Tag Archives: Religious Liberty

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.

“Religion and Public Policy: Human Rights, Conflict, and Ethics” (Twiss et al., eds.)

In December, Cambridge University Press will release “Religion and Public Policy: Human Rights, Conflict, and Ethics” edited by Sumner B. Twiss (Florida State University), Marian Gh. Simion (Boston Theological Institute), Rodney L. Petersen (Boston University School of Theology). The publisher’s description follows:

This book pivots around two principal concerns in the modern world: the nature and practice of human rights in relation to religion, and the role of religion in perennial issues of war and peace. Taken collectively, the chapters articulate a vision for achieving a liberal peace and a just society firmly grounded in respect for human rights, while working in tandem with the constructive roles that religious ideas, leaders, and institutions can play even amid cultural difference. Topics covered include: the status and justification of human rights; the meaning and significance of religious liberty; whether human rights protections ought to be extended to other species; how the comparative study of religious ethics ought to proceed; the nature, limits, and future development of just war thinking; the role of religion and human rights in conflict resolution, diplomacy, and peace-building; and the tensions raised by religious involvement in public policy and state institutional practices. Featuring a group of distinguished contributors, this is a multifaceted and original exploration of the aforementioned themes.

Video: Movsesian Lecture on Mideast Christians at Lanier Theological Library

For those who might be interested, the Lanier Theological Library has made available a video of my lecture last month, “Religious Freedom for Mideast Christians: Yesterday and Today.” In the lecture, I discuss the history of the Mideast’s Christian communities, their persecution today, and what Americans can do about it.

The video is below. Thanks again to Mark Lanier and everyone at the library for hosting me!

Gans & Shapiro, “Religious Liberties for Corporations?”

Next month, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Religious Liberties for Corporations? Hobby Lobby, the Affordable Care Act, and the Constitution” by David H. Gans (Director of the Human Rights, Civil Rights, and Citizenship Program, Constitutional Accountability Center, USA) and Ilya Shapiro (Senior Fellow, Cato Institute).  The publisher’s description follows:

9781137484673.inddThis engaging book provides a comprehensive analysis of the issues in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the blockbuster legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act regulation that requires employer-sponsored health plans to provide contraceptive coverage. Through a series of debates between advocates on both sides of the case, the book tackles questions such as: whether for-profit corporations can assert religious-exercise claims under the First Amendment or federal law, whether businesses with religious objections to certain contraceptives should be exempt from coverage requirements, and what the consequences are of the Supreme Court’s June 2014 ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby. This case will be discussed for years to come, and the spirited debate between the authors provides fascinating and informative food for thought to scholars, students, and the public as they grapple with fundamental questions of corporate personhood, religious liberty, and health care policy.

Video of Panel Presentation on Religious Liberty

The Lanier Theological Library in Houston has posted a video of a panel on religious liberty that took place at the library earlier this month. Among other subjects, the panel addressed the rise of contemporary Islamism, the treatment of Christians in the Mideast, the prevalence of Islamic-law arbitration in Europe and the US, and the legality of American drone strikes on American citizens affiliated with Islamist groups. I participated in the panel, along with Mark Lanier (Founder, Lanier Theological Library), Dean Michael Simons (St. John’s), Professor James Hoffmeier (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), and Fr. Mario Arroyo (Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston). Take a look.

“Religion in the Public Square” (Uitz, ed.)

This September, Eleven International Publishing releases “Religion in the Public Square: Perspectives on Secularism” edited by Renáta Uitz (Central European University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Screen shot 2014-09-24 at 11.04.05 AMWhat is the place of religion and religious convictions in government, politics and in public life – taking into consideration the need to respect the free exercise of religion? In the separation or neutrality paradigm, religious organizations (churches) are expected to stay away from public affairs. But other models of state neutrality and secularity – rooted in historical struggles and influenced by experiences and mistakes – result in differing forms of cooperation between religious organizations and the state.

Hambler, “Religious Expression in the Workplace and the Contested Role of Law”

This November, Routledge Press will release “Religious Expression in the Workplace and the Contested Role of Law” by Andrew Hambler (University of Wolverhampton, UK).  The publisher’s description follows:

The workplace is a key forum in which the issue of religion and its position in the public sphere is under debate. Desires to observe and express religious beliefs in the workplace can introduce conflict between employees and employers. This book addresses the role the law plays in the resolution of these potential conflicts.

The book considers the definition and underlying motives of religious expression, and explores the different ways it may impact the workplace. Andrew Hambler identifies principled responses to workplace religious expression within a liberal state and compares this to the law applying in England and Wales and its interpretation by courts and tribunals. The book determines the extent to which freedom of religious expression for the individual enjoys legal protection in the workplace in England and Wales, and asks whether there is a case for changing the law to strengthen that protection.

The book will be of great use and interest to scholars and students of religion and the law, employment law, and religion and human rights.

Int’l Moot Court Competition in Law & Religion (Venice, March 2015)

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Nice Place for a Moot Court Competition

Here’s a great opportunity for law students. The Fondazione Studium Generale Marcianum in Venice (above) is hosting a new, international moot court competition on the subject of law and religion. The competition, which will take place in Venice next March, will draw teams of students from American and European law schools:

The goal of the Moot Court Competition is to bring together in Venice, for a limited period of time and in an intensive way (9-11 March 2015), a group of law school students in order to make them discuss a case with professional jurists. The students, coming from European and American Law Schools, will participate as teams. They will deal with a case at the intersection between law and religion, a central issue for the entire world and indeed a crucial theme for the Marcianum.

The initiative will bring together scholars and students of different backgrounds to have them address the very same case from two different standpoints. Some scholars will sit as the Supreme Court of the United States; some as the European Court of Human Rights. Teams will argue the same case before one of the two boards of judges. After a verdict, a roundtable will gather some scholars to debate the case as well as the way the two moot courts have addressed it.

This approach will give the students an opportunity to measure themselves with a case related to fundamental rights, developing reflective and argumentative skills and, at the same time, it will offer them, and the other participants, the occasion to highlight the different cultural points of view of the two Courts, enhancing the comparative perspective.

I’ll serve as one of the judges on the moot American court, along with Professor Bill Kelley of Notre Dame and Judge Richard Sullivan of the Southern District of New York. Professors Louis-Leon Christians (Catholic University of Louvain), Mark Hill (Cardiff University) and Renata Uitz (Central European University Budapest) will make up the European panel. Professor Silvio Ferrari (Milan) and Brett Scharffs (BYU) will serve as keynote speakers.

For details on the competition, as well as entry requirements, please click here.

Cook, “First Amendment Religious Liberties: Supreme Court Decisions and Public Opinion, 1947-2013″

This month, LFB Scholarly Publishing releases “First Amendment Religious Liberties: Supreme Court Decisions and Public Opinion, 1947-2013” by Tracy L. Cook (Central Texas College). The publisher’s description follows:

Cook analyzes the relationship between Supreme Court decisions and public opinion concerning First Amendment religious liberties. Overall, the Court has issued opinions consistent with public opinion in a majority of its decisions dealing with the First Amendment’s religion clauses, with a level of congruence of almost seventy percent when a clear public opinion expression is present. She also provides a new perspective for understanding the long and contentious debate about prayer in public school by identifying an area of agreement between the Court and public opinion that has not received much attention.

Videos from the Rome Conference on International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values

Here are the videos from June’s conference, “International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values,” which the Center for Law and Religion co-hosted in Rome, together with the St. John’s Center for International and Comparative Law and the Faculty of Law at Libera Università Maria SS. Assunta (LUMSA):

Introduction by Michael Simons, Dean of St. John’s University School of Law

Introduction by Angelo Rinella, Dean of the Faculty of Law at LUMSA

Keynote by Thomas Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center

Pasquale Annicchino, Research Fellow at the Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute

Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Hon. Ken Hackett, United States Ambassador to the Holy See

Francisca Pérez-Madrid, Professor of Law at the University of Barcelona

Marco Ventura, Professor of Law at KU Leuven and the University of Siena

Roberto Zaccaria, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Florence

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law

Olivier Roy, Joint Chair of the Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute

Nina Shea, Director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute

Conference Conclusion by Giuseppe Dalla Torre, Rector of LUMSA