Choudhury on Minority Rights in Quebec

Nafay Choudhury (graduate of McGill University – Faculty of Law) has posted Niqab vs. Quebec: Negotiating Minority Rights Within Quebec Identity. The abstract follows.—YAH

Quebec recently proposed legislation (Bill 94) that would require all individuals to reveal their face when seeking a government service. The proposed legislation particularly targets Muslim women who don the niqab. Underlying the present debate is an artificial dichotomy – a tension between a society’s interest in defining a common sense of citizenship and minority claims that seem inconsistent with the will of the majority. A Charter challenge – even if successful – would not fully address this underlying tension. In this paper, I argue that the heart of the present controversy relates to the need for a clear conception of Quebec identity. By considering the historical, social, ethnic, geographic and intrinsic significance of the French language, I argue that the French language, not secularism, is the key element of Quebec identity and facilitates a common sense of citizenship in Quebec. If a minority claim is capable of fitting within this conception of Quebec identity, then it poses no threat to Quebec citizenship, and thus, there should be no reason to exclude the claim – in this case the claim to wear the niqab when seeking a government service – from Quebec society.

Italian Cultural Catholicism

Here’s an opinion piece from a few weeks ago in one of the leading Italian newspapers, Il Corriere Della Sera, by Ferruccio de Bortoli, titled, “The Mission of Catholics.”  The piece is a nice example of the power of cultural Catholicism as an intellectual and political force in Italy — and the demands that are being made of Catholicism in a country whose political, cultural, and economic fortunes are under threat (or, at least, are so perceived).  The piece is in Italian, so I will try to summarize. 

De Bortoli, who is a non-believer, calls on Catholics to reinvigorate the Italian political culture.  “The country needs Catholics,” he says: “Civil and moral reconstruction will not be possible without their diverse and renewed political work.”  But de Bortoli is not talking about the revival of Christian parties, let alone the failed Christian Democratic Party.  Neither does he want a return to what he calls the fractured and “bi-polar” situation in which some Catholics defended the state’s values and others searched for the core of Christianity in everyday, non-political life.

What does he want? 

It would be enough if [Catholics] set for themselves some simple but ambitious goals: reviving community spirit and the desire to participate, and to throw the seed of duty [“impegno”] to others . . . . In his essay on the Geography of Catholic Italy, Roberto Cartocci writes that ‘the Catholic tradition appears as the most ancient glue [“collante” — a binding, cohesive agent], the most solid path of continuity among the diverse components of the country.’  Not only this: it [Catholicism] is the bringer of an inclusive culture, which does not divide and destroy society.  It has the sense of the limits of political action and the presence of the state in people’s private lives.  These are important qualities.  Appreciated by everyone.  Even we non-believers.

What is interesting to me about these sentiments is not as much the substance as the turn to Catholicism itself.  De Bortoli talks about Catholicism as a conversation stimulator — a kind of conciliating interlocutor and Charlie Rose-type figure among different political/cultural traditions.  Not much more than a word in this piece (apart from the comments about the limited state) about Catholics’ substantive and policy views.  Desperate times surely call for desperate measures, and Italians do seem to be in desperate times.  But I wonder whether de Bortoli has quite taken the measure of what it is that Catholicism has to offer Italy.  — MOD

Catholic Church v. Obama Administration

This is an interesting article in the Washington Post from two days ago about the increasing conflict between the Obama Administration and the Catholic Church.  The story specifically discusses the withdrawal of the anti-human-trafficking contract that I discussed here.  The article reports that apparently there was some internal dissent within the Department of Health and Human Services from career staffers about the politicization of the decision, based in part on a very favorable neutral report on the Church’s prior administration of the contract.  There is some suggestion that the USCCB would sue the Administration, though I wonder what the suit would allege. — MOD

Gerhard Von Rad: State Interference and Unflappable Belief in Nazi Germany

Bernard M. Levinson, Professor and Berman Family Chair of Jewish Studies & Hebrew Bible at the University of Minnesota Law School, has recently re-posted Reading the Bible in Nazi Germany: Gerhard von Rad’s Attempt to Reclaim the Old Testament for the Church (read the full text here).  The article, which first appeared in Volume 62 of Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology (2008), explores Gerhard von Rad’s (1901–71) staunch adherence to Old Testament studies despite the challenge of Nazi elements within his theological and intellectual milieu.  Levinson also draws a direct connection between von Rad’ s hermeneutic and the historical circumstances under which he worked, painting a powerful portrait of religious and intellectual conviction in defiance of a totalitarian state.

Levinson chronicles National Socialism’s grip on academia and—through control of university theological study—churches.  In 1934, just as von Rad took a post teaching theology at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (“NSDAP”) was taking universities and churches into its ideological grip.  This substantial transformation coincided with—or caused—the ascendance of the Deutsche Christen (“German Christians”) and the more radically nationalist German Christian Church Movement (“KDC”) (I have already written upon the opposition of the protestant, anti-Nazification Bekennende Kirche—“Confessing Church”—here).

The University of Jena was a nucleus of this shift, and its Faculty of Theology became an organ for National Socialist, German Christian ideology.  (It is worth mentioning that, in addition to the Jena Faculty of Theology’s intellectual move toward National Socialism, the Faculty of Medicine became more concretely an NSDAP body:  It used Buchenwald to train students in pathology and its medical-clinics participated in some 14,000 forced sterilizations before 1943.  [See the New York Museum of Jewish Heritage‘s account of the unimaginable atrocities at Buchenwald here.]  The appointment of S.S. Obersturmbannführer Karl Astel as Jena’s rector in 1939 completed the university’s National Socialist transformation.)

For more on Levinson’s description of the Nazification of German protestant churches and von Rad’s resistance to Nazification through his writing and teaching, please follow the jump. Read more

If anyone calls, Say I am blockading St. Paul’s

In a sure sign of the impact of globalization, the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread to Europe. In London, the protests have centered on St. Paul’s Cathedral (right), an impressive, if slightly sterile, architectural wonder that Sir Christopher Wren designed in the 17th Century (you may remember the school rhyme about Sir Christopher quoted above). The protestors have not targeted St. Paul’s to protest the Church of England. St. Paul’s sits in London’s financial district, the City of London. So protestors have erected a tent city at the entrance to the church. It’s a pretty obvious location, if you want to send a signal to financiers.

The problem is that the tent city blocks access to the church, and at least some clergy want the protestors to leave. St. Paul’s commenced an eviction action against the protestors last month, but that has led to what the New York Times describes as “a leadership crisis” within the Church of England. Some Anglican clergy support the protestors; two leading priests at St. Paul’s resigned this week over the lawsuit. Following intervention by the Anglican Bishop of London, St. Paul’s has suspended the lawsuit to see if it and the protestors can reach some kind of agreement.

As a gesture of good will, perhaps, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, yesterday expressed sympathy for the protestors’ aims and suggested some legal reforms. The archbishop endorsed a Pontifical Council’s call last week for higher taxes on financial transactions and for the restructuring of banks that have received public bailout funds (discussed by my CLR Forum colleague Marc DeGirolami here). The Pontifical Council’s proposals, the archbishop said, should be a starting point for discussion of serious legislative reform. Whatever else they have done, the protestors at St. Paul’s do seem to have succeeded in getting more high-ranking clergy to inject religious views into public policy debates. – MLM