Panel: The Original Source of Law (May 9)

The Crossroads Cultural Center will host a panel discussion, “The Original Source of Law: The Individual? The State? God?”, at NYU on May 9. The panel will address natural law, both as a general concept and in its practical implications. Speakers include Robert George (Princeton) and Andrea Simoncini (Florence). Details are here.

Thanks to Anna Su and Welcome to Mike Helfand

Thanks very much to Anna Su, who has been blogging with us for the month of April. We enjoyed having you with us, Anna, and hope you’ll come back soon.

And welcome to our next guest blogger, Mike Helfand, who will be posting with us in May. Mike joins us from Pepperdine, where he is Associate Professor of Law and Associate Director of the Diane and Guilford Glazer Institute for Jewish Studies. He writes in law and religion, arbitration, and constitutional law; his most recent piece, Litigating Religion, will appear in the Boston University Law Review. Welcome, Mike!

Religious Freedom Promotion and its Discontents

A month ago, the U.S. Congress appointed Prof. Robert George and Dr. Zuhdi Jasser to serve as the new commissioners on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Speaker Boehner appointed George while Senator McConnell appointed Jasser. (The appointments were not without some controversy. An online petition against their appointments made the rounds accusing both of anti-Muslim bias through their organizational affiliations.) It still surprises me that the statute creating the USCIRF remains unknown to many Americans today. According to its website, the USCIRF “monitors and advocates for religious freedom abroad wherever that right is being abused. USCIRF also offers policy solutions to improve conditions at the critical juncture of foreign policy, national security and international religious freedom standards.” The Commission almost closed shop – it was given a last-minute reauthorization December 16 of last year by Congress and its mandate was extended up to 2018. Interestingly, there is a separate Office for International Religious Freedom within the State Department. The difference between the two is that the USCIRF is an independent federal government entity while the other works within the institutional framework of the State department. In any case, Canada, apparently the new constitutional powerhouse of the world, must think this office is a pretty good idea. Last January, the Conservative government announced the creation of an Office of Religious Freedom within the Canadian Foreign Ministry which would probably use its American counterpart as a model of sorts.

In this last post (thanks Mark and Marc for the guest stint!), I want to talk a bit about the history and implications of these official religious freedom promotion activities. Religious freedom has always occupied a special place in the pantheon of American freedoms. But the origins of this office are much more recent than what an ordinary observer might think. To be sure, Read more

Movsesian on the Tanzimat

My colleague, Mark Movsesian, has posted a short, highly readable, and instructive piece about an important episode in nineteenth-century religion-state relations in the Middle East, The Price of Ottoman Failure.  The abstract follows.

This essay, written for a symposium on secularity in the contemporary Middle East, explores the dangers secularization may pose for non-Muslims, especially Christians. It looks to a historical example, the 19th Century Ottoman reform movement known as the Tanzimat. The Tanzimat aimed to modernize the empire and revise its law to reflect secular European models. One major reform gave legal equality for the first time to non-Muslims. Equality contradicted classical Islamic law and contributed to a violent backlash against Christians that set the stage for genocide in the 20th Century. Of course, the story of the Tanzimat’s failure is complex. Factors other than religious law were also involved, and one cannot draw a direct analogy to events that occurred 150 years ago in a different society. Nonetheless, the story of the Tanzimat and its failure suggests that secularization in the Middle East is a delicate matter that poses risks for Christian communities.