Holy Sepulcher May Close Over Unpaid Water Bill

I’ve posted before about legal issues surrounding the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, which most Christians hold to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. The building  is shared among several Christian communions, all of whom accept, more or less, the so-called “Status Quo,” a compilation of rules and customs dating to Ottoman times that governs possession and use of the church. I hadn’t seen this anywhere in the scholarship, but it seems that the Status Quo may also cover payment of the church’s water bill.  According to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which has the greatest share of rights in the church and, apparently, responsibility for utilities, the Status Quo exempts the church from water bills. According to Hagihon, the Israeli utility that supplies the church with water, the Patriarchate is incorrect. Hagihon says Israeli law does not exempt religious organizations from water bills and that the church owes roughly $2 million. Last week, Hagihon obtained a court order freezing the Patriarchate’s bank account until payment is made. The Patriarchate says that, with its bank account frozen, it cannot fund day to day operations and that it will have to close the church.  Cooler heads undoubtedly will prevail, but for the moment there’s an impasse. I don’t know whether any of the other communions have offered to chip in, but the Greek Patriarchate may not want them to do so. Under the Status Quo, paying to maintain any part of the property can be an assertion of the right of possession — and the Patriarchate surely does not want to create a precedent suggesting that other communions have greater rights in the church.

Beaman on Is Religious Freedom Impossible in Canada?

Lori G. Beaman (U. of Ottawa) has posted Is Religious Freedom Impossible in Canada? The abstract follows.

The idea of religious freedom is not new in Canadian law or wider public discourse, although it has taken on a life of its own in the post-Charter era (1982 onward) and certainly in the last several years. As the courts wade more fully into the swirling abyss that is religion they find themselves struggling with the issues that preoccupy scholars of religion (and for which they have found no conclusive answer): what is “religion” and how can it be defined in a manner that is inclusive and meaningful? This article takes as its point of departure the provocative and compelling argument made by Winnifred Sullivan in her book, The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (2005), that religious freedom as a legal promise is untenable. In this article I argue that while plausible and convincing in the context of the United States, Sullivan’s thesis may be less applicable in Canada for three key reasons. First, the embeddedness of Roman Catholicism in Canadian social structure has resulted in a textured and nuanced understanding of religion, or, at the very least, a recognition that religion is in some measure a multifaceted notion. Secondly, the recognition of group rights, however defined, means that there is a space created for alternative religious discourses, in part because of the constitutional recognition of multiculturalism. Thirdly, the recent turn by the Supreme Court of Canada to an understanding of the subjectivity of religious freedom strengthens the idea that religion must be conceptualized in relation to the ways in which individuals understand and practice it in their day to day lives.

Stopler on Religious Establishment, Pluralism and Equality in Israel

Gila Stopler (NYU School of Law) has posted Religious Establishment, Pluralism and Equality in Israel—Can the Circle be Squared? The abstract follows.

Israel’s constitutional structure purports to combine strong establishment of the Orthodox Jewish religion in the state with respect for liberal values such as pluralism equality and liberty. Whereas the establishment of the Orthodox Jewish religion is achieved through laws regulations and administrative power, liberal values that are only partially enshrined in law, are mostly defended and articulated by the Israeli Supreme Court. Focusing on the internal conflicts within the Jewish majority the article will show how the power granted to the Orthodox Jewish religion by the state has been used to circumvent liberal values and will examine the role of the Israeli Supreme Court in ameliorating this problem. It will argue that although in countries in which religion and the state are separated a ‘hands-off’ approach to pluralism may be sufficient to protect liberal values, in a country such as Israel with a strong religious establishment a more activist approach, which will be termed ‘egalitarian pluralism’ is required. The article will argue that an egalitarian pluralist approach is needed in order to maintain Israel’s dual commitment to its nature as a ‘Jewish and Democratic’ state and will assess and critique the partial implementation of this approach by the Israeli Supreme Court.

Coptic Church Names New Pope

A follow up to Thursday’s post: on Sunday, the Coptic Orthodox Church named its 118th pope, Tawadros, a bishop from the Upper Nile region. Pope Tawadros now has what Walter Russell Mead ruefully calls “the toughest job in the world”:  negotiating for the Christian minority in an Egypt governed by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, as well as their political rivals, the even more fundamentalist Salafists, have talked about increasing the role of Islamic law in Egypt. The National (United Arab Emirates) reports:

At the center of the political squabbling in Egypt is the role of Islam in the country’s new constitution, currently being drafted. . . . Christians, along with liberal and secularists, oppose demands by Islamists to increase the role of Shariah. The prospects of a stronger role for Islamic law in legislation increase the community’s concern of further marginalization, or of a curtailing of their rights of worship and expression.

Al Jazeera also has interesting coverage, including a group interview with scholars and representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Coptic Church.