Adolphe on New Challenges for Catholic NGOs in Light of Caritas in Veritate

Jane Adolphe (Ave Maria School of Law) has posted New Challenges for Catholic-Inspired NGOs in Light of Caritas in Veritate. The abstract follows.

The non-governmental organization (NGO) is perceived not only as a disseminator of information, monitor of human rights, or provider of services, but also as a shaper of national, regional, and international policy. Many members of the lay faithful, working with others from various Christian denominations, have established NGOs to monitor and to promote the rights of the unborn, the natural family, and many other topics of common interest. These NGOs lobby at the national, regional, and international levels. This paper discusses the role of the Catholic-inspired NGO on the international level with reference to the thought of Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.


Berger on The Aesthetics of Religious Freedom

Benjamin L Berger (York U. Osgoode Hall Law School) has posted The Aesthetics of Religious Freedom. The abstract follows.

What influence might legal aesthetics have on the shape of religious freedom? Focusing on time and space as foundational elements of the perception of phenomena, this paper argues that these aesthetic intuitions are an under-examined and yet elemental component of what conditions and shapes religious freedom in liberal constitutional orders. If one takes law to be a cultural form, attention to these basic facets of legal perception is essential to understanding law’s encounter with religion. Drawing from a range of examples in the Canadian jurisprudence, this paper shows that legal approaches to religious diversity, multiculturalism, tolerance, and accommodation are all subject to and framed by these aesthetic intuitions. To wonder about the possibilities open to us for responding to religious diversity through the law requires recognizing and wrestling with the temporal and spatial aesthetics of religious freedom.

Italy Enters into “Intese” with Mormon, Pentecostal, and Orthodox Churches

This story reports that the Italian Senate has approved various “intese” (literally, “understandings”) or official agreements with three new religious institutions: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; the Italian Apostolic Church (a Pentecostal church); and the Orthodox Church loyal to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  The intese remain to be signed into law by the President of the Republic.

Italy’s church-state arrangements are quite different than those in the United States.  The story is useful because it also explains a bit about the nature and benefits of obtaining intese:

Italy has a system of concordates called “Intese” regulating the State’s relations with a number of religious bodies. Concordates provide inter alia for spiritual assistance in the military forces, hospitals, public schools and jails, and legal recognition of marriages performed by a priest or minister. An important feature is the possible entrance of the religious bodies with an “intesa” which so elects (they can, in fact, refuse this benefit) with a concordate into the 0,8% system. This is a peculiar Italian system where each taxpayer should devote 0,8% of his or her taxes either to a religious body or to the national public charity system by crossing the preferred institution’s case on the tax form. Unlike in Germany, if the taxpayer fails to cross a case he or she does not keep the money, that is divided between the different bodies according to their national percentage scores (unless they explicitly declare that they want to keep only the 0,8% of those crossing their name, and some religious bodies do just this). For example, if one does not cross any case and the Catholic Church case is crossed by 90% of those who crossed a case, and the Baptist Church by 2%, 90% of 0,8% of taxes paid by the non-crosser will go to the Catholic Church, 2% of 0,8% to the Baptist Church, and so on. Most Churches advertise through TV and other campaigns to capture the unchurched’s 0,8%.

This practice would violate the Establishment Clause in this country, but there is no such constitutional provision in Italy.  Religions which already have intese include: the Waldensians and Methodists, Seventh Day Adventists, Assemblies of God, the Jewish Communities, and the Baptists.  The Catholic Church has something more than an intesa: a concordat conferring on it additional status.

Religion and ‘No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service’

Here’s a rather slanted but interesting story from the New York Post yesterday describing the anger that “Hasidic Dress Codes” have elicited among members of the public who would like to frequent Hasidic businesses.  According to the story:

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish business owners are lashing out at customers at dozens of stores in Williamsburg, trying to ban sleeveless tops and plunging necklines from their aisles. It’s only the latest example of the Hasidic community trying to enforce their strict religious laws for everyone who lives near their New York enclave.   “No Shorts, No Barefoot, No Sleeveless, No Low Cut Neckline Allowed in the Store,” declare the English/Spanish signs that appear in stores throughout the Hasidic section of the hipster haven.

The story reminds me of what I saw on my recent trip to Rome.  The heavily underenforced rule for churches is that one should not enter without proper attire.  Shorts, sleeveless shirts, flip flops or sandals, and the like, are not appropriate for certain locations.  There is also often a stricture about making noise, and in the Sistine Chapel, the stricture was enforced.  When things got too loud, the guards would tell people to be quiet. 

Of course, these sorts of rules cause consternation and bafflement on the part of tourists and others who feel that they should be allowed to do as they please, and that any restriction on their freedom to bare their bodies or imprint the ugliness of their voices on the world around them at whatever decibel level they desire is a violation of the most fundamental rules of democratic society, or individual liberty, or the right to be me, or human agency, or whatever. 

That is in part why I very much disagree with the comments of Marci Hamilton, a law professor at Cardozo Law School, who said this with respect to the controversy in Brooklyn: “It’s further evidence of this era’s move toward Balkanization in the United States,” said Marci Hamilton, a First Amendment scholar at Cardozo School of Law. “It’s no longer sufficient that they have shared norms among themselves, they are increasingly trying to impose their norms on the rest of the culture.”

With respect, I believe that view gets things backward.  No one is compelling anyone to enter into any religious establishments against his or her will, or to wear anything that he or she would not otherwise want to wear.  Of course, if you choose to avail yourself of the goods and services at particular establishments, abiding by minimum standards of decorum set by the owners or operators of those establishments and which are part of the religious traditions of those establishments is hardly “un-American,” unless it is un-American to be polite and respectful of another religious tradition’s mores when one is actually voluntarily participating in the tradition’s very own institutions and establishments.  To the contrary, what is “un-American” is the compelled imposition of general mores and standards of behavior (such as they are) on the unwilling on the inside of their own religious establishments. 

Gregg, “Human Rights as Social Construction”

There has for quite some time been an ongoing academic debate about where it is that one can properly ground the idea of human rights — what is its foundation or source?  Some prominent scholars say that a robust conception of human rights requires a specific sort of religious grounding; others forcefully deny that claim.  One will see radically different sorts of answers to the question, for example, in the work of Michael Perry (see his many books on human rights, as well as “The Morality of Human Rights: A Nonreligious Ground?”) and Joseph Raz (again, the best place is some of his more recent books, but a nice summary view is “Human Rights Without Foundations”). 

Here is a new entrant into these discussions: Human Rights as Social Construction (CUP 2012) by Benjamin Gregg (University of Texas), who seems to be arguing for the local roots of human rights — human rights from the ground up, as it were.  The publisher’s description follows.

Most conceptions of human rights rely on metaphysical or theological assumptions that construe them as possible only as something imposed from outside existing communities. Most people, in other words, presume that human rights come from nature, God, or the United Nations. This book argues that reliance on such putative sources actually undermines human rights. Benjamin Gregg envisions an alternative; he sees human rights as locally developed, freely embraced, and indigenously valid. Human rights, he posits, can be created by the average, ordinary people to whom they are addressed, and that they are valid only if embraced by those to whom they would apply. To view human rights in this manner is to increase the chances and opportunities that more people across the globe will come to embrace them.

Roy, “Hinduism and the Ethics of Warfare in South Asia”

Here’s something at the intersection of religion and statecraft about the Hindu tradition of the philosophy of war (compare, e.g., just war theory in the Catholic tradition): Hinduism and the Ethics of Warfare in South Asia: From Antiquity to the Present (CUP 2012) by Kaushik Roy (Jadavpur University).  The publisher’s description follows.

This book challenges the view, common among Western scholars, that precolonial India lacked a tradition of military philosophy. It traces the evolution of theories of warfare in India from the dawn of civilization, focusing on the debate between Dharmayuddha (Just War) and Kutayuddha (Unjust War) within Hindu philosophy. This debate centers around four questions: What is war? What justifies it? How should it be waged? And what are its potential repercussions? This body of literature provides evidence of the historical evolution of strategic thought in the Indian subcontinent that has heretofore been neglected by modern historians. Further, it provides a counterpoint to scholarship in political science that engages solely with Western theories in its analysis of independent India’s philosophy of warfare. Ultimately, a better understanding of the legacy of ancient India’s strategic theorizing will enable more accurate analysis of modern India’s military and nuclear policies.

Hedstrom, “The Rise of Liberal Religion”

This one looks like an absolute must-read — a fascinating and innovative thesis related to the phenomenon of civil religion in America (brought to prominence by Bellah).  The claim is that beginning in the 1920s, religious institutions and leaders joined forces with book publishers to forge a kind of national “spiritual unity” loosely connected with mainline Protestantism but also to emerging themes in psychology and other modern developments.   

The book is The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century (OUP 2012) by Matthew S. Hedstrom (UVA).  The publisher’s description follows.

In The Rise of Liberal Religion Matthew Hedstrom tells the story of how, beginning in the 1920s, American religious leaders joined forces with the publishing industry in an attempt to form a ”spiritual center”–a set of widely accepted religious ideas, practices, and presuppositions that would hold together a fragmenting society, create new markets for books, and maintain the privileged status of these arbiters in American religious discourse. The consensus they sought to form was essentially a liberal Protestant one, but with elements of mysticism and psychology drawn in from the margins. With the coming of World War II, however, political leaders declared “books as weapons in the war of ideas,” and the National Conference of Christians and Jews became the central broker of religious reading, coordinating a massive, nationwide Religious Book Week campaign that ran from 1943 to 1948. Spiritual unity was seen not simply as morally desirable for individuals but as essential to national survival. The idea of a religious center expanded to include, however tenuously, Jews and Roman Catholics and the term “Judeo-Christian” entered the national vocabulary. These developments laid the foundation for a culture of spiritual seeking that had lasting implications for middle-class American religious beliefs and practices for the remainder of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. 

Wiggins, “American Saint”

Here is a very interesting and comprehensive biography on an important but largely unknown figure in early American religious history, Francis Asbury.  The book is American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists (OUP 2012) by John Wigger (Missouri).  The publisher’s description follows.

English-born Francis Asbury was one of the most important religious leaders in American history. Asbury single-handedly guided the creation of the American Methodist church, which became the largest Protestant denomination in nineteenth-century America, and laid the foundation of the Holiness and Pentecostal movements that flourish today. In American Saint, John Wigger has written the definitive biography of Asbury and, by extension, a revealing interpretation of the early years of the Methodist movement in America. Asbury emerges here as not merely an influential religious leader, but a fascinating character, who lived an extraordinary life. His cultural sensitivity was matched only by his ability to organize. His life of prayer and voluntary poverty were legendary, as was his generosity to the poor. He had a remarkable ability to connect with ordinary people, and he met with thousands of them as he crisscrossed the nation, riding more than one hundred and thirty thousand miles between his arrival in America in 1771 and his death in 1816. Indeed Wigger notes that Asbury was more recognized face-to-face than any other American of his day, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.