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.

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