Religious Organizations and the Affirmative Action Case

In America this week, the big legal news was the Supreme Court’s oral argument in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case concerning the constitutionality of race-based affirmative action in higher education. This will be the second time in a decade that the Court has addressed this issue, and the case has potentially huge ramifications. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Fisher has drawn great interest. Hundreds (!) of amicus briefs were filed in the case, most of which will be read, if at all, only by hapless law clerks. Among these was a brief from about a dozen religious organizations and campus ministries, including the National Council of Churches, the United Methodists, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (USA). These organizations, the brief explains, support affirmative action partly for religious reasons: in order to affirm “all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God.” The organizations depend on racial diversity in universities, the brief continues, in order to “fulfill their own missions of helping their members grow in their faith, understanding and compassion; providing the tools their members will need to reach their full potential as individuals in our ever-changing pluralistic society; and cultivating leaders for the next generation.” Secularist organizations such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State strongly protested, asserting that religious organizations had no right to interfere in a matter of public debate in order to advance a narrow sectarian position, or to rely on religious propositions inaccessible to non-believers.

Just kidding about that last part.

Awrey, Blair & Kershaw on Ethics in Financial Regulation

Dan Awrey (University of Oxford), William Blair, and David Kershaw (London School of Economics) have posted Between Law and Markets: Is There a Role for Culture and Ethics in Financial Regulation? The abstract follows.

The limits of markets as mechanisms for constraining socially suboptimal behavior are well documented. Simultaneously, conventional approaches toward the law and regulation are often crude and ineffective mechanisms for containing the social costs of market failure. So where do we turn when both law and markets fail to live up to their social promise? Two possible answers are culture and ethics. In theory, both can help constrain socially undesirable behavior in the vacuum between law and markets. In practice, however, both exhibit manifest shortcomings.

To many, this analysis may portend the end of the story. From our perspective, however, it represents a useful point of departure. While neither law nor markets may be particularly well suited to serving as “the conscience of the Square Mile,” it may nevertheless be possible to harness the power of these institutions to carve out a space within which culture and ethics – or, combining the two, a more ethical culture – can play a meaningful role in constraining socially undesirable behavior within the financial services industry. The objective of this article is to explore some of the ways which, in our view, this might be achieved.

This exploration takes place across two dimensions. In the first dimension, we hold constant the core internal governance arrangements – corporate objectives, directors’ duties, board composition, committee structures and remuneration policies – within financial institutions. Read more

Fagan, “Believing in Russia – Religious Policy After Communism”

This October, Routledge will publish Believing in Russia – Religious Policy After Communism by Geraldine Fagan (Moscow correspondent for Forum 18 News). The publisher’s description follows.

This book presents a comprehensive overview of religious policy in Russia since the end of the communist regime, exposing many of the ambiguities and uncertainties about the position of religion in Russian life. It reveals how religious freedom in Russia has, contrary to the widely held view, a long tradition, and how the leading religious institutions in Russia today, including especially the Russian Orthodox Church but also Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist establishments, owe a great deal of their special positions to the relationship they had with the former Soviet regime. It examines the resurgence of religious freedom in the years immediately after the end of the Soviet Union, showing how this was subsequently curtailed, but only partially, by the important law of 1997. It discusses the pursuit of privilege for the Russian Orthodox Church and other ‘traditional’ beliefs under presidents Putin and Medvedev, and assesses how far Russian Orthodox Christianity is related to Russian national culture, demonstrating the unresolved nature of the key question, ‘Is Russia to be an Orthodox country with religious minorities or a multi-confessional state?’ It concludes that Russian society’s continuing failure to reach a consensus on the role of religion in public life is destabilising the nation.