Lots of law-and-religion news out of Britain this weekend. Here’s another story: in Catholic parishes in Britain today, worshipers heard a pastoral letter from Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the Catholic primate, warning about the dangers of legalizing same-sex marriage. The letter follows similar statements by Anglican bishops, including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Archbishop of York John Sentamu; Williams is quoted as saying that legalization would force “unwanted change on the rest of the nation.” The bishops’ statements follow reports that the coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron is considering introducing legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in Britain. It’s not clear from the reports whether the legislation would authorize only civil same-sex marriages or actually alter the articles of the Church of England — adopted by act of Parliament — to authorize religious same-sex marriages as well. I assume the former, but I don’t know enough about Parliament’s role in setting doctrine in the Church of England.
An extraordinary position for, of all countries, Great Britain to take before the European Court of Human Rights. Here’s a bit from the story:
In a highly significant move, ministers will fight a case at the European Court of Human Rights in which two British women will seek to establish their right to display the cross.
It is the first time that the Government has been forced to state whether it backs the right of Christians to wear the symbol at work.
A document seen by The Sunday Telegraph discloses that ministers will argue that because it is not a “requirement” of the Christian faith, employers can ban the wearing of the cross and sack workers who insist on doing so.
I missed this when it came out a few months ago — Grace Davie’s Law, Sociology, and Religion: An Awkward Threesome — in the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion. Like all of the journal’s content at present, it is available for free. And our readers will want to check out this piece. Here is the opening of Professor Davie’s extremely interesting article:
Lawyers are increasingly interested in religion—for good reason. Religious disputes demand the attention of legal experts—an interest that is likely to grow given that almost all of us live in religiously diverse societies, in which effective forms of co-habitation have to be established and regulated. Sociologists, initially distracted by the assumption that modernization implied secularization, are similarly inclined, spurred on by the presence of religion in public as well as private debates. No longer is it possible to relegate religion to the sidelines of social science. Sociologists, finally, have always been interested in the law—recognizing that the law and law-making reflect the changing nature of society. The interpretation of law, conversely, sharpens the issues at stake and becomes itself an important factor in social change.
All that said, these can be difficult conversations. Lawyers and sociologists are differently trained and ask different questions about religion, as indeed about everything else. They do not always listen to each other. Lawyers, for example, create and interpret legal frameworks, some of which deal with religion; they are less interested in the messy realities of lived religion as this is experienced in everyday life. If it is one thing to deem certain forms of religion to be legally acceptable and others not, it is quite another to grasp the implications for the individuals and communities, that fall—at times arbitrarily—on one side of the line or the other. Why, for example, do certain religious movements fare better in some parts of Europe than in others? Clearly this has nothing to do with the religious movements themselves, and everything to do with the understandings of tolerance and toleration in the host society, and the historical specificities that lie behind this. Legal judgements must be placed in context.
Professor Davie is surely right to say that lawyers, sociologists, and religious studies scholars are pursuing very different sorts of inquiries and projects, and she is surely also right to say that they nevertheless can learn a great deal from one another.