Corley on Kazakhstan’s Proposed Religious Restrictions

Felix Corley (Forum 18 News Serivce) posted Kazakhstan: New Proposed Legal Restrictions on Religion Reach Parliament. The abstract follows. – JKH

The proposed new Religion Law which reached Parliament yesterday (5 September), if adopted in its current form, would impose a complex four-tier registration system, ban unregistered religious activity, impose compulsory religious censorship and require all new places of worship to have specific authorisation from the capital and the local administration. A second proposed Law imposing changes in the area of religion in nine other Laws would also amend the controversial Administrative Code Article 375, widening the range of “violations of the Religion Law” it punishes. The texts – seen by Forum 18 News Service – have been approved by Kazakhstan’s Prime Minister Karim Masimov, but have not yet been published.

Ten Years After September 11, 2001: Remembrance and Reconciliation Through Poetry (Sept. 10, 2011)

Professor Lawrence Joseph will read his poems as part of Poets House’s commemoration of the attacks of 9/11.  The event, to be held in the sanctuary of Trinity Church on Wall Street on September 10, will also feature readings by other leading American poets.  A description of the event is here.

American Theocracy, cont.

More evidence that worries about creeping “theocracy” in America are misguided: According to a poll released this week by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, only 16% of American Catholics are aware that during the 2008 election cycle, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document explaining Catholic teaching on political issues. The report, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” was not a new idea; the bishops issue such a report every presidential election cycle. Even more striking: 71% of American Catholics said the report would not have made a difference to them even if they had known about it.  Three-quarters who read the report said it had no influence on their vote.

Statistics like these don’t explain why American Catholics apparently tuned out the bishops’ report.  Maybe the report wasn’t sufficiently publicized. Maybe the report was vague. Maybe American Catholics know what the Church teaches about political questions and don’t think they need a refresher. Maybe – and this surely worries the Bishops Conference – the vast majority of American Catholics simply do not believe they have to form their consciences according to Church teaching. One implication is clear. If “theocracy” means that believers blindly vote the way their churches tell them – or even seriously consider their churches’ positions on political questions – theocracy doesn’t seem a real issue in America today. — MLM

Conkle on the Foundations of Religious Liberty

Daniel L. Conkle (Indiana University Maurer School of Law) posted Religious Truth, Pluralism, and Secularization: The Shaking Foundations of American Religious Liberty. The abstract follows. – JKH

In this Essay, I recount John Locke’s 1689 Letter Concerning Toleration and explain how religious liberty continues to rest on Lockean and related justifications. These various justifications depend in part on religious-moral reasoning (both Christian and non-Christian) and in part on political-pragmatic considerations. I then discuss recent and ongoing developments in the American religious landscape, including a radical increase in religious diversity, the modernization of traditional faiths, the individualization or “spiritualization” of religion, and the increasing secularization of individual belief structures. I suggest that these developments, over time, may seriously threaten the underlying religious-moral and political-pragmatic foundations of religious liberty and therefore America’s commitment to religious liberty as a fundamental value. If I am correct, the long-term future of American religious liberty may be in peril.

Zagorin’s “How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West”

When the separationist position was ascendant in religion clause law, one would frequently see two sorts of reasons given for it: separation from religion and separation for religion.  The former was oriented toward protecting the state; the latter toward protecting religion.  And even today, when separationism is no longer the Court’s favored position in either free exercise or establishment cases, one continues to see the idea that government and religion need to be shielded from one another for their mutual benefit.

The history of these ideas is discussed in How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West (PUP 2003), by the late Perez Zagorin, a first-rate European intellectual historian.  In explaining the origins of the idea of religious toleration, Zagorin’s study emphasizes the second component of the separationist stance.  And for those who are interested in a readable point of entry into these important issues, I think you will enjoy Zagorin’s accessible but deeply cultivated approach.  The publisher’s description follows.  — MOD

Religious intolerance, so terrible and deadly in its recent manifestations, is nothing new. In fact, until after the eighteenth century, Christianity was perhaps the most intolerant of all the great world religions. How Christian Europe and the West went from this extreme to their present universal belief in religious toleration is the momentous story fully told for the first time in this timely and important book by a leading historian of early modern Europe.

Perez Zagorin takes readers to a time when both the Catholic Church and the main new Protestant denominations embraced a policy of endorsing religious persecution, coercing unity, and, with the state’s help, mercilessly crushing dissent and heresy. This position had its roots in certain intellectual and religious traditions, which Zagorin traces before showing how out of the same traditions came the beginnings of pluralism in the West. Here we see how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century thinkers–writing from religious, theological, and philosophical perspectives–contributed far more than did political expediency or the growth of religious skepticism to advance the cause of toleration. Reading these thinkers–from Erasmus and Sir Thomas More to John Milton and John Locke, among others–Zagorin brings to light a common, if unexpected, thread: concern for the spiritual welfare of religion itself weighed more in the defense of toleration than did any secular or pragmatic arguments. His book–which ranges from England through the Netherlands, the post-1685 Huguenot Diaspora, and the American Colonies–also exposes a close connection between toleration and religious freedom.