on the reasons for the decrease in broad American social investment in religious freedom by comparison with free speech, see Part IV of this paper (and in particular my friendly wager with Professor John Inazu about whether it is, or is not, only a matter of time before the Speech Clause suffers a similar fate).

Discussion on “The Gathering Storm: Religious Persecution and Legislative Responses” (Georgetown University, April 15)

On April 15, the Religious Freedom Project, in cooperation with Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, will host a discussion “The Gathering Storm: Religious Persecution and Legislative Responses:”

Two of the most prominent advocates for advancing religious freedom in foreign policy, Baroness Elizabeth Berridge and former Congressman Frank Wolf, will discuss how Western democracies can advance international religious freedom. They will also explore how internal disarray over the meaning and reach of religious liberty affects the ability of nations to advance religious freedom in their foreign policies. The Berkley Center’s Tom Farr will moderate.

Find more information and RSVP here.

“Politics of Religious Freedom” (Sullivan et al., eds.)

This June, University of Chicago Press will release “Politics of Religious Freedom” edited by Winnifred Sullivan (Indiana University Bloomington), Elizabeth Hurd (Northwestern University), Saba Mahmood (University of California, Berkley), and Peter Danchin (University of Maryland).  The publisher’s description follows:

In a remarkably short period of time, the realization of religious freedom has achieved broad consensus as an indispensable condition for peace. Faced with widespread reports of religious persecution, public and private actors around the world have responded with laws and policies designed to promote freedom of religion. But what precisely is being promoted? What are the cultural and epistemological assumptions underlying this response, and what forms of politics are enabled in the process?

The fruits of the three-year Politics of Religious Freedom research project, the contributions to this volume unsettle the assumption—ubiquitous in policy circles—that religious freedom is a singular achievement, an easily understood state of affairs, and that the problem lies in its incomplete accomplishment. Taking a global perspective, the more than two dozen contributors delineate the different conceptions of religious freedom predominant in the world today, as well as their histories and social and political contexts. Together, the contributions make clear that the reasons for persecution are more varied and complex than is widely acknowledged, and that the indiscriminate promotion of a single legal and cultural tool meant to address conflict across a wide variety of cultures can have the perverse effect of exacerbating the problems that plague the communities cited as falling short.