Tag Archives: Religious Liberty

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 

Conference on Mideast Christians (Washington, Sept. 9-11)

For readers in Washington: From September 9-11, an organization called “In Defense of Christians” will be hosting a major conference, the “IDC Summit 2014.” Participants include many church hierarchs from the Mideast, as well as members of Congress, prominent scholars, and other public figures:

The primary purpose of the Summit is to bring all members of the Diaspora together in a newfound sense of unity. Whether Orthodox or Catholic; Evangelical, Coptic or Maronite; Syriac, Lebanese, Chaldean or Assyrian – all Middle Eastern Christians will be called on to join together in solidarity.

This solidarity will strengthen advocacy efforts with policy makers and elected officials and make more palatable grassroots outreach to the American public. Thus united, Middle Eastern Christians will invite all people of good will to join the cause to defend the defenseless, to be a voice for those who are voiceless.

The survival of these historic Christian communities is not merely a moral imperative; it is in the interests of all nations and peoples of the West and the Middle East.

Looks very worthwhile. Details are here.

Fisher, Lemons & Mason-Brown, “Decoding Roger Williams”

This month, Baylor University Press releases “Decoding Roger Williams: The Lost Essay of Rhode Island’s Founding Father” by Linford D. Fisher (Brown University), J. Stanley Lemons (Emeritus Professor at Rhode Island College) and Lucas Mason-Brown (Graduate Student at Trinity College, Dublin).  The publisher’s description follows:

Decoding Roger WilliamsNear the end of his life, Roger Williams, Rhode Island founder and father of American religious freedom, scrawled an encrypted essay in the margins of a colonial-era book. For more than 300 years those shorthand notes remained indecipherable…

…until a team of Brown University undergraduates led by Lucas Mason-Brown cracked Williams’ code after the marginalia languished for over a century in the archives of the John Carter Brown Library. At the time of Williams’ writing, a trans-Atlantic debate on infant versus believer’s baptism had taken shape that included London Baptist minister John Norcott and the famous Puritan “Apostle to the Indians,” John Eliot. Amazingly, Williams’ code contained a previously undiscovered essay, which was a point-by-point refutation of Eliot’s book supporting infant baptism.

History professors Linford D. Fisher and J. Stanley Lemons immediately recognized the importance of what turned out to be theologian Roger Williams’ final treatise. Decoding Roger Williams reveals for the first time Williams’ translated and annotated essay, along with a critical essay by Fisher, Lemons, and Mason-Brown and reprints of the original Norcott and Eliot tracts.

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 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.

What Explains the Reaction to Hobby Lobby?

I confess I’ve been surprised at the vitriol last month’s decision in Hobby Lobby has drawn from the Left. To me, the case seems a narrow victory in favor of religious freedom. But critics, including some on the Court, see the case as a major defeat for freedom and equality. In their view, the Court has allowed religious zealots–for, in truth, who else would object to the contraceptives at issue?–to impose their beliefs and affect the life choices of their women employees. Once again, the forces of regression have attempted to coerce women. And the Court has allowed it.

This is perplexing. It’s worth repeating: Hobby Lobby objected to covering only four contraceptives out of the 20 HHS mandated. It did not threaten to fire or discipline women employees who used one of the contraceptives; it objected only to paying for the contraceptives itself. Moreover, the Hobby Lobby Court endorsed an accommodation that allows employees who wish to obtain the contraceptives to do so at no cost. In short, no Hobby Lobby employee who wishes to use one of the four contraceptives will be prevented from doing so.

So why all the vitriol? Why all the talk of coercion? In a very insightful post at Bloomberg View, blogger Megan McArdle (left) explains the situation. In fact, it’s one of the better posts I’ve seen on the controversy.

McArdle says three factors are involved. First, the Left cannot understand why religion should merit this sort of deference. Although “the religious right views religion as a fundamental, and indeed essential, part of the human experience,” she writes, “the secular left views it as something more like a hobby.” For the Left, therefore, “it’s as if a major administrative rule was struck down because it unduly burdened model-train enthusiasts.” In fact, although McArdle doesn’t put it this way, the Court has allowed religion to interfere with sex, which really is “a fundamental, and indeed essential, part of the human experience.” It just seems crazy.

Second, about coercion. From the classical liberal perspective, in which rights are principally negative rights, the Hobby Lobby case does not involve coercion. As McArdle writes, “How is not buying you something equivalent to ‘imposing’ on you”? But if we consider that our society confers many positive rights as well as negative ones, the situation becomes much more complicated:

“Do what you want, as long as you don’t try to force me to do it, too” works very well, which is why this verbal formula has had such a long life. But when you introduce positive rights into the picture, this abruptly stops working. You have a negative right not to have your religious practice interfered with, and say your church forbids the purchase or use of certain forms of birth control. If I have a negative right not to have my purchase of birth control interfered with, we can reach a perhaps uneasy truce where you don’t buy it and I do. But if I have a positive right to have birth control purchased for me, then suddenly our rights are directly opposed: You have a right not to buy birth control, and I have a right to have it bought for me, by you.

Third, she writes, the classically liberal distinction between the state and civil society has broken down. Classical liberalism accepted a large public space that did not belong to the government. Now, however,

For many people, this massive public territory is all the legitimate province of the state. Institutions within that sphere are subject to close regulation by the government, including regulations that turn those institutions into agents of state goals — for example, by making them buy birth control for anyone they choose to employ. It is not a totalitarian view of government, but it is a totalizing view of government; almost everything we do ends up being shaped by the law and the bureaucrats appointed to enforce it. We resolve the conflict between negative and positive rights by restricting many negative rights to a shrunken private sphere where they cannot get much purchase.

In this context, it’s possible to believe that Hobby Lobby’s founders are imposing their beliefs on others, because they’re bringing private beliefs into the government sphere — and religion is not supposed to be in the government sphere. It belongs over there with whatever it was you and your significant other chose to do on date night last Wednesday. In that sphere, my positive right to birth control obviously trumps your negative right to free exercise of religion, because religion isn’t supposed to be out here at all. It’s certainly not supposed to be poking around in what’s happening between me and my doctor, which is private, and therefore ought to operate with negative-right reciprocity: I can’t tell you what birth control to take, and you can’t tell me.

McArdle agrees with the Hobby Lobby decision, by the way (as do I), which makes her willingness to see things from the opposite perspective all the more welcome. Read the whole thing.

Justice Sotomayor’s Puzzling Dissent in the Wheaton College Case

Sonia_Sotomayor_in_SCOTUS_robe

Justice Sonia Sotomayor

The battle over the ACA’s Contraception Mandate continues. Yesterday, the Supreme Court granted a temporary injunction to Wheaton College, a religious nonprofit that is challenging the mandate in federal court. As a religious nonprofit, Wheaton qualifies for a regulatory accommodation. It can avoid the mandate by completing a form stating that it opposes covering contraceptives for its employees and giving this form to its third-party plan administrator; the administrator must then provide contraceptive coverage to the employees at its own expense. Wheaton objects that completing the form and submitting it to the administrator would make it complicit in providing coverage for contraceptives, which it opposes on religious grounds. As a consequence, Wheaton argues, the accommodation itself violates RFRA.

Yesterday, by 6-3 vote, the Court ruled that the government may not enforce the mandate against Wheaton pending final disposition of Wheaton’s legal challenge. As a result, until the case is resolved, Wheaton need not complete the form or provide it to the plan administrator. The government, which obviously knows about Wheaton’s challenge, may arrange contraceptive coverage for Wheaton’s employees in the meantime. The Court expressly stated that its grant of a temporary injunction “should not be construed as an expression of the Court’s views on the merits” of Wheaton’s challenge.

Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan, dissented. Her dissent is puzzling. On the one hand, she makes a valid point about the standard for granting this sort of injunction. Traditionally, a high bar exists. The Court will grant an injunction only if the legal rights at issue seem “indisputably clear.” At this point, it’s hard to say that about Wheaton’s claim. There are arguments on both sides and, as Justice Sotomayor points out, the district court hasn’t yet determined the facts and adjudicated the case.

But Justice Sotomayor didn’t stop there, and the rest of her opinion is unfortunately problematic. Here are three quick examples:

  • Internal Inconsistency: Notwithstanding her complaint that the Court had preempted the trial judge’s adjudication of the merits of Wheaton’s claim, Justice Sotomayor presumes to decide the merits herself. “Wheaton has not stated a viable claim under RFRA,” she writes. That seems rather a prejudicial statement, especially as Wheaton’s case, or one very like it, will undoubtedly reach the Court soon. Besides, the Court expressly stated that it wasn’t ruling on the merits of Wheaton’s claim. One should note that, later in her dissent, Justice Sotomayor says only that “Wheaton’s claim is likely to fail.” So perhaps her first statement was  just  a little careless. But one expects more in a Supreme Court opinion.
  • Unfair Criticism: Justice Sotomayor sharply criticizes the Court for going back on its word earlier this week in Hobby Lobby. In Hobby Lobby, the Court indicated that the accommodation is a less restrictive means of promoting the government’s interest in women’s health than the mandate itself. If the accommodation is an acceptable alternative in Hobby Lobby, she asks, why not in this case? This criticism is unfair. The Hobby Lobby Court didn’t say the accommodation is the least restrictive means of promoting the government’s interest, only that it is a less restrictive means than the mandate itself. True, the Court’s language in Hobby Lobby was a little opaque. But it’s wrong to suggest the Court is being sneaky or indecisive.
  • Pot and Kettle: You’d hardly know it from reading Justice Sotomayor’s opinion, but last January she herself joined the Court in granting a similar injunction to another religious nonprofit challenging the mandate, the Little Sisters of the Poor. In a footnote in yesterday’s opinion, Justice Sotomayor tries to distinguish the January case, but not very convincingly. The Little Sisters’ third-party administrator wasn’t going to cover contraceptives anyway, she writes, so, unlike Wheaton’s employees, the Little Sisters’ employees had nothing to lose. But does anyone think Wheaton’s employees will lose contraceptive coverage during the course of this litigation? Both Wheaton’s third-party administrator and the government are aware of the situation and will undoubtedly make such coverage available.

As I say, Justice Sotomayor could simply have discussed the high standard for a temporary injunction and left it there; that would have made for a much stronger opinion. As it is, her dissent suggests a level of frustration that the Court’s ruling yesterday really doesn’t merit. Perhaps Justice Sotomayor knows something she’s not saying about how the Justices will likely decide the next challenge to the mandate that reaches them.

European Human Rights Court to France: Do Whatever You Want

This week, Americans understandably have been occupied with the Hobby Lobby case and its implications for religious freedom in our country. But across the Atlantic, the European Court of Human Rights was handing down its own decision on the scope of religious freedom, S.A.S. v. France. The European Court held that France’s ban on clothing designed to cover one’s face in public–what everyone knows, for obvious reasons, as the “burqa ban”–does not violate the European Convention on Human Rights. The court’s ruling reveals the challenges of enforcing a regional, European standard with respect to religious expression.

Some background: Article 9 of the European Convention recognizes a right to manifest one’s religion or belief, subject to limitations that are necessary to promote certain legitimate state interests, including public safety and “the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” Any such limitation must be proportionate to the interest the state asserts. The European Court has made clear that Article 9 need not apply uniformly across Europe. Given different national histories and cultures, states have discretion to adapt article 9 in light of the needs and values of their particular societies. The Europeans refer to this discretion as the states’ “margin of appreciation.”

France argued that the ban on burqas is necessary to promote public safety and protect the rights and freedoms of others–specifically, the right of people to live in an “open society” characterized by “civility” and “social interaction.” The court rejected the first argument. Even assuming the burqa posed a risk in some circumstances, it held, a blanket ban is disproportionate. If the concern were public safety, a more targeted ban would be appropriate–in the context of security checks, for example.

The court agreed with France, though, that the ban could be justified on the basis of promoting an “open society”–at least, an open society in the French manner. Obviously, not all societies see the burqa as problematic. In Europe, only Belgium has a similar ban. But the French people had decided that the burqa violates “the ground rules of social communication” in their country. This decision deserved deference, the court held. Given the margin of appreciation in such matters, the court would honor France’s determination that “the voluntary and systematic concealment of the face is … incompatible with the fundamental requirements of ‘living together’ in French society.”

This level of deference is really quite breathtaking. Essentially, the European Court is saying, a state can ban religious expression in order to maintain local norms of “living together.” What ban on religious expression would not be allowed under such a standard? Let’s pose a hypothetical case. France already prohibits conspicuous religious dress in public schools. Let’s assume France decides to extend this ban to all public places, arguing that conspicuous religious dress in public creates unnecessary tension and interferes with social interaction à la française. Under the court’s deferential approach, wouldn’t such a ban be permissible? What would be the basis for second guessing France’s assertion about what French social norms require?

The deference to national norms is unavoidable in the context of the Council of Europe, a regime that includes scores of states with widely varying cultures and histories. One size simply doesn’t fit all. If the European Court is to have any legitimacy, it will often need to defer to national judgments on sensitive issues. Still, the European Court purports to pursue a common European standard in respect of human rights. Decisions like S.A.S. suggest that pursuit has a long way to go.

A Pretty Narrow Decision

That’s my first read on today’s opinion in the Hobby Lobby case: narrow and pretty much as expected. Indeed, Justice Alito’s opinion for the Court says as much (“our holding is very specific”). It’s a 5-4 decision; a 5-2 decision on one important point. Still, a win’s a win, and Hobby Lobby, its lawyers, and those who filed amicus briefs in its behalf have a right to be pleased–as do all those who value religious freedom.

Some first impressions:

  • The Court does not address Hobby Lobby’s First Amendment claims; Hobby Lobby wins on RFRA grounds. No surprise there.
  • In holding that a for-profit corporation can exercise a religion for RFRA purposes, the Court takes the route that Chief Justice Roberts suggested at oral argument. It expressly limits its holding to closely-held corporations like Hobby Lobby and declines to discuss whether large, publicly traded corporations also can exercise a religion for RFRA purposes. That, as lawyers say, is a question for another day. (Self-promotion alert: this is what I predicted). The vote was 5-2 here; two dissenters, Justices Breyer and Kagan, would not have reached the issue.
  • The Court makes clear its ruling does not mean it will necessarily rule the same way in other cases where employers seek relief under RFRA, for example, where employers object to covering immunizations. Different governmental interests could be involved in those cases, the Court says.
  • The Court goes out of its way to say that its holding would not allow employers to justify racial discrimination on religious grounds. It says nothing about other sorts of discrimination, however. Surely this is intentional. As everyone knows, a major lurking issue is whether RFRA allows employers to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, especially homosexuality. The Court obviously wishes to avoid any allusions to that issue–perhaps to keep Justice Kennedy on board. The dissent does raise the issue, though.
  • The qualifications in the Court’s opinion are obviously meant to answer the dissent’s “parade of horribles.” Seems a pretty good answer to me–but the dissenters are not impressed. The Court’s logic extends to publicly traded corporations, Justice Ginsburg writes, and there is little doubt, notwithstanding the Court’s reassurances,  that RFRA claims will “proliferate” in future. In particular, the dissent raises the issue of religiously-based objections to sexuality. As I say, the Court studiously avoids that issue.
  • In its least-restrictive means analysis, the Court notes that an accommodation of the sort the government has offered to certain religious non-profits would have achieved the government’s end in this case as well, and would have imposed less on Hobby Lobby’s religious exercise. That is, an alternative to the mandate is available. Is the Court hinting at what it thinks about the Little Sisters of the Poor case? I don’t think so; the Court went out of its way to reserve that issue. But the language here is a bit opaque and may cause trouble in future.
  • Not clear what the point of Justice Kennedy’s concurrence is, except to highlight that he sees this as a close case, to say nice things about the dissent, and to expound a little more about his view that religious liberty is about protecting people’s “dignity and … striving for a self-definition shaped by their religious precepts.”

We’ll have further analysis here at CLR Forum as we digest the opinion a little more. But, bottom line: a narrow decision and a win for religious liberty.

Skepticism about International Religious Freedom: Types 1 and 2

A little more on last week’s conference, “International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values,” which CLR co-hosted in Rome.

First, a word of thanks to the participants. The presentations were thoughtful, the debate sharp but respectful. It was all one could want in an academic conference. And we had a private audience at the Vatican with Pope Francis! As Marc writes, to have the Pope address us personally, on a subject we study, at a conference we helped organize, was a remarkable experience.

We’ll post videos of the presentations as they become available. (A video of Pope Francis addressing the group is here). For now, though, I’d like to say just a few words about what I saw as one of the central themes at the conference: a certain skepticism about the promise of “international religious freedom.”

To be sure, many at the conference endorsed the idea of international religious freedom. International human rights law accepts that such a concept exists. International courts and organizations apply it; national governments purport to promote it in their foreign policy. Perceptive scholars like Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, who appeared on one of our panels, work hard to advance it across the globe. Yet the concept of international religious freedom also provokes some skepticism, and did so at the conference. It seems to me this skepticism takes one of two forms, what we might call “Type 1″ and “Type 2″skepticism.

Type 1 skepticism holds that, although a universally applicable concept of religious freedom exists, states and international organizations lack the commitment to make it effective. At the conference, the Berkley Center’s Tom Farr expressed this sort of skepticism. He maintained that religious freedom is grounded in human nature itself. “Religion,” he argued, “is the universal human search for a greater-than-human source of being and ultimate meaning.” Because the search for transcendence is part of what it means to be human, the international order must allow people to participate in the search without unnecessary obstruction.  “To deny a person the right to engage in this search and to live in accord with the truths he discovers,” Tom maintained, “is to deny the very essence of what it means to be human.”

This formulation owes a great deal to natural law; indeed, in his remarks to the group, Pope Francis spoke of religious freedom in much the same terms. The problem for Tom, the source of his skepticism, is that states, including liberal Western states, do not do enough to protect this universal right. For example, he noted, “the American policy of advancing international religious freedom, which is highly rhetorical and lacks any strategic rationale, has been largely anemic and ineffective.” He noted that the post of US ambassador for international religious freedom has been vacant for months.

The second sort of skepticism, what I am calling “Type 2 skepticism,” differs fundamentally. It objects to the notion that “religious freedom,” as human rights advocates define it, is a neutral, universally applicable concept. What the human rights community perceives as neutral and universal is in fact a product of a particular culture and history–Western Christianity and the Enlightenment, especially the latter. One cannot legitimately expect other civilizations–Islamic, Hindu, Confucian, even Eastern Christian–simply to adopt religious freedom as Western lawyers define it. At the conference, Emory’s Abduh An-Na’im expressed this sort of skepticism. Religious freedom, he argued, must be expressed in idioms that non-Western societies can accept without surrendering their own religious and cultural heritage. I can’t recall his exact words, but he put it something like this: “If I have to choose between my ‘religion’ and ‘human rights,’ I’ll choose my religion every time.”

The two types of skepticism are related. Indeed, Type 2 skepticism provides an explanation for Type 1. In a world where civilizations differ on the core meaning of religious freedom, advancing a universal formulation is impossible. You might get states to agree on vague treaty language; the treatment of the right to change one’s religion in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights offers a famous example. But enforcement is another matter.

None of this is to say the we should give up on the idea of international religious freedom. Religious persecution around the world is too widespread, too serious a problem, for lawyers simply to throw up their hands. The two kinds of skepticism suggest, though, that as a practical matter advocates for international religious freedom may need to accept somewhat modest goals, at least for the present, and avoid universal assumptions that create unnecessary obstacles for their project.