Liveblogging the Religion and Civil Society Conference: Afternoon Panel [UPDATE]

This afternoon’s first panel was “Religious Freedom in the Contemporary Juridical Context,” chaired by Francisca Pérez Madrid of the University of Barcelona. (UPDATE: That’s a picture of the panel, left, with conference organizer Mary Ann Glendon). I opened the panel with a comparative paper on recent cases in the American Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights on the question of state-sponsored religious displays. Although both courts emphasize the need for state “neutrality,” they define neutrality differently, and I argue that the differences reflect underlying institutional and cultural factors. Hans-Martien ten Napel (Leiden University) followed with a paper on theoretical justifications for religious freedom, including church autonomy. He argued that Christian social pluralist thought, both Catholic and Protestant, can provide an institution-sensitive account of religious freedom that avoids some of the pitfalls of conventional individualistic accounts. Iain Benson (Miller Thompson LLP, Canada) spoke next. In a satiric paper, he explored rhetorical devices used by opponents of church autonomy, for example, referring to “public” as distinct from “religious” and treating “secular” as a neutral, ahistorical concept. Pasquale Annicchino (European University Institute) followed with a paper on the need for a religious freedom office within the new European External Action Service, an EU diplomatic corps established by the Treaty of Lisbon. This new service, he argued, which would advocate for religious freedom outside Europe, could be modeled on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. Pérez Madrid closed the panel with a paper on a recent General Comment by the UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which requires states to promote citizens’ participation in cultural life.  Issued in 2009, the General Comment notes that “culture” encompasses, among other things, religion and belief systems; although it must be reinforced in some ways, Pérez Madrid maintained, the General Comment’s approach to religion as a matter of culture was basically sound.

NYC Health Dept. & Circumcision

Straight from the NY Daily News:

“The city Health Department on Wednesday “strongly” urged against an ultra-Orthodox Jewish circumcision ritual that uses oral-genital suction to remove the blood.

In September, a Brooklyn infant died after the procedure because he contracted herpes from the rabbi, or mohel , who performed it.

“There is no safe way to perform oral suction on any open wound in a newborn,” city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in a statement.

The ritual leaves infants at risk of contracting herpes simplex virus type 1.”

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Liveblogging the Religion and Civil Society Conference: Glendon

I’m here today at this year’s Religion and Civil Society Conference, “The Changing Faces of ‘Religion’ and ‘Secularity,’” organized by the Institute for Culture and Society at the University of Navarra and hosted by Harvard Law School. This morning’s first speaker was Harvard’s Mary Ann Glendon, who opened the conference by offering a helpful roadmap of the current social science literature regarding secularization.

Glendon argued against simplistic evaluations of religion’s place in civil society. Organized religion does seem to be in decline in the West, as the old secularization theory predicted, but there is also an upsurge in “political religion” in many parts of the world. She identified four new, competing “grand narratives” regarding secularization: (1) the “New Atheism” of writers like Hitchens, which celebrates the decline of religion; (2) the “Melancholy Secularism” of Habermas and Pera, which agrees that religion is in decline but views this as a sorry development that will lead to the abandonment of the Judeo-Christian values that support classical liberalism; (3) the “Cultural Secularism” associated with Charles Taylor, which describes, in a more or less detached way, a society in which religious belief is only one option among many;  and (4) the “Positive Secularism” of Pope Benedict XVI, which advocates state neutrality, not hostility, toward religion. Ironically, Glendon noted, this last version, championed by the Catholic Church today, shows more sympathy for the Enlightenment value of religious liberty than the New Atheism, which sees itself as the heir of the Enlightenment. She closed with some reflections on the role of social scientists in assessing the contemporary place of religion in society.

Fluhman, “‘A Peculiar People’: Anti-Mormomism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America”

An interesting work about nineteenth-century American religious and political history by J. Spencer Fluhman (BYU), “A Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (UNC Press 2012).  The first major Supreme Court religion clause decision, Reynolds v. United States, was decided in 1878 and involved the prosecution of a member of the LDS Church for bigamy in what was then the Utah territory.  The publisher’s description follows.

Though the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion, it does not specify what counts as a religion. From its founding in the 1830s, Mormonism, a homegrown American faith, drew thousands of converts but far more critics. In “A Peculiar People”, J. Spencer Fluhman offers a comprehensive history of anti-Mormon thought and the associated passionate debates about religious authenticity in nineteenth-century America. He argues that understanding anti-Mormonism provides critical insight into the American psyche because Mormonism became a potent symbol around which ideas about religion and the state took shape.

Fluhman documents how Mormonism was defamed, with attacks often aimed at polygamy, and shows how the new faith supplied a social enemy for a public agitated by the popular press and wracked with social and economic instability. Taking the story to the turn of the century, Fluhman demonstrates how Mormonism’s own transformations, the result of both choice and outside force, sapped the strength of the worst anti-Mormon vitriol, triggering the acceptance of Utah into the Union in 1896 and also paving the way for the dramatic, yet still grudging, acceptance of Mormonism as an American religion.

FDR’s D-Day Speech

Yesterday (June 6th) was the 68th Anniversary of the historic allied D-Day invasion of Normandy.

For a fascinating glimpse into how much has changed in the United States since that time (the course of but one lifetime), one can review FDR’s speech to the Nation given on June 6, 1944.

I have reprinted the speech in its entirety below.

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Court Reinstates Disenrolled Cadet’s Establishment Clause Claim

A federal court has reinstated the Establishment Clause claim of a West Point cadet who was disenrolled for plagiarism and related honor code violations.  As part of the cadet’s punishment, he had been ordered by a panel to “stand with his body rigid in a military posture and to read aloud the ‘Cadet’s Prayer'”:

Oh God, our Father, Thou Searcher of human hearts, help us to draw near to Thee in sincerity and truth.  May our religion be filled with gladness and may our worship of Thee be natural . . . . Help us . . . in doing our duty to Thee[.]

The Secretary of the Army had dismissed the cadet’s Establishment Clause claim for lack of standing.  The court (DDC) disagreed and reinstated the claim, holding that the cadet had alleged an injury in fact.

The case is Spadone v. McHugh, 2012 WL 2017973 (D.D.C. June 6, 2012).

Patrick on Theocratic Constitutionalism

Jeremy Patrick (University of Southern Queensland School of Law) has posted Religion and New Constitutions: Recent Trends of Harmony and Divergence. The abstract follows.

The explicit incorporation of Islamic principles in the constitutions of Iraq and Afghanistan has highlighted concern over the past decade that theocratic constitutionalism has become a rival to traditional liberal constitutionalism. Whereas liberal constitutionalism ascribes religion special value but places it in the sphere of the private through guarantees of religious freedom, equal protection of religion, and non-establishment, the emerging ideology of theocratic constitutionalism holds the potential to redefine all rights through the lens of a particular religion.

This Article is an empirical study of whether, and to what degree, liberal constitutionalism has been supplanted by theocratic constitutionalism. Every constitution enacted since the year 2000 has been examined, and its provisions relating to religion sorted into the following categories: Preambular, Ceremonial Deism, Established Religion, Freedom of Religion, Equal Protection of Religion, and (non-)Establishment Clause. Analysis of the prevalence of these categories in new constitutions demonstrates that most new constitutions display some evidence of both liberal and theocratic constitutionalism.

Fox (ed.), “Religion, Politics, Society, and the State”

Next month, Oxford University Press will publish Religion, Politics, Society, and the State (OUP 2012) edited by Jonathan Fox (Bar Ilan University). The publisher’s description follows.

Featuring contributions from renowned experts, Religion, Politics, Society, and the State provides a uniquely broad perspective on religion’s influence on politics, covering multiple countries in major regions. It shows how religion interacts with politics on many different levels, and that these influences can be divided into the influence of the state and the influence of society on politics.

Representing multiple disciplines, methodologies, and levels of analysis–including individual, social group, institutional, and state–the selections cover several countries in major world regions, including the United States, Israel, Turkey, North Africa, and Western Europe. In addition, two chapters include information from the entire world.