USCIRF Calls for Obama Administration to Act on International Religious Freedom

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom yesterday called on the Obama Administration to take several steps to promote international religious freedom. From the press release:

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission dedicated to monitoring the universal right to freedom of religion or belief, urges the Obama Administration during its second term to promote religious freedom as both a pivotal human right and a practical necessity.  Religious freedom is a fundamental human right that encompasses other freedoms — including those of expression, association, and assembly.  It serves as the proverbial canary in the coal mine, as it often is the first freedom taken away.  Recent studies have also shown that restrictions on religion are rising worldwide, and with that, an increase in societal hostility and instability. Consequently, religious freedom has real national security relevancy, as conditions supporting religious freedom can help combat the rise of violent religious extremism.

Among the steps the Commission calls for are an executive order on international religious freedom, an interagency working group on international religious freedom at the National Security Council, and training of diplomats and military personnel. The full press release is here.


Yilmaz on Muslim Secularism

Ihsan Yilmaz (Fatih University) has posted Towards a Muslim Secularism? An Islamic ‘Twin Tolerations’ Understanding of Religion in the Public Sphere. The abstract follows.

Since the mid-1920s, the top-down homogenization and secularization policies of the hegemonic Kemalist elite have aimed at socially engineering secularist nationalist Turkish citizens. The acronym LAST (Laicist, Atatürkist, Sunni, Turk) describes this ideal citizen typology. The state has also tried to monopolize Islam and has attempted to construct a state version of Islam (Lausannian Islam), marginalizing, vilifying and even criminalizing other Islamic interpretations. Nevertheless, non-state Islam and civil Muslim actors have not disappeared from the Turkish public sphere. One of these influential actors is the counter-hegemonic Turkish Islamists. They demand a role for Islam in the political realm, in a binary opposition to the assertively secularist Kemalists. Another influential actor, the intellectual leader of the largest faith-based movement in Turkey, Fethullah Gülen, offers a third way between these two extremes on state-religion-society relations.

This paper endeavors to show that an interpretation of Muslim secularism that inhabits religious and secular worlds simultaneously, that is in critical engagement with them and that blurs conventional political lines on the hotly debated issue of state-religion-society relations is possible.

This understanding of ‘Islamic twin tolerations’ challenges the artificially constructed binary oppositions. It also resonates with the Habermasian (2006) ‘religion in the public sphere.’ It argues that the faithful from all religious backgrounds can legitimately have demands based on religion in the public sphere and in the final analysis; it is the legislators’ epistemic task to translate these demands into a secular language in the legislative process.

Gaylord on Free Exercise and the HHS Mandate

Scott Gaylord (Elon University School of Law) has posted For-Profit Corporations, Free Exercise, and the HHS Mandate. The abstract follows.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, most employers must provide their employees with health insurance that covers all FDA approved contraceptive methods and sterilization procedures (the “HHS mandate”). Across the country, individuals, religious schools, and corporations have sued to enjoin the mandate, arguing, among other things, that it violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). Federal district courts have reached conflicting decisions in the 15 cases decided to date, leaving the Third, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits to sort out the complex relationship between the free exercise clause and laws, such as the HHS mandate, that are alleged to be neutral and generally applicable. But these cases are made even more difficult because of a specific claim that is raised in each case — that corporations can exercise religion under the First Amendment and RFRA. As several district courts have noted, “whether secular corporations can exercise religion is an open question.” This paper analyzes this novel and unresolved issue, arguing that, just as corporations can engage in free speech under Citizens United, for-profit corporations can exercise religion under the free exercise clause and RFRA.

Although the Supreme Court has not addressed this specific issue, I argue that it has established rules for determining whether corporations can invoke particular constitutional rights and that, under these rules, corporations can invoke the protection of the free exercise clause. Several district courts have reached the opposite conclusion, while several others have avoided the issue altogether. Relying primarily on a single footnote in First Nat’l Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, the courts denying free exercise protection to for-profit corporations maintain that the free exercise of religion is a “purely personal” right that is limited to individuals and religious non-profit organizations. This paper contends, however, that a more detailed review of Bellotti, Citizens United, and the Court’s other decisions regarding the constitutional rights of corporations reveals that free exercise, like the freedom of speech, is not a “purely personal” right. Consequently, corporations — whether for-profit or non-profit — can claim its protection. Moreover, in the wake of Bellotti and Citizens United, neither the “profit motive” of a for-profit corporation nor the “religious nature” of religious organizations (e.g., churches) justifies limiting the free exercise clause only to individuals and non-profit religious organizations. Although many (perhaps most) corporations may choose not to engage in religious activities, there is no constitutional basis for precluding a priori all for-profit businesses from raising free exercise claims.