Noah on the Role of Religion in End-of-Life Decisions

Barbara A. Noah (Western New England University School of Law) has posted The Role of Religion in the Schiavo Controversy. The abstract follows.

The brief life of Theresa Marie Schiavo and the dispute over her end-of-life care captured public awareness in a way that few such cases have done. The reasons for the nearly unprecedented public attention to her case are two-fold. The decision by various religious groups and governmental entities to intervene in the dispute surrounding her care in order to promote conservative causes (some of them only tenuously related to her particular medical circumstances) prompted unusually intense media coverage. In addition, the ensuing publicity surrounding Theresa’s tragic condition — an unexpected cardiac arrest left her in a permanent vegetative state at the age of twenty-six — provided a vivid and poignant reminder of the very precarious nature of life. Read more

Al-Azhar’s Bill of Rights

Earlier this week, Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the world’s preeminent Sunni center of learning, announced a new “Bill of Rights” for Egypt. Al-Azhar hopes that the non-binding document will guide the newly-elected parliament in preparing the new Egyptian constitution. Al-Azhar consulted Muslim and Christian intellectuals during the document’s drafting, and influential religious and political leaders have endorsed it, including Coptic Pope Shenouda and representatives of Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Al-Nour. Observers say the announcement is one in a series of attempts by Al-Azhar to assert a “moderate” version of Islam and beat back challenges from stricter versions of the faith endorsed by the Islamists.

The Times  reports that the document protects “freedom of expression and belief.” I haven’t been able to find an official translation online, but phrases like these can obscure serious underlying tensions. For example, a secular Western liberal might understand “freedom of belief” to cover, among other things, the choice to change one’s religion. In a Muslim context, though, the phrase could mean only that non-Muslims have the right to convert to Islam — Muslims still would be prohibited from converting to other faiths. Similarly, “freedom of expression” would not protect expression perceived as an insult to Islam, for example, attempts to convince Muslims that other faiths are superior. The fact that Islamist parties have signed on to the new document suggests that these narrow interpretations are at least plausible.

Sezgin on Women’s Rights Under Religious Law

Yuksel Sezgin (Harvard Divinity School) has posted Women’s Rights in the Triangle of State, Law, and Religion: A Comparison of Egypt and India. The abstract follows.

The main premise of this Essay is that personal status laws, whether based on Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu tradition, are men-made (implying that no females were involved in this process), socio-political constructions that have come invariably to discriminate against women and deny them equal rights in familial relations. However, women do not silently acquiesce in violation of their rights and liberties by male-dominated religious norms and institutions. On the contrary, women-led hermeneutic communities all over the world are spearheading a silent but steady revolution that redefines women’s role as rights-bearing and equal individuals in familial and public space. In doing so, women’s groups contest the scriptural monopoly of state-sanctioned religious institutions, reinterpret religious laws, and reinvent the tradition by vernacularizing international human rights and womens’ discourses. Against this background, Part I of this Essay demonstrates the implications of personal status laws on the rights and freedoms of women by looking at the Egyptian and Indian personal status systems. Part II of this Essay traces women-led reform movements emerging in the last two decades in these two countries and demonstrates how Egyptian and Indian women have claimed the rights and freedoms that current systems have denied them by forming reinterpretive hermeneutic communities.

Review of Books by Inazu and Zick

Over at The Book at the The New Republic on-line, there is an interesting review of two books dealing with, respectively, the freedom of assembly and free speech in public places: the one by John Inazu (Washington University St. Louis) (and which we noted here) and the other by Tim Zick (William & Mary).  The review is authored by Jeremy Kessler, a J.D./Ph.D. student at Yale.  John’s book is, I believe, more particularly interested in religious assembly, though I could be wrong about that.

Congratulations to John (and Professor Zick) on the very positive review!

The Wages of Cert. Denial in Bronx Household of Faith

In Bronx Houshold of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York, the Second Circuit held that the City could constitutionally exclude religious groups from using public school facilities on equal terms with all other groups, because those groups were engaged in “worship” rather than simply religious “expression,” and because the City had an Establishment Clause interest in avoiding the appearance that it was endorsing religion.  In so doing, the court purported to distinguish Good News Club v. Milford, also out of the Second Circuit.  The Supreme Court denied certiorari in the case, and so Bronx Household of Faith has lost.

In this story, some of the details of what has followed are reported.  Religious organizations are hoping that the City will reconsider, but the City is “moving forward.”  It seems that one of the ways in which forward progress is being made is by telling religious groups that they cannot worship in public housing developments, which may be the next move.  The City has denied that it is interested in ousting religious groups from public housing, but there does not seem to be any reason why the asserted interest in non-endorsement which won the day in the Second Circuit should not apply equally to public housing.  And hot on the heels of the cert. denial, five churches got word that their leases in public housing were no longer valid.  An interesting situation which bears watching.