The significance of internal views

As part of my Clark Byse fellowship this year, I taught a small workshop during the Fall semester on religious freedom. One of my sessions was devoted to getting a glimpse at the internal views of religions on religious freedom. In that session, I tried to examine religious freedom in two internalist intertwined senses. The first is a faith’s particular attitude to adherents of other faiths, while the second is freedom of conscience for its own adherents. Of course, these religious traditions are far from monolithic and surely there are dissensions within each faith community. There are enough similarities however to be able to paint one tradition’s views on the matter with broad brush strokes, I think. As expected with these kinds of topics, there was a lively discussion regarding the value of such viewpoint. One of the claims was that it does not matter what religions think internally because in any case they will have to conform to the overarching values of – more often than not – the liberal democratic state in which they find themselves.

The point that I was trying to make in the session of course was that it does matter what religions think. The clearest example would be the turnaround of the Catholic Church (though not all would probably agree with me that this could be considered a turnaround – some argue that it is a development in doctrine) with regard to freedom of conscience from the Syllabus of Errors to Dignitatis Humanae. For the past decade, the subject of these reconciliation efforts, that is, to recover internal resources which could be made compatible with external liberal values, and to judge a faith by its own Read more

Zucca, “Law, State and Religion in the New Europe: Debates and Dilemmas”

Last month, Cambridge University Press published Law, State and Religion in the New Europe: Debates and Dilemmas (Cambridge March 2012) by Lorenzo Zucca  (King’s College London). The publisher’s description follows.

As the new Europe takes shape, debates which had been confined to its constitutional structure are spilling over into more general areas, not least the field of law and religion. In this edited collection a team of experts seek to establish whether religion and the ‘new’ Europe are in conflict. The collection looks at the question from two perspectives. Initially it considers the question from the perspective of the most influential schools of political thought. The second approach is to look at the theory and operation of the European human rights, with concluding remarks by Joseph Weiler. This title will be of interest to scholars of European constitutional and human rights law, as well as legal theorists. It will appeal to scholars in the field of law and religion.

Outflanking the Bishops Conference on the Right

Last week, we noted  a report from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the importance of religious freedom in America, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty. Most of the time, one hears about dissents from the Catholic Left, which disagrees with the bishops on issues like abortion and homosexuality. Last week, though, there was a reminder that dissenters also exist on the Catholic Right.

The Society for Saint Pius X is a traditionalist Catholic body, formed around opposition to Vatican II, with an ambiguous relationship to the Church. Pope John Paul II excommunicated the society’s founder, and the society lacks canonical status, but recently the Vatican and the SSPX have been negotiating a formalization of the society’s place within the Church. It’s noteworthy, therefore, that the SSPX has responded to Our First, Most Cherished Liberty with a statement of its own. The SSPX is not impressed. In fact, it views the bishops’ statement as another example of an Americanist compromise that dilutes the Catholic faith. “Liberty,” the society asserts, is a matter of freely following the will of God, as that will is expressed in the Catholic Church; it has nothing to do with the American notion — strongly influenced, the SSPX argues, by heretical Calvinist theology — of personal freedom. It is precisely this American idea of personal freedom, the society maintains, that has led to things like the HHS contraceptives mandate. The SSPX calls on the bishops to abandon the principles of the Church’s “opponents” and return to the Church’s own.

As Rick Garnett points out over at Mirror of Justice, this argument was settled at Vatican II itself, in the Church’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae. I don’t know how large a movement the SSPX represents within Catholicism, though I suspect it’s fairly small. Still, it’s interesting to think of the bishops as reflecting a middle-of-the-road position — within the Catholic Church, that is.

Meyerson, “Endowed by Our Creator: The Birth of Religious Freedom in America”

Endowed by Our Creator: The Birth of Religious Freedom in AmericaAt the end of the month, Yale University Press will publish Endowed by Our Creator: The Birth of Religious Freedom in America (Yale April 2012) by Michael I. Meyerson (U. of Baltimore School of Law). The publisher’s description follows.

The debate over the framers’ concept of freedom of religion has become heated and divisive. This scrupulously researched book sets aside the half-truths, omissions, and partisan arguments, and instead focuses on the actual writings and actions of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and others. Legal scholar Michael I. Meyerson investigates how the framers of the Constitution envisioned religious freedom and how they intended it to operate in the new republic.

Endowed by Our Creator shows that the framers understood that the American government should not acknowledge religion in a way that favors any particular creed or denomination. Nevertheless, the framers believed that religion could instill virtue and help to unify a diverse nation. They created a spiritual public vocabulary, one that could communicate to all—including agnostics and atheists—that they were valued members of the political community. Through their writings and their decisions, the framers affirmed that respect for religious differences is a fundamental American value. Now it is for us, Meyerson concludes, to determine whether religion will be used to alienate and divide or to inspire and unify our religiously diverse nation.