Tag Archives: Religious Liberty

“The Changing Nature of Religious Rights Under International Law” (Evans et al., eds.)

This Month, Oxford University Press will release “The Changing Nature of Religious Rights Under International Law” edited by Malcolm Evans (University of Bristol), Peter Petkoff (Oxford University), and Julian Rivers (University of Bristol).  The publisher’s description follows:

Changing Nature of Religious RightsThe Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1981, is the only universal human rights instrument specifically focusing on religious intolerance and discrimination. However, recent years have seen increasing controversy surrounding this right, in both political and legal contexts. The European Court of Human Rights has experienced a vast expansion in the number of cases it has had brought before it concerning religious freedom, and politically the boundaries of the right have been much disputed. This book provides a systematic analysis of the different approaches to religious rights which exist in public international law.

The book explores how particular institutional perspectives emerge in the context of these differing approaches. It examines, and challenges, these institutional perspectives. It identifies new directions for approaching religious rights through international law by examining existing legal tools, and assesses their achievements and shortcomings. It studies religious organisations’ support for international human rights protection, as well as religious critique of international human rights and the development of an alternative religious ‘Bills of Rights’. It investigates whether expressions of members belonging to religious minorities can be considered under the minority right to culture, rather than the right to religion, and discusses the benefits and shortcomings of such a route. It analyses the reach and limits of the provisions in the 1981 Declaration, identifies ways in which the right is being eroded as a concept, and suggests new ways in which the right can be reinforced and protected.

Aroney on Freedom of Religion as an Associational Right

The latest issue of the University of Queensland Law Journal is devoted entirely to issues of federalism and freedom of religion in Australia.  One article by Professor Nicholas Aroney, Freedom of Religion as an Associational Right, is particularly informative.  You can read the article in its entirety here.

In his article, Professor Aroney argues that the religious freedom clauses of the Australian Constitution (section 116), which were modeled after the American First Amendment, should be interpreted to protect not only individual rights, but also communal or associational rights.  In support of this contention, Professor Aroney provides an impressive textual and historical analysis of section 116.  He further shows how this interpretation is in accord with international law.

According to Professor Aroney, correctly interpreting section 116 is of fundamental importance, because to interpret it as protecting merely individual rights has the potential to severely weaken religious freedom. Here is Professor Aroney (footnotes omitted):

Efforts to impose an individualistic view of human rights … continue to be made by groups such as the Discrimination Law Experts Group, who argue that the rights of religious organisations engaging in ‘public sphere activities’ should simply be trumped by the rights of individuals ‘to be treated in a non-discriminatory way.’ The Public Interest Law Clearing House and the Human Rights Law Resource Centre have argued similarly, maintaining that permanent religious exceptions to antidiscrimination laws facilitate and condone discrimination by protecting ‘traditional social structures and hierarchies’. Although the context is that anti-discrimination laws apply only in certain ‘public’ contexts, the reasoning is not so limited. These arguments are not unlike that of Stephen Macedo, who advocates that modern liberalism must ‘constitute the private realm in its image’ by forcing citizens ‘to observe its limits’ and ‘pursue its aspirations’. Such persons are to be actively coerced, Macedo candidly asserts, ‘to help ensure that freedom is what they want’, even in ‘their most “private beliefs”’.

 The underlying individualism of this line of argument has been made clear by Margaret Thornton, who has argued that although the ICCPR protects the right to exercise freedom of religion ‘in association with others’, this right not only has to be balanced against the competing rights to equal treatment and non-discrimination, but all such rights need to be understood, fundamentally, as the rights of human beings – not of corporations – and so it is a ‘logical fallacy to extrapolate from an individual’s private beliefs to an impersonal for-profit corporation’. Thornton’s argument shows the weakness of religious freedom rights if they are conceptualised in reductively individualistic terms. This is because one would have to show, first, that certain individuals have particular religious convictions that are legally protected and, second, that these same individual rights are being expressed through the religious corporation’s rules or practices. If religious rights are conceptualised as inherently ‘private’ in this sense, it will be that much more difficult to establish that such rights are really being exercised as private rights in various domains of ‘public’ or ‘quasipublic’ life. But on the contrary, as has been seen, international human rights principles, while certainly premised on the rights of the ‘human person’, are not exclusively concerned to protect only individual rights or only private expressions of religious conviction.

Another problem with individualised conceptions of human rights in this domain is that such rights, although originally conceived as rights against the state, can nonetheless ‘double up as rights against everyone’. Accordingly, as Julian Rivers has shown, there are some for whom it is not sufficient that an individual has a right of ‘exit’ from his or her religious community. Rather, there is evidence ‘of a growing assumption that everyone who wishes should be able to join any religious body’ and that ‘membership tests are suspect’. The underlying assumption, in other words, is that ‘the preservation of religious identity on the part of civil society groups needs justification against the individual who does not share that identity’, even though to adopt such an approach ‘is potentially destructive of the identity of [all] non-State collectivities’. For if any individual can decide whether he or she qualifies for membership of an organisation, no organisation will be able to maintain its distinctive identity.

This reductio ad absurdum suggests that a radical individualist conception of religious liberty is simply incompatible with the existence of religious associations and communities as distinguishable groups within a society. Against such a view, William Galston has observed:

 It is not obvious as an empirical matter that civil society organisations within liberal democracies must be organised along liberal democratic lines… A liberal policy guided … by a commitment to moral and political pluralism will be parsimonious in specifying binding public principles and cautious about employing such principles to intervene in the internal affairs of civil associations. It will rather pursue a policy of maximum feasible accommodation, limited only by the core requirements of individual security and civic unity. That there are costs to such a policy cannot reasonably be denied. It will permit internal associational practices (e.g. patriarchal gender relations) of which many disapprove. It will allow many associations to define their membership in ways that may be viewed as restraints on individual liberty … Unless liberty – individual and associational – is to be narrowed dramatically, however, we must accept these costs.

 A reductively individualist conception of religious freedom is obviously opposed to the capacity of such groups to determine their own conditions of membership, but an excessively narrow associational conception may also have this effect, for there are many social groupings and traditional communities, including religions, in which membership does not initially arise by deliberate choice but by birth and circumstance. Whether voluntaristic or otherwise, unless such associations and communities are going to be understood, following Thomas Hobbes, as ‘worms in the entrails’ of the body politic, we need to recognise, as Harold Laski argued, that they are ‘as real, as primary, and self-sufficing as the whole [society]’. This does not mean of course that communal religious rights must always prevail. But it does mean that they ought to be treated with the same respect as the rights of individuals. As such, from a liberal point of view, what is most crucial in order to protect individuals is not the right to join (or remain) within a group, but the right to exit it. On this approach, the question of the legitimacy of a law which regulates a religious association becomes one of determining what conditions, if any, must accompany an effective exit right, understood to include the rights to associate, disassociate or not associate with a particular religious community on terms offered by that community. Alternatively, from a more communitarian point of view, what matters is that a religious group genuinely benefits its members and does not inappropriately interfere with the legitimate interests of those outside the group. These are large questions, of course, which lie beyond the scope of this article, the point of which has been to establish the associational and communal dimensions of religious freedom as a matter of principle.

 

Subway Ads and Mental Maps

Many thanks to Mark Movsesian and Marc DeGirolami for letting me return with a couple of guest posts.

I’ve been intrigued by some recent posts on this blog and how they confirm my long-held view that the normative decisions we make with respect to the law’s treatment of religion are deeply intermeshed with cognitive choices we make — how we “see” and understand religion.  Religious phenomena don’t fit easily or self-evidently into the mental maps by which we divide the pieces of the secular world.  All we can do is approximate, and those approximations matter.

subway1Let’s begin with Mark’s fascinating and wonderfully observant recent post about an ad for the Marble Collegiate Church that he recently saw in a New York City subway.  The ad itself was unremarkable, touting Marble Collegiate as “Church the way you always hoped it could be.”  (Marble Collegiate itself is more remarkable, founded in 1628 as a Dutch Reformed congregation and serving in the 20th century as Norman Vincent Peale’s pulpit for some 50 years.)  But the ad included a prominent disclaimer form the MTA (the local transit agency) taking up the bottom third of its precious space: “This is a paid advertisement sponsored by Marble Collegiate Church.  The display of this advertisement does not imply MTA’s endorsement of any views expressed.”  What gives? Continue reading

Sarkissian, “The Varieties of Religious Repression”

This February, Oxford University Press will release “The Varieties of Religious Repression: Why Governments Restrict Religion” by Ani Sarkissian (Michigan State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Varieties of Religious RepressionReligious repression–the non-violent suppression of civil and political rights–is a growing and global phenomenon. Though most often practiced in authoritarian countries, levels of religious repression nevertheless vary across a range of non-democratic regimes, including illiberal democracies and competitive authoritarian states.

In The Varieties of Religious Repression, Ani Sarkissian argues that seemingly benign regulations and restrictions on religion are tools that non-democratic leaders use to repress independent civic activity, effectively maintaining their hold on power. Sarkissian examines the interaction of political competition and the structure of religious divisions in society, presenting a theory of why religious repression varies across non-democratic regimes. She also offers a new way of understanding the commonalties and differences of non-democratic regimes by focusing on the targets of religious repression.

Drawing on quantitative data from more than one hundred authoritarian states, as well as case studies of sixteen countries from around the world, Sarkissian explores the varieties of repression that states impose on religious expression, association, and political activities, describing the obstacles these actions present for democratization, pluralism, and the development of an independent civil society.

Little, “Essays on Religion and Human Rights”

This February, Cambridge University Press will release “Essays on Religion and Human Rights: Ground to Stand On” by David Little (Georgetown University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religion and Human RightsThis collection of seminal essays by David Little addresses the subject of human rights in relation to the historical settings in which its language was drafted and adopted. Featuring five original essays, Little articulates his long-standing view that fascist practices before and during World War II vivified the wrongfulness of deliberately inflicting severe pain, injury, and destruction for self-serving purposes and that the human rights corpus, developed in response, was designed to outlaw all practices of arbitrary force. Drawing on the natural rights tradition, the book contends that while there must be an accountable human rights standard, it should nevertheless guarantee wide latitude for the expression and practice of religious and other conscientious beliefs, consistent with outlawing arbitrary force. This book further details the theoretical grounds of the relationship between religion and human rights, and concludes with essays on U.S. policy and the restraint of force in regard to terrorism and to cases like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. With a foreword by John Kelsey, this book stands as a capstone of the work of this influential writer on religion, philosophy, and law.

“The Crisis of Religious Liberty: Reflections from Law, History, and Catholic Social Thought” (Krason ed.)

In January, Rowman & Littlefield will release “The Crisis of Religious Liberty: Reflections from Law, History, and Catholic Social Thought ” edited by Stephen M. Krason (Franciscan University of Steubenville). The publisher’s description follows:

In “The Crisis of Religious Liberty: Reflections from Law, History, and Catholic Social Thought,” contributors consider a series of significant challenges to the freedom of religious conscience and expression in the United States today. Such challenges include the mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concerning contraceptive, sterilization, and abortifacient coverage in health insurance plans; the question of health-care institutions requiring medical personnel to participate in morally objectionable procedures contrary to their religious beliefs; legal liability for individuals and businesses refusing on religious grounds to provide services for same-sex marriages; the prohibition on students from engaging in religious expression in public schools; the use of zoning laws to block Bible studies in private homes; and a variety of other issues that have surfaced in recent years with respect to religious freedom. While some argues that religious liberty extends no further than the freedom to worship, contributors suggest otherwise, noting that the exercise of religious liberty is greater than a highly restrictive definition of the notion of worship.

The Crisis of Religious Liberty comprises eight chapters and an afterword that explore the nature and basis of religious freedom in terms of Catholic social thought. They cover such topics as the Catholic Church’s teachings from the Vatican II’s Dignatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Liberty), the decline of a historic rapprochement among different religious perspectives in the United States in the face of an increasingly aggressive secularism, perspectives on religious liberty from the founding of America, and how the religious liberty situation in the U.S. compares with the rest of the world.

Cross, “Constitutions and Religious Freedom”

In January, Cambridge University Press will release “Constitutions and Religious Freedom” by Frank B. Cross (University of Texas, Austin). The publisher’s description follows:

Many of us take for granted the idea that the right to religious freedom should be protected in a free, democratic polity. However, this book challenges whether the protection and privilege of religious belief and identity should be prioritized over any other right. By studying the effects of constitutional promises of religious freedom and establishment clauses, Frank B. Cross sets the stage for a set of empirical questions that examines the consequences of such protections. Although the case for broader protection is often made as a theoretical matter, constitutions generally protect freedom of religion. Allowing people full choice in holding religious beliefs or freedom of conscience is central to their autonomy. Freedom of religion is thus potentially a very valuable aspect of society, at least so long as it respects the freedom of individuals to be irreligious. This book tests these associations and finds that constitutions provide national religious protection, especially when the legal system is more sophisticated.

Conference at Catholic University: “The Relationship between Religious and Economic Liberty”

On November 10, 2014, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty will hold a day-long conference entitled “The Relationship between Religious & Economic Liberty in an Age of Expanding Government.” The conference is hosted by the Catholic University of America.

Throughout Western developed nations, there is dawning recognition that robust protections for religious liberty can no longer be taken for granted. Less understood are the ways in which infringements of other political, civil and commercial forms of freedom can subtly undermine religious liberty: but also vice-versa. Businesses and other institutions of civil society now need to consider how the restrictions of religious freedom by governments throughout the Western world is likely to affect them. What then is the relationship of religious liberty to other expressions of freedom?

Details can be found here.

“Pluralism and Democracy in India: Debating the Hindu Right” (Doniger & Nussbaum, eds.)

In December, Oxford University Press will release “Pluralism and Democracy in India: Debating the Hindu Right”  edited by Wendy Doniger and Martha C. Nussbaum (both from the University of Chicago). The publisher’s description follows:

Wendy Doniger and Martha Nussbaum bring together leading scholars from a wide array of disciplines to address a crucial question: How does the world’s most populous democracy survive repeated assaults on its pluralistic values? India’s stunning linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity has been supported since Independence by a political structure that emphasizes equal rights for all, and protects liberties of religion and speech. But a decent Constitution does not implement itself, and challenges to these core values repeatedly arise-most recently in the form of the Hindu Right movements of the twenty-first century that threatened to destabilize the nation and upend its core values, in the wake of a notorious pogrom in the state of Gujarat in which approximately 2000 Muslim civilians were killed.

Focusing on this time of tension and threat, the essays in this volume consider how a pluralistic democracy managed to survive. They examine the role of political parties and movements, including the women’s movement, as well as the role of the arts, the press, the media, and a historical legacy of pluralistic thought and critical argument. Featuring essays from eminent scholars in history, religious studies, political science, economics, women’s studies, and media studies, Pluralism and Democracy in India offers an urgently needed case study in democratic survival. As Nehru said of India on the eve of Independence: ”These dreams are for India, but they are also for the world.” The analysis this volume offers illuminates not only the past and future of one nation, but the prospects of democracy for all.

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.