Movsesian on State-Sponsored Religious Displays in the US and Europe

Mark’s new piece is up at the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, Crosses and Culture: State-Sponsored Religious Displays in the US and Europe.  Comparativists and students of religious liberty will enjoy and learn a lot from the piece.  The abstract follows.

This article compares the recent jurisprudence of the US Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights on the question of state-sponsored religious displays. Both tribunals insist that states have a duty of religious ‘neutrality’, but each defines that term differently. For the Supreme Court, neutrality means that government may not proselytize, even indirectly, or appear to favour a particular church; neutrality may even mean that government must not endorse religion generally. For the ECtHR, in contrast, neutrality means only that government must avoid active religious indoctrination; the ECtHR allows government to give ‘preponderant visibility’ to the symbols of traditionally dominant churches. The different conceptions of neutrality reflect institutional and cultural realities. In particular, the differences reflect what sociologists of religion describe as the ‘American’ and ‘European’ religious models.

Because issues of methodology are of special interest to me, here are some of Mark’s reflections on that question — and in particular about the function of comparative scholarship — in the conclusion to the piece (I have omitted the footnotes, which you can chase down in the piece):

My purpose in this article has been comparative and critical: I have attempted to explain different legal regimes in terms of fundamental institutional and cultural commitments. Comparative work, particularly interdisciplinary comparative work, is still a bit new in law and religion scholarship. As Grace Davie recently has written, law and sociology ask different questions and rely on different methods; ‘conversations’ between lawyers and sociologists can therefore be ‘difficult’.  Nonetheless, such conversations are essential.  For law both reflects and influences underlying social conditions. In Mary Ann Glendon’s phrase, ‘law, in addition to all the other things it does, tells stories about the culture that helped to shape it and which it in turn helps to shape: stories about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going’.  The law on state-sponsored religious displays reveals very different understandings about the place of religion in American and European society. This article is an effort to illuminate those understandings and contribute to an emerging path in law and religion scholarship. 

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