Today’s Argument at the ECtHR: Highlights

Today in Strasbourg, a chamber of the European Court of Human Rights heard oral argument in four consolidated cases from the United Kingdom: Chaplin v. UKEweida v. UK, Ladele v. UK, and McFarlane v. UK. The applicants in these cases argue that UK courts failed to protect their Article 9 and Article 14 rights by allowing their employers to discipline them for practicing Christianity. Chaplin, a nurse, and Eweida, a British Airways employee, were forbidden by their employers from wearing cross necklaces at work. Ladele, a public registrar, lost her job when she declined, on the ground of religious conviction, to register same-sex civil partnerships. McFarlane, a psychotherapist, lost his job when he expressed doubts as a Christian about the morality of homosexual conduct.

For an American watching the webcast on the ECtHR’s website, today’s hearing offered some surprises. First, the argument was about two hours long, and the judges waited patiently to the end before asking any questions. A note to our readers in Europe: in an American courtroom, the judges would have interrupted in two minutes! Substantively, the counsel for the UK, James Eadie, made some claims that strike an American lawyer as remarkably broad. For example, he argued that Article 9 does not even cover the practice of wearing crosses. Article 9, he argued, only protects religious practices that are “generally recognized” within a religion, and there is no consensus in Christianity that adherents must wear crosses. I’m not aware of any analogous principle in American law. In response to Eadie, Eweida’s attorney, James Dingemans, scoffed at the idea that a practice must be “generally recognized” or “scripturally Read more

Temperman (ed.), “The Lautsi Papers: Multidisciplinary Reflections on Religious Symbols in the Public School Classroom”

This November, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers will publish The Lautsi Papers: Multidisciplinary Reflections on Religious Symbols in the Public School Classroom edited by Jeroen Temperman (Erasmus University Rotterdam). The publisher’s description follows.

Increasingly, debates about religious symbols in the public space are reformulated as human rights questions and put before national and international judges. Particularly in the area of education, legitimate interests are manifold and often collide. Children’s educational and religious rights, parental liberties vis-à-vis their children, religious traditions, state obligations in the area of public school education, the state neutrality principle, and the professional rights and duties of teachers are all principles that may warrant priority attention. Each from their own discipline and perspective––ranging from legal (human rights) scholars, (legal) philosophers, political scientists, comparative law scholars, and country-specific legal experts––these experts contribute to the question of whether in the present-day pluralist state there is room for state symbolism (e.g. crucifixes in classroom) or personal religious signs (e.g. cross necklaces or kirpans) or attire (e.g. kippahs or headscarves) in the public school classroom.

Bradley, “Essays on Law, Religion, and Morality”

This month, St. Augustine’s Press will publish Essays on Law, Religion, and Morality by Gerard V. Bradley (University of Notre Dame Law School). The publisher’s description follows.

The most controversial foundational issue today in both legal philosophy and constitutional law is the relationship between objective moral norms and the positive law. Is it possible for the state to be morally “neutral” about such matters as marriage, the family, religion, religious liberty, and – as the Supreme Court once famously phrased it – “the meaning of life”? If such neutrality is possible, is it desirable? Read more

Garnett on the Virtues of Waiting

Have a look at our friend Rick Garnett’s short article at Commonweal on the the dangers of executive overreach — in this as well as prior presidential administrations — in response to the generally salutary frustrations of constitutionalism.  A bit from Rick’s essay:

The apparent urgency of these challenges prompts many to contend, understandably enough, that we have to act now and dramatically, that something bold must be done, that progress matters more than process, and that—in the words of one of President Barack Obama’s campaign themes—“we can’t wait.”

Last October, for example, after Congress responded coolly to his proposed jobs bill, the president promised—or warned—“If Congress won’t act, I will.” And he has. In a variety of contexts, he has moved on policy and personnel in ways designed to avoid the time-consuming gridlock that sometimes results from procedures mandated and constraints imposed by the Constitution. That document prescribes how high-ranking federal officials are to be appointed and gives the Senate a role in that process. The president—like, but to a greater extent than, other recent presidents—has avoided that check by creating a stable of “czars,” whose selection and portfolios are generally not reviewed by legislators. He has also outdone his predecessors in exploiting the Constitution’s authorization of “recess appointments” to install controversial appointees in powerful positions. Rather than wait for Congress to revise unpopular requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, he has offered to waive those requirements on the condition that states adopt practices, standards, and guidelines supported by his administration. Like other presidents, he has used both executive orders and the administrative-rulemaking process to implement substantive policies that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would likely reject. And, in a widely criticized effort to leap over the jurisdictional limits imposed by the First Amendment, his administration argued before the Supreme Court that the Constitution’s religious-freedom guarantees should not stand in the way of anti-discrimination lawsuits brought by ministerial employees against religious institutions.

Again and again, we hear the same rationale: “If Congress won’t act, I will,” because “we can’t wait.” This should worry, not rally. In the politics of a free society committed to the rule of law, we (usually) can wait, and even when it seems like we can’t, we sometimes have to. It is easy, but mistaken and dangerous, to equate disagreement with bad-faith obstructionism, and to cast one’s own side as an enlightened vanguard, empowered by this or that emergency to do whatever it takes to achieve unity, to make progress, to bring about change. In this election season, though, what is needed—from candidates and citizens alike, and on both the left and right—is humility, restraint, and patience. These are more than useful life skills. They are constitutional virtues.

ECtHR Broadcast of Hearing in British Christians’ Cases to Begin Shortly

This morning in Strasbourg, a chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held a hearing in four consolidated cases concerning religious freedom in Britain. The applicants are British Christians who allege that UK employment law does not sufficiently protect their rights to wear crosses at work and to refuse duties that, in the applicants’ view, condone homosexual activity. The court will post a broadcast of the hearing on its website shortly, starting at 2:30 pm local time. For the ECtHR’s press release summarizing the issues in these cases, follow the links here.

Bell on The Status of the Roman Catholic Church and Canon Law in Singapore

Gary F. Bell  (Nat’l U. of Singapore Faculty of Law) has posted Religious Legal Pluralism Revisited – The Status of the Roman Catholic Church and Her Canon Law in Singapore. The abstract follows.

By religious legal pluralism we usually mean state-recognised legal pluralism, such as the kind of legal pluralism implemented in Singapore through the Administration of Muslim Law Act. But there is also religious legal pluralism outside State recognition and enforcement. Many religions have very long legal traditions which have survived, often without much support or official recognition by States (Jewish law, for example). In this paper we shall look at one such tradition, the canon law of the Latin Church of the Roman Catholic Church and its implementation by the Church in Singapore, including the establishment of very busy ecclesiastical tribunals in Singapore to administer disputes relating to the possible nullity of religious marriages, for example. The hope is that this example of Canon Law in Singapore will show that there can be very detailed and formal religious laws implemented by formal institutions such as tribunals outside the ambit of the State.

Three Things that Aren’t on Enough Church-State Syllabi

Since it’s the start of the school year, I thought I would begin my 30 day blogging career with “Three Things That Aren’t on Enough Church-State Syllabi.”  The idea is to help students understand that current efforts to give religion a more prominent place in the public square have deep roots.  They aren’t merely a throw-back to a repressive Puritan era or the result of foreign influences arriving with 19th century Catholic immigrants.  Rather, they are part of the mainstream of America political thought since the founding.

 Syllabus Supplement, Part I – The aptly named Theophilus Parsons.

 Think of Parsons as a James Madison counterpart in Massachusetts – really smart and politically crafty.  While Madison led the charge to defeat Virginia’s otherwise popular proposal for a general assessment to support religion in 1785, Parsons had helped ram through the Massachusetts 1780 constitutional provision requiring public support for Protestant ministers, despite not actually having the votes.  In course after course, students read Madison’s ringing words from the Memorial and Remonstrance calling the use of religion “as an engine of Civil policy” an “unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.”

 An interesting, and quite different, perspective can be found in Chief Justice Parsons’ opinion in Barnes v. Falmouth (1810):  “The object of a free civil government is the promotion and security of the happiness of the citizens.  These effects cannot be produced, but by the knowledge and practice of our moral duties….  Civil government…is extremely defective, and unless it could derive assistance from some superior power, whose laws extend to the temper and disposition of the human heart, and before whom no offense is secret, wretched indeed would be the state of man….  On these principles, tested by the experience of mankind, and by the reflections of reason, the people of Massachusetts, in the frame of their government, adopted and patronized a religion, which by its benign and energetic influences, might cooperate with human institutions, to promote and serve the happiness of the citizens….”

On a somewhat more topical note, Parsons had little sympathy for exemption-seekers, arguing that, since it was only a tax and did not require church attendance, objectors “mistake a man’s conscience for his money….”

                                                                                                Don Drakeman