ECtHR Rules That Ban on Screening IVF Embryos for Genetic Defects Violates European Convention

A chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled yesterday that Italy’s ban on testing IVF-created embryos for genetic defects violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Italian law permits IVF in limited circumstances, but forbids pre-implantation testing of embryos; on the other hand, Italian law allows women to abort fetuses conceived through natural reproduction if the fetuses  have certain diseases, for example, cystic fibrosis. In the case before the chamber, an Italian couple who were healthy carriers of cystic fibrosis wished to conceive through IVF and to have all embryos tested for the disease before implantation. The chamber ruled that the Italian ban violated article 8’s grant of a right to respect for private and family life. The chamber rejected Italy’s argument that the ban was  justified, among other reasons, to avoid the risk of eugenic abuses. This was a legitimate aim, the chamber said, but the ban on pre-implantation testing seemed “disproportionate,” given that Italy allowed women to abort naturally-conceived fetuses that showed signs of the disease. In effect, Italy was requiring parents in the applicants’ position to conceive through natural means but then abort a fetus that showed signs of cystic fibrosis, a choice that would bring the parents only more anxiety and suffering. Italy’s IVF law is one of Europe’s most restrictive, a result, in part, of the influence of the Catholic Church. Italy has three months to appeal the chamber decision. The case is Costa and Pavan v. Italy (ECtHR, Aug. 28, 2012), available here (follow the link for the PDF).

Mahoney on Tocqueville on Democracy and Religion

Daniel J. Mahoney (Assumption College) has an interesting podcast about Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.  The more particular discussion of the relationship of religion and democracy in Tocqueville’s writing occurs at the 20 minute mark, where Mahoney reflects a bit on Tocqueville’s chapter on “pantheism” as a special danger in America.  Here’s a fragment from that short chapter:

When the conditions of society are becoming more equal and each individual man becomes more like all the rest, more weak and insignificant, a habit grows up of ceasing to notice the citizens and considering only the people, of overlooking individuals to think only of their kind. At such times the human mind seeks to embrace a multitude of different objects at once, and it constantly strives to connect a variety of consequences with a single cause. The idea of unity so possesses man and is sought by him so generally that if he thinks he has found it, he readily yields himself to repose in that belief. Not content with the discovery that there is nothing in the world but a creation and a Creator, he is still embarrassed by this primary division of things and seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the universe in one great whole.

A Bonanza at the Journal of Church and State

You ought to take some time to peruse the many interesting new articles and reviews recently published by the Journal of Church and State (some or all pieces may be behind a pay wall).  Among the highlights:

  • “The Number One Social Problem of our Time”: American Protestants and Temperance Politics in the 1950s, by Pamela Pennock
  • Spinoza’s Political Theology: Theocracy, Democracy, and Monism, by Andy Alexis-Baker
  • Kirpans, Law and Religious Symbols in Schools, by Satvinder Singh Juss
  • The Path Not Taken: Tocqueville, the Freedom of Education, and Alfred Stepan’s “Twin Tolerations” in France, 1843-50, by David A. Selby
  • Alan Brownstein’s review of Robert Audi’s book, Democratic Authority and the Separation of Church and State
  • Adam Carrington’s review of Paul Horwitz’s book, The Agnostic Age: Law, Religion, and the Constitution
  • Ran Hirschl’s review of of Law and Religion in the 21st Century: Religion Between States and Religious Communities (edited by Silvio Ferrari and Rinaldo Cristofori)

Weiss & Gross-Horowitz, “Marriage and Divorce in the Jewish State”

This December, Brandeis University Press will publish Marriage and Divorce in the Jewish State: Israel’s Civil War by Susan M. Weiss (Center for Women’s Justice) and Netty C. Gross-Horowitz (Jerusalem Report). The publisher’s description follows.

A comprehensive look at how rabbinical courts control Israeli marriage and divorce

Israel currently has two recognized systems of law operating side by side: civil and religious. Israeli religious courts possess exclusive rights to conduct and terminate marriages. There is no civil marriage or divorce in Israel, irrespective of one’s religious inclinations. All Muslims must marry and divorce in accordance with shariya laws, all Catholics in accordance with canon law, and all Jews in accordance with Torah law (halakha). The interpretation and implementation of Torah law is in the hands of the Orthodox religious establishment, the only stream of Judaism that enjoys legal recognition in Israel. These religious authorities strenuously oppose any changes to this so-called “status quo” arrangement between religious and secular. In fact, religious courts in Israel are currently pressing for expanded jurisdiction beyond personal status, stressing their importance to Israel’s growing religious community.

This book shows how religious courts, based on centuries-old patriarchal law, undermine the full civil and human rights of Jewish women in Israel. Making a broad argument for civil marriage and divorce in Israel, the authors also emphasize that religious marriages and divorces, when they do occur, must benefit from legislation that makes divorce easier to obtain. Using this issue as their focal point, they speak to a larger question: Is Israel a democracy or a theocracy?

Renard, “Fighting Words”

This December, the University of California Press will publish Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts edited by John Renard (Saint Louis University). The publisher’s description follows.

One of the critical issues in inter-religious relations today is the connection, both actual and perceived, between sacred sources and the justification of violent acts as divinely mandated. Fighting Words makes solid text-based scholarship accessible to the general public, beginning with the premise that a balanced approach to religious pluralism in our world must build on a measured, well-informed response to the increasingly publicized and sensationalized association of terrorism and large-scale violence with religion. An Introduction provides background on the major scriptures of seven religious traditions. Eight main chapters then explore aspects of the interpretation of selected facets of scripture in seven traditions: Jewish, Christian (including chapters on Old as well as New Testaments), Islamic, Baha’i, Zoroastrian, Hindu and Sikh. Focus is on sacred texts so often claimed, both historically and more recently, as inspiration for and justification of every kind of violence from individual assassination to mass murder. A balanced approach to this complex topic also means that this is not merely a book about the religious sanctioning of violence, but about diverse ways of reading sacred textual sources.