ECtHR Decides Church Autonomy Case

2012 is turning out to be a big year for church autonomy rulings across the world. The rulings don’t all cut the same way. In January, the US Supreme Court handed down a pro-autonomy decision, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC,  unanimously endorsing a constitutional “ministerial exception” to the federal employment anti-discrimination laws. In February, a section of the European Court of Human Rights handed down an anti-autonomy decision, Sindacatul “Pastoral cel Bun” v. Romania, holding that Orthodox priests could form a union over their church’s objections. Now, a section of the ECtHR has handed down a pro-autonomy decision in a case involving the employment of a laicized Catholic priest.

In Spain, public schools offer classes in Catholicism, taught by instructors approved by the local bishop. In the most recent case, a local bishop had withdrawn approval of one such instructor, a laicized priest who had taken a public stand against mandatory priestly celibacy. When the school dismissed the instructor, he brought suit under the European Convention, arguing that the dismissal violated his rights to privacy, family life, and expression. Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, a section of the ECtHR ruled against him. In withdrawing approval, the section stated, the bishop had acted “in accordance with the principle of religious autonomy;” the instructor had been dismissed for purely religious reasons, and it would be inappropriate for a secular court to intrude.

It will be interesting to see whether the Grand Chamber reviews this judgment, or the judgment in the Romanian case, which Romania has already referred. The case is Fernandez Martinez v. Spain, available on the ECtHR’s website here (in French). For an interesting analysis of how this case relates to Hosanna-Tabor, check out Stijn Smet’s post on Strasbourg Observers.

Greetings from Chicago

I have the pleasure of being hosted this week at the DePaul College of Law by the Center for Jewish Law and Judaic Studies, which is holding a two-day Jewish Law Symposium.  The format for the symposium has been fantastic.  The first day was dedicated to CLE presentations on contemporary issues in Jewish law (I presented on practical issues that arise when trying to enforce rabbinical court judgments in U.S. courts).  The second day will include works in progress by some fantastic Jewish Law scholars, including Chaim Saiman (Villanova), who is presenting his paper “Talmudic Analysis and Ethical Thought,” David Flatto (Penn State), who is presenting his paper “Justice Retold,” and Roberta Kwall (DePaul), who is presenting her paper “The Cultural Analysis Paradigm: Women and Synagogue Ritual as a Case Study,” with all papers receiving comments from Keith Sharfman (St. Johns).  I’ve got to say the combination of both discussions of practical Jewish law issues and scholarly presentations of Jewish Law papers has been a great format.  Many thanks to the Center and to its co-directors Roberta Kwall and  Steven Resnicoff for putting together such a wonderful program.

“Religious Arbitration and the New Multiculturalism” on The Legal Workshop

The Legal Workshop – one of my favorite websites – posted the short essay version of my recent article “Religious Arbitration and the New Multiculturalism: Negotiating Conflicting Legal Orders.”   I have to say that I really enjoyed the process of distilling the core points of the full version of the article (available here) into the shorter format, which is what I think makes The Legal Workshop such a useful venue for reading up on recent scholarship.