Oxford Journal of Law and Religion

An exciting development in the world of law and religion scholarship that is right in CLR’s wheelhouse: Oxford is launching a new journal, the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, in 2012.  The editorial board consists of a terrific group of scholars.  Here is the description of the journal:

The Oxford Journal of Law and Religion will have a range of articles drawn from various sectors of the law and religion field, including: social, legal and political issues involving the relationship between law and religion in society; comparative law perspectives on the relationship between religion and state institutions; developments regarding human and constitutional rights to freedom of religion or belief; considerations of the relationship between religious and secular legal systems; empirical work on the place of religion in society; and other salient areas where law and religion interact (e.g., theology, legal and political theory, legal history, philosophy, etc.).

Rodogno on Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire

We are accustomed to think of international human rights campaigns as recent phenomena. In a new book, Against Massacre: Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire, 1815-1914 (Princeton 2011), Davide Rodogno (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva) shows that the practice goes back at least two centuries and originated from a desire to protect religious minorities. Rodogno details European intervention on behalf of Christians in late Ottoman Turkey. Then as now, he argues, human rights campaigns had mixed motives: humanitarian, but also political. European powers were selective about which groups merited protection, and how much. The publisher’s description follows.

Against Massacre looks at the rise of humanitarian intervention in the nineteenth century, from the fall of Napoleon to the First World War. Examining the concept from a historical perspective, Davide Rodogno explores the understudied cases of European interventions and noninterventions in the Ottoman Empire and brings a new view to this international practice for the contemporary era.

While it is commonly believed that humanitarian interventions are a fairly recent development, Rodogno demonstrates that almost two centuries ago an international community, under the aegis of certain European powers, claimed a moral and political right to intervene in other states’ affairs to save strangers from massacre, atrocity, or extermination. On some occasions, these powers acted to protect fellow Christians when allegedly “uncivilized” states, like the Ottoman Empire, violated a “right to life.” Exploring the political, legal, and moral status, as well as European perceptions, of the Ottoman Empire, Rodogno investigates the reasons that were put forward to exclude the Ottomans from the so-called Family of Nations. He considers the claims and mixed motives of intervening states for aiding humanity, the relationship between public outcry and state action or inaction, and the bias and selectiveness of governments and campaigners.

An original account of humanitarian interventions some two centuries ago, Against Massacre investigates the varied consequences of European involvement in the Ottoman Empire and the lessons that can be learned for similar actions today.

The Vatican Apostolic Library

In September 2010, the magnificent and extremely ancient Vatican Apostolic Library reopened after a period of renovation.  First opened by Pope Nicholas V in 1448 (the Pope wished to share his books and manuscripts), the library contains centuries of undiscovered and unknown works.  It is not open to the general public — one needs to be an academic or a student to gain entry. 

In this story, Paolo Vian, chief of the manuscript division, talks a little about an early work of Spinoza which was recently discovered in the library (he notes that one of the reasons it was not discovered earlier was that it was not signed by the author, or otherwise so designated).  There are other discoveries waiting to be made in this vast repository.  Vian mentions about 200 verses of a comedy by the Greek dramatist Menander which were recently found, as well as a seminal 1615 work by Tommaso Campanella, “L’ateismo trionfato” (“Atheism Defeated”).   

An elegant quote by Vian, when asked why so many initially sought entry but went away somewhat disappointed:

The treasures, the real ‘secrets’ of a library or of an archive are not discovered by pushing a button.  One requires a long and burdensome patience which, as in the case of [Spinoza’s] Ethics, puts together separate elements, re-knots shredded strands, sees value in minute and almost invisible clues.  One needs the patience and tenacity of someone in love and only then can one reach one’s goal. 

Merry Christmas, Mr. President

At the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse in Washington last week (that’s last year’s tree on the left), President Obama wished Americans a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Season. His remarks, in part, were quite sectarian:

More than 2,000 years ago, a child was born to two faithful travelers who could find rest only in a stable, among the cattle and the sheep.  But this was not just any child.  Christ’s birth made the angels rejoice and attracted shepherds and kings from afar.  He was a manifestation of God’s love for us.  And He grew up to become a leader with a servant’s heart who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful:  that we should love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

That teaching has come to encircle the globe.  It has endured for generations.  And today, it lies at the heart of my Christian faith and that of millions of Americans.  No matter who we are, or where we come from, or how we worship, it’s a message that can unite all of us on this holiday season. . . .  And this holiday season, let us reaffirm our commitment to each other, as family members, as neighbors, as Americans, regardless of our color or creed or faith.  Let us remember that we are one, and we are a family.

Our readers in Europe (and Rhode Island) might find the first paragraph, which could easily have come from an evangelical preacher, a bit shocking, but official statements like this are very much a part of the American tradition. Did the President violate the Establishment Clause? I hardly think so, even under the endorsement test, given the context of his remarks and the fact that he coupled the sectarian reference with a more universal message of good will to everyone, regardless of creed — a message that is part of the Christmas story, too.   (H/T: First Things).

Two Establishment Clause Cases — One Strong, One Weak

Both courtesy of Howard Friedman.  The strong case is one which, if the allegations in the complaint are true, certainly violates the Establishment Clause.  The case is Anderson v. Chesterfield County School District, filed yesterday, where the  plaintiff alleges (1) that at an assembly, the principal gave a prayer and referred to Jesus Christ, during which other students pressured the plaintiff’s son to bow his head; (2) the singing of religious songs at the concert (for what it’s worth, I do not think this allegation, standing alone, is worth much); (3) that at other assemblies there was school-sponsored and school-led prayer; (4) that at one assembly “the school held an evangelical revival . . . featuring a Christian rapper, a minister, and other volunteers from a local church who prayed with and proselytized students” (a very serious allegation); (5) at another assembly, a minister told students that “a relationship with Jesus is what you need” (also extremely serious); and (6) students were asked to sign a pledge dedicating themselves to Jesus Christ and were given other religious literature (same).   There are other allegations as well, some as powerful as these, some less so.  But it seems to me that these are extraordinarily strong claims for a violation of the Establishment Clause — outright religious proselytism in public school is way out of bounds.

The weak case is one out of the Second Circuit, Bronx Household of Faith v. New York City Bd. of Ed., in which the City barred the use of public buildings for religious activities, including “worship services.”  Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not grant cert. on this case, which seems to me indistinguishable for all intents and purposes from the issue in Good News Club v. Milford (also out of, and reversing, the 2d Circuit).  Here are my criticisms of the Second Circuit’s opinion.