NYC Bar Association Event on Religious Minorities in the Middle East

The New York City Bar Association sponsored an interesting panel this week on “Religious and Ethnic Minorities in the Middle East.”  The panel discussed the current plight of minority groups like Copts, Kurds, Baha’is, and Jews.  Ashraf Ramelah, Founder and President of the Human Rights organization “Voice of the Copts,” began by discussing the Coptic community in Egypt.  Ramelah highlighted recent attacks on the Copts and expressed concern for their future during this period of transition.  He stressed the importance of fair and unbiased news regarding Copts, something he said has been lacking in Egypt for some time.

Anthony Vance, Director of U.S. Baha’i Office of External Affairs for the National Spiritual Assembly, highlighted the dangers faced by the Baha’i community in Iran.  Vance insisted that much of the Iranian population has been desensitized by media propaganda and the lack of a free press.  He discussed ways that the United States, and the international community as a whole, could help Baha’is and other oppressed minorities in the Middle East, the most important being use of the media and internet to stop the spread of misinformation.

Abe Greenwald, Senior Editor of Commentary, discussed the Kurdish population in Iraq.  He explained that although the overwhelming majority of Kurds are Muslim, there are Christian and Jewish Kurds as well.  He spoke of Iraq’s long history of exploiting Kurds.  Although the Kurdish community is relatively safe now, they face serious threats once the American military leaves Iraq. Read more

Howard on the Expanding Scope of Religious Discrimination Law in the EU

Erica Howard (Middlesex University) has posted EU Equality Law: Three Recent Developments. The abstract follows. – JKH

This article analyses three recent developments within the EU that have an impact on EU equality legislation: the coming into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the Proposal to extend the material scope of the provisions against discrimination on the ground of religion and belief, disability, age and sexual orientation beyond the area of employment, and the case lawof the European Court of Justice regarding the EU Equality Directives of 2000. It will assess whether these three developments have led to improved protection against discrimination for people in the EU.

Kahn on the Trial of Geert Wilders

In 2009, a Dutch court decided to prosecute right-wing politician Geert Wilders for hate speech. Wilders had made several highly critical comments about Islam and had produced a film, Fitna, that explored Islamist violence in a way that some people allege incites hatred against Muslims.  In June 2011, the court acquitted Wilders of all charges. Robert Kahn (St. Thomas – Minnesota)  has posted a piece, The Acquittal of Geert Wilders and Dutch Political Culture, that discusses Wilder’s case and its implications for multiculturalism. The abstract follows. — MLM

The June 23, 2011 acquittal of Geert Wilders has been viewed as a victory for freedom of speech over multiculturalism. While containing an element of truth, this framing has limitations. First, even as Wilders’ “triumphed” over multiculturalism he still cast himself as a champion of Dutch tolerance. Second, Wilders’ victory was a narrow one. The court, while acquitting, noted that Wilders went right to the line of permissible speech. Wilders acquittal does not necessarily portend an end of Dutch exceptionalism or its hate speech laws. Instead, the trial was noteworthy for (i) its obsession with the Nazi past, (ii) its debate over the rights and duties of a politician, and (iii) the conflict that arose between one of Wilders’ witnesses and an appeals court judge who in 2009 ordered the prosecutor to bring charges against Wilders.

English High Court Rules Catholic Priest Is Diocesan Employee, Raises Possibility of Vicarious Liability for Clergy Sex Abuse

A judge on the High Court of England and Wales ruled this week that a Catholic priest qualified as an employee of his diocese, thus exposing the diocese to vicarious liability for clergy sex abuse. The decision came in a case brought by a woman who claims that a priest abused her when she was a child. Although the priest did not have an employment contract with the diocese, the judge ruled, the diocese trained him, appointed him to his position, and held him out to the public as its representative. It provided “the premises, the pulpit, and the clerical robes” and sent the priest out into the community.

This is apparently the first time a court in the UK has held a priest to be an employee of his diocese. Dioceses usually lack day-to-day supervisory authority over priests; for this reason, courts often hold that priests are not employees, but independent contractors. The plaintiff’s victory may be less valuable than it appears, however. Vicarious liability exists where the employee commits torts while acting within the scope of his employment, and assaulting parishioners obviously falls outside a priest’s job description. The judge gave the diocese extended leave to appeal the decision. – MLM

Gregory, “The Unintended Reformation”

Brad S. Gregory (Notre Dame) will shortly publish The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Harvard UP 2011).  The echoes of MacIntyre in this work — presented in a very interesting historical narrative  here — seem distinctive in the book’s description.  I am looking forward very much to reading this book.  The publisher’s description follows.  — MOD

In a work that is as much about the present as the past, Brad Gregory identifies the unintended consequences of the Protestant Reformation and traces the way it shaped the modern condition over the course of the following five centuries. A hyperpluralism of religious and secular beliefs, an absence of any substantive common good, the triumph of capitalism and its driver, consumerism—all these, Gregory argues, were long-term effects of a movement that marked the end of more than a millennium during which Christianity provided a framework for shared intellectual, social, and moral life in the West.

Before the Protestant Reformation, Western Christianity was an institutionalized worldview laden with expectations of security for earthly societies and hopes of eternal salvation for individuals. The Reformation’s protagonists sought to advance the realization of this vision, not disrupt it. But a complex web of rejections, retentions, and transformations of medieval Christianity gradually replaced the religious fabric that bound societies together in the West. Today, what we are left with are fragments: intellectual disagreements that splinter into ever finer fractals of specialized discourse; a notion that modern science—as the source of all truth—necessarily undermines religious belief; a pervasive resort to a therapeutic vision of religion; a set of smuggled moral values with which we try to fertilize a sterile liberalism; and the institutionalized assumption that only secular universities can pursue knowledge.

The Unintended Reformation asks what propelled the West into this trajectory of pluralism and polarization, and finds answers deep in our medieval Christian past.