George Washington on Religion, Morality, and Politics

It is the commemoration of President George Washington’s birthday today.  Washington took a highly republican (small ‘r’) view of the relationship of religion and politics, one which not all of the founding generation espoused but which nonetheless forms an important part of our national heritage.  Here is a selection from a draft of Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796, explaining to the country why he would not seek a second term in office (I found this passage in the Liberty Fund’s excellent collection of Washington’s writings, in Volume XIII):

Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports.  In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens.  The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.  A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity.  Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.  Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure—reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Ecumenical Patriarch Calls for Religious Equality in Turkey

Bartholomew I is the Ecumenical Patriarch, “first among equals” in the Eastern Orthodox Church and spiritual leader of hundreds of millions of Orthodox Christians worldwide. He lives in Istanbul, once Constantinople, along with his remaining flock, a few thousand Greek Orthodox Christians. By all accounts, his situation is quite precarious; he has, for example, been the target of numerous assassination plots by Muslim extremists.

Today, Bartholomew appeared before a Turkish parliamentary subcommittee that is preparing a new constitution for Turkey. He made a plea for religious freedom and equality. He requested that Halki Greek Orthodox Seminary, closed by the government since the 1980s, be reopened; that freedom of worship be protected; and that state funding be available for minority as well as Muslim communities. Although the present Turkish constitution guarantees religious freedom, members of minority religions often complain that their rights are not honored in practice. “Unfortunately there have been injustices toward minorities until now,” Bartholomew said. “These are slowly being corrected and changed. A new Turkey is being born.” We shall see.


We Could Have Told You That

On Saturday, Pope Benedict named 22 new cardinals, including Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the neighboring Catholic Archdiocese of New York, now Timothy Cardinal Dolan. While in Rome, Cardinal Dolan went out of his way to assure the Vatican that New York is not an entirely irreligious city:

“New York seems to have an innate interest and respect for religion and I’m going to bring that up because I don’t like that caricature that New York is some neo-Sodom and Gomorrah” he told reporters after celebrating Mass on Thursday in Rome’s Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica…. “[T]here are instances of secularism and materialism and paganism in New York as there are everywhere … but I have found the New York community to be very religious and innately respectful of religion, interested in religion,” he said.

Cleary, more Vaticanisti need to be reading CLR Forum.

Ringelheim on Rights, Religion & the Public Sphere in the European Court of Human Rights

Julie Ringelheim (U. of Louvain, Belgium) has posted Rights, Religion and the Public Sphere: The European Court of Human Rights in Search of a Theory?  The abstract follows.

This paper seeks to analyze the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) case-law on religious freedom in the light of political and social theory debates on the place of religion in the public sphere. The Court’s jurisprudence on these matters denotes an increasing attempt at going beyond casuistry and building a consistent vision of religious freedom and its implications for state-religions relations, valid across Europe. Alongside the core notion of pluralism, three major principles have progressively emerged in this case-law: the right to autonomy of religious communities vis-à-vis the state; an obligation of neutrality for the state; and the necessity of the secularity of the legal order’s foundations. These principles, it is submitted, are in line with the democratic ideal that underlies the European Convention. Yet, the Court’s approach to religion-related disputes is not without tensions and problems. These are especially manifest when the Court handles disputes that go beyond the issue of the respective autonomy of religion and public authority, and concern the multifaceted question of expression ofreligion in the public sphere, in particular, the status of religion in public discourse, the wearing of religious garments at public school or university, and claims for accommodation of religious practice in the workplace. In some cases of this sort, the Court has adopted stances that are questionable from the viewpoint of the principles it has itself identified as central for religious freedom. In other instances, these principles themselves appear to be in need of further elaboration. But the significance of the tensions surrounding the treatment of religious disputes by the Court cannot be fully grasped without having regard to present-day discussions in social and political theory on the relations between religion and the public sphere. From this perspective, it appears that the ECtHR’s case-law is to a large extent built on assumptions stemming from the classic secularisation thesis, and that this, among other factors, makes it theoretically ill-equipped to deal with situations that do not fit this paradigm.

Johnson on Corporate and Religious Fiduciaries in Bankruptcy

Lyman Johnson (Washington and Lee U. & U. of St. Thomas, St. Paul Schools of Law) has posted Debarring Faithless Corporate and Religious Fiduciaries in Bankruptcy. This paper was first presented in September 2011, at the “Religion and Bankruptcy” Conference, hosted by the Center for Law and Religion. Marc DeGirolami liveblogged the presentation for the CLR Forum. The abstract of Johnson’s article follows.

Fiduciary duties for the top governance officials of both business and religious organizations demand faithfulness to the institution’s mission, a seemingly strict demand. Meaningful sanctions for breach, however, are difficult to obtain and may not deter future misconduct, including that kind of conduct leading to organizational bankruptcy. This article advocates that, to attain both special and general deterrence, bankruptcy law should look to other regulatory regimes and permit a bankruptcy court to debar faithless secular and ecclesiastical fiduciaries from holding certain leadership positions. Although written shortly before the 2012 Supreme Court Hosanna-Tabor decision, that opinion – addressing the “ministerial exception” for employees − does not alter the constitutional assessment of the position argued for in this article with respect to harm-causing, non-ministerial governing officials.