Tag Archives: Religious Liberty

Luehrmann, “Religion in Secular Archives”

In August, the Oxford University Press releases “Religion in Secular Archives: Soviet Atheism and Historical Knowledge,” by Sonja Luehrmann (Simon Fraser University).  The publisher’s description follows:

What can atheists tell us about religious life? Russian archives contain a wealth of information on religiosity during the Soviet era, but most of it is written from the hostile perspective of officials and scholars charged with promoting atheism. Based on archival research in locations as diverse as the multi-religious Volga region, Moscow, and Texas, Sonja Luehrmann argues that we can learn a great deal about Soviet religiosity when we focus not just on what documents say but also on what they did. Especially during the post-war decades (1950s-1970s), the puzzle of religious persistence under socialism challenged atheists to develop new approaches to studying and theorizing religion while also trying to control it. Taking into account the logic of filing systems as well as the content of documents, the book shows how documentary action made religious believers firmly a part of Soviet society while simultaneously casting them as ideologically alien. When juxtaposed with oral, printed, and samizdat sources, the records of institutions such as the Council of Religious Affairs and the Communist Party take on a dialogical quality. In distanced and carefully circumscribed form, they preserve traces of encounters with religious believers. By contrast, collections compiled by western supporters during the Cold War sometimes lack this ideological friction, recruiting Soviet believers into a deceptively simple binary of religion versus communism. Through careful readings and comparisons of different documentary genres and depositories, this book opens up a difficult set of sources to students of religion and secularism.

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

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

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

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

Same-Sex Marriage and Our New Religious Politics

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Photo from Wikimedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Same-Sex Marriage Case

For those who are interested, my quick reaction to yesterday’s ruling in Obergefell is in a symposium today at the First Things website. I discuss the Court’s reasoning and the implications for religious liberty. Here’s a snippet:

First, although some commentators predicted that the Court would issue a narrow, pro-gay marriage ruling, the reasoning of Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion is actually quite sweeping, returning the Court to the heady days of substantive due process and unenumerated rights. Forget about textualism and originalism. As Chief Justice Roberts points out in his dissent, even the restraints of “history and tradition,” a limit Justice Harlan once suggested, are effectively shunted aside. A five-justice majority believes that same-sex marriage is a fundamental element of personal liberty, and that makes it a constitutional right.

For constitutional conservatives, this is very disheartening—whatever one’s views on the merits of same-sex marriage as a policy matter. After thirty years and more of trying assiduously to end, or at least limit, substantive due process, the doctrine still carries the day. As Justice Alito writes in his dissent, “Today’s decision shows that decades of attempts to restrain this Court’s abuse of discretion have failed. A lesson that some”—actually, anyone paying attention—“will take from today’s decision is that preaching about the proper method of interpreting the Constitution or the virtues of judicial self-restraint and humility cannot compete with the temptation to achieve what is viewed as a noble end by any practicable means.” Incidentally, today’s ruling demonstrates again how important the 1987 defeat of Robert Bork was, and how much Senate Democrats gained in putting up such a fight against him. It was the defeat of Bork that led to the nomination of Anthony Kennedy.

You can read my analysis, along with the other contributions to the symposium, here.

Conference: “Persecution of Christians in the World” (Brussels)

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For our readers in Europe, the European People’s Party will host a conference at the European Parliament next week on the persecution of Christians around the world:

The Group of the European People’s Party (EPP Group) has the pleasure to invite you to a conference organised by the Intercultural Activities and Religious Dialogue Unit on ‘The Persecution of Christians in the World’. The conference will take place on 1 July 2015 from 14.30-18.00 hrs in the European Parliament in Brussels.

The aim of the conference is to raise awareness at EU level and to provide a follow-up for the Motion for Resolution on the persecution of Christians in the world, in relation to the killing of students in Kenya by terror group al-Shabaab, adopted on 30 April 2015 in Strasbourg by Members of the European Parliament. In this Resolution, Members condemned the persecution of Christians and called on the EU and its Member States to address the persecution of Christians as a priority issue for their foreign policy.

The conference will consist of two parts: the first session will concentrate on the broader Middle East region, notably the cases of Syria and Iraq, and the second on other areas of the world, by giving examples from Asia to Africa.

Interpretation will be provided in ES-DE-EN-FR-IT-HU-PL

The event will take place in Brussels on July 1. Details are here. (H/T: Peggy McGuinness).

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

In July, the University of Chicago Press will release Politics of Religious Freedom, edited by Winifred Fallers Sullivan (Indiana University Bloomington), Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (Northwestern University), Saba Mahmood (University of California, Berkeley), and Peter G. Danchin (University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law). 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.

Brady, “The Distinctiveness of Religion in American Law”

The recent Pew survey reveals that the percentage of Americans without a bradyreligious affiliation–the Nones–continues to grow. As I’ve written here on the blog, the rise of the Nones may pose a threat to religious freedom in America. By definition, Nones do not see organized religion as worthwhile; consequently, they may be less likely to endorse special legal protection for it. Supporters of religious freedom will have to work harder to convince our fellow citizens that religious liberty remains a vital asset, even for those who do not formally adhere to a particular religion.

Next month, Cambridge University Press will release what looks to be an interesting book on the subject, The Distinctiveness of Religion in American Law: Rethinking Religion Clause Jurisprudence, by Kathleen A. Brady (Emory). The publisher’s description follows:

In recent decades, religion’s traditional distinctiveness under the First Amendment has been challenged by courts and scholars. As America grows more secular and as religious and nonreligious convictions are increasingly seen as interchangeable, many have questioned whether special treatment is still fair. In its recent decisions, the Supreme Court has made clear that religion will continue to be treated differently, but we lack a persuasive account of religion’s uniqueness that can justify this difference. This book aims to develop such an account. Drawing on founding era thought illumined by theology, philosophy of religion, and comparative religion, it describes what is at stake in our tradition of religious freedom in a way that can be appreciated by the religious and nonreligious alike. From this account, it develops a new framework for religion clause decision making and explains the implications of this framework for current controversies regarding protections for religious conscience.

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.