The judicialisation of religious freedom conflicts is long recognised. But to date, little has been written on the active role that religious actors and advocacy groups play in this process. This important book does just that. It examines how Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Sikhs, Evangelicals, Christian conservatives and their global support networks have litigated the right to freedom of religion at the European Court of Human Rights over the past 30 years. Drawing on in-depth interviews with NGOs, religious representatives, lawyers and legal experts, it is a powerful study of the social dynamics that shape transnational legal mobilisation and the ways in which legal mobilisation shapes discourses and conflict lines in the field of transnational law.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
In Spell v. Edwards, the 5th Circuit affirmed dismissal of a suit brought by Pastor Spell and his church in which they claimed that their First Amendment rights were infringed upon when COVID orders barred their holding of church services.
In Riley v. New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., the Southern District of New York dismissed, without prejudice, a suit brought by a Christian nurse who was denied a religious exemption from the COVID vaccine mandate. She alleged that the denial violated her rights under Title VII and the Free Exercise Clause.
InBarr v. Tucker, the Southern District of Georgia denied a preliminary injunction sought by a Christian teacher who claimed she was retaliated against when she was terminated allegedly for complaining about books that had illustrations of same-sex couples with children.
Suit was filed in the case of The Catholic Store, Inc. v. City of Jacksonvillein the Middle District of Florida. Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore brought the suit to challenge, on Free Speech and Free Exercise grounds, Jacksonville’s public accommodations law, which requires businesses to address customers using their preferred pronouns and titles regardless of a customer’s biological sex.
In Din v. State of Alaska, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed dismissal of a suit brought by a Muslim inmate who sued because his requests to pray five times per day using scented oils and to eat halal meat were denied. The court found that the restrictions placed a substantial burden on his free exercise of religion.
In Bierig-Kiejdan v. Kiejdan, a New Jersey state appeals court held that a family court judge could not order parties involved in a divorce to return to arbitration to solve issues regarding which religious tribunal should oversee the issuance of a get (Jewish divorce document).
The Department of Education (“DOE”) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to rescind the Trump administration’s 2020 rules, which protected student religious groups at universities. The rules required public universities that receive DOE grants to grant religious groups all of the rights, benefits, and privileges that other student groups enjoy.
The eminent sociologist of religion, Robert Wuthnow, must be one of the most prolific scholars alive. Now emeritus at Princeton, he continues to churn out books that are essential for understanding American religion in the 21st century. His new book, Religion’s Power: What Makes It Work (Oxford) focuses on the communal rituals that give religion its strength. Community is central to a plausible definition of religion (or at least it should be), and Wuthnow’s new book will no doubt help show why that is so. Here’s a description from the Oxford website:
What makes religion so powerful? Why does it attract so many followers? Raise so much money? Influence how people vote? The usual answer is that religion is powerful because it offers divine hope. But there is more to it than that. Why does a worship service seem powerful? Why is it powerful to hear someone testify about their faith? Who sets the rules for who can be a member and who cannot? What does religion do to reinforce gender and racial differences? Or to challenge them?
Religion’s Power takes a fresh look at these questions by examining what happens during religious rituals to signal the leader’s power, the power of the deity being worshipped, and, inadvertently, why some people in the congregation are deemed more powerful than others. Robert Wuthnow explores how religious narratives are constructed to demonstrate sincerity, how religious organizations control time by controlling space, how codified knowledge gives religious organizations power, and the small ways in which religion shapes identities and politics. Building on classical work in the sociology of religion and drawing extensively on historical and ethnographic studies, Religion’s Power foregrounds cases ranging from nineteenth-century church organ and lightning rod controversies to current clashes about border walls and racial justice. This is a book for beginning students of religion as well as for advanced scholars and for practitioners, fellow travelers, and critics who want to understand better what makes religion powerful.
Every February, the Armenian Church, to which I belong, commemorates St. Vartan, a fifth century warrior saint who died in a battle against the Persian Empire, which sought to forcibly convert Armenians from Christianity to Zoroastrianism. Vartan and his companions lost the battle of Avarayr, but the rebellion he led continued and eventually succeeded a generation later under his nephew, Vahan. The Persian Empire abandoned the campaign to eradicate Christianity in Armenia and Armenians have remained Christians ever since.
Last week, St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York City invited me to give the keynote address at its annual commemoration of St. Vartan Day. My remarks addressed what the story of Vartan and his companions reveals about the links between Christianity and cultural identity. Like Joan of Arc, and unlike most warrior saints, Vartan represents a specifically national expression of Christianity, not Christianity-in-General. I also addressed the story’s resonance today, when Armenians once again face existential peril in Karabakh. In case my remarks may interest a wider audience, the church has posted my remarks at this link.
Here’s an excerpt:
The story of Vartan and his companions is a stirring one and, for us Armenian Christians, a miracle: the working out of a Providential design that included abandonment, failure, betrayal, and sacrifice—but also courage and perseverance and ultimate victory. It is also a story that resonates in our own time. Once again, today, Armenians face grave danger from an external enemy that seeks to eliminate a specifically Armenian Christian identity in our historic home, and once again the situation looks dire. As we gather this evening, the Azeri government is blockading 120,000 Armenian Christians in Artsakh in an attempt to force them to leave the region—an obvious ethnic cleansing campaign. In his roughly contemporaneous account of Vartan and his companions, written at the end of the Fifth Century, Ghazar Parpetsi tells his readers that he will describe “events, times and occurrences in the land of Armenia over the turbulent centuries, periods of occasional peace and times of intense and endless confusion.” Today Armenians are again living through a “time of intense confusion,” about what is happening in our homeland and how we can best respond, both in our homeland and in a diaspora that extends far beyond what Parpetsi could ever have imagined.
There are many ways to understand the story of Vartan and his companions: in terms of imperial politics, military strategy, or even economics. Parpetsi writes of how rich the land of Armenia was, how tempting a prize for the Persian king. But I would like to reflect this evening on two aspects of the story. The first is what the story reveals about the link between Christianity and Armenian identity. For us, and for the people around us, Christianity is the essential element in our culture—the thing that distinguishes us from our neighbors and that, periodically, makes them perceive our collective existence as a challenge. Second, I would like to reflect on what the story reveals about the need for perseverance and shrewdness in the face of oppression and about the ultimate victory of God’s plan.
The Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s Law School invites you to attend: The Rise of the Nones and American Law. Millions of Americans—perhaps as high as 30% of the adult population—now tell surveyors that they have no religious affiliation. Most of these Americans, the “Nones,” do not reject belief, but traditional religious organizations. They have their own, personal spiritual commitments that draw on many sources. The Nones, who are beginning to show up in the case law, have the potential to transform establishment and free exercise jurisprudence.
Join us for a panel discussion about these issues with Professors Steven Collis (University of Texas Law School), Mark Movsesian (St. John’s), Gregory Sisk (University of St. Thomas School of Law), and Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York). This event is co-sponsored by the ST. JOHN’S JOURNAL OF CATHOLIC LEGAL STUDIES.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
In Abiding Place Ministries v. Newsom, a California federal district court allowed a church to move ahead with its Free Exercise, Freedom of Assembly, Establishment Clause, Free Speech and Equal Protection claims against San Diego County for enforcing Covid restrictions against public gatherings. However, the court held that the county’s public health officer had qualified immunity against damage claims because there was “no clear precedent” in 2020 that would have put the officer on notice that such restrictions were “clearly and definitively unconstitutional.”
An ex-deputy sheriff filed a lawsuit in a Washington federal district court alleging that Chelan County Sheriff’s Office employees pressured him to join the “‘alt-right’ militant” Grace City Church and to attend its twelve-week marriage counseling program. The complaint in Shepard v. Chelan County alleges violation of Title VII, the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Establishment Clause.
Three anti-abortion protesters filed suit against the National Archives after its security officers required them to cover their pro-life t-shirts and remove pro-life buttons and hats while they were visiting the museum. The suit, Tamara R. v. National Archives and Records Administration, filed in the D.C. federal district court, was settled and a consent decree was signed which enjoined the National Archives from prohibiting visitors from wearing attire that displays religious or political speech.
In Grullon v. City of New York, a New York trial court held that the New York Police Department was arbitrary and capricious in its denial of a police officer’s religious objections to the Department’s Covid vaccine. The court determined that the police officer is entitled to employment with a reasonable accommodation of weekly Covid testing.
In New Brunswick v. His Tabernacle Family Church Inc., a trial court in New Brunswick, Canada refused to hold a church in contempt for a violation of Covid restrictions, stating that it was not unequivocally clear that the church knew it was in violation of a previous consent decree. After signing the consent decree, the church had moved its services to a commercial tent in order to avoid restrictions on gatherings in “public indoor spaces” but once the weather became colder, the church lowered the sides of the tent, which the Province contended created an enclosed space.
In Volokh v. James, a New York federal district court issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of New York’s Hateful Conduct Law against social media platforms. The court found that the social media platforms were likely to succeed in both their facial and “as applied” free speech challenges because the law both compelled “social media networks to speak about the contours of hate speech” and it chilled “the constitutionally protected speech of social media users”, without articulating a compelling governmental interest.
With the news of this month’s devastating earthquake, the world is again turning its attention to Syria. The earthquake has deeply affected many of the world’s oldest Christian communities–as well as many of the world’s oldest Muslim communities. A timely book from Routledge, Christian-Muslim Relations in Syria: Historic and Contemporary Religious Dynamics in a Changing Context, explores the relationship between these two faith communities. The author is Andrew W.H. Ashdown, an Anglican priest with long experience in the country. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
Offering an authoritative study of the plural religious landscape in modern Syria and of the diverse Christian and Muslim communities that have cohabited the country for centuries, this volume considers a wide range of cultural, religious and political issues that have impacted the interreligious dynamic, putting them in their local and wider context.
Combining fieldwork undertaken within government-held areas during the Syrian conflict with critical historical and Christian theological reflection, this research makes a significant contribution to understanding Syria’s diverse religious landscape and the multi-layered expressions of Christian-Muslim relations. It discusses the concept of sectarianism and how communal dynamics are crucial to understanding Syrian society. The complex wider issues that underlie the relationship are examined, including the roles of culture and religious leadership; and it questions whether the analytical concept of sectarianism is adequate to describe the complex communal frameworks in the Middle Eastern context. Finally, the study examines the contributions of contemporary Eastern Christian leaders to interreligious discourse, concluding that the theology and spirituality of Eastern Christianity, inhabiting the same cultural environment as Islam, is uniquely placed to play a major role in interreligious dialogue and in peace-making.
The book offers an original contribution to knowledge and understanding of the changing Christian-Muslim dynamic in Syria and the region. It should be a key resource to students, scholars and readers interested in religion, current affairs and the Middle East.
In my class this semester on Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Inquiry, I have been struck by how many of the foundational arguments for and against tolerance for free speech have been made in the context of religious belief and expression. Whether it is Hobbes’ antagonism toward such speech in Book II.29 of “Leviathan,” or Locke’s defense of toleration in his “Letter,” or again Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance,” and so on, the root exemplar of free speech historically was religious speech.
In the secular, contemporary world, many people question the relevance of religion. Many also wonder whether religiously-informed speech and beliefs should be tolerated in the public square, and whether religions hinder freedom. In this volume, Wendell Bird reminds us that our basic freedoms are the important legacies of religious speech arising from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Bird demonstrates that religious speech, rather than secular or irreligious speech based on other belief systems, historically made the demands and justifications for at least six critical freedoms: speech and press, rights for the criminally accused, higher education, emancipation from slavery, and freedom from discrimination. Bringing an historically-informed approach to the development of some of the most important freedoms in the Anglo-American world, this volume provides a new framework for our understanding of the origins of crucial freedoms. It also serves as a powerful reminder of an aspect of history that is steadily being forgotten or overlooked-that many of our basic freedoms are the historical legacies of religious speech arising from Judeo-Christian faiths.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
A petition for certiorari was filed with the Supreme Court in Faith Bible Chapel International v. Tucker. The Tenth Circuit denied an en banc review of a panel decision that held that interlocutory appeals from the denial of a ministerial exception defense are not permitted. In the case, a former high school teacher and administrator/chaplain contends that he was fired for opposing alleged racial discrimination by a Christian school.
In Belya v. Kapral, the Second Circuit denied en banc review of a three-judge panel decision which held that the collateral order doctrine does not allow the appeal of an interlocutory order rejecting a church autonomy defense. The defense was raised in an action in which the plaintiff contended that he was defamed when the defendants publicly accused him of forging a series of letters regarding his appointment as Bishop of Miami in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.
The Second Circuit heard oral arguments in New Yorkers For Religious Liberty, Inc. v. The City of New York. At issue are First and Fourteenth Amendment challenges to New York City’s public employee COVID vaccine mandate by employees with religious objections to the vaccines.
The Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments in U.S. Navy SEALs 1-26 v. Biden. In the case, a Texas federal district court issued preliminary injunctions barring the U.S. Navy from imposing its COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Navy service members who sought religious exemptions from the requirement.
In Lubavitch of Old Westbury, Inc. v. Incorporated Village of Old Westbury, New York, a New York federal magistrate judge recommended that the district court dismiss on various procedural and jurisdictional grounds a number of claims in a long-running suit by an Orthodox Jewish Chabad organization, which has been unable to obtain permission to use its property for religious education, worship, and related activities. The Second Amended Complaint in the case asserted seventeen causes of action under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. It also asserted causes of action under RLUIPA and the state Constitution.
In Collins v. City University of New York, a New York federal district court rejected a student’s claims that his free exercise, equal protection, and procedural due process rights were violated when he was denied a religious exemption from City University’s COVID vaccine mandate. In rejecting the student’s free exercise claim, the court said that the Vaccination Policy is neutral, generally applicable, and easily passes rational basis review.
Harold Berman famously wrote about the influence of the medieval church on the pluralism that, he argued, was the defining feature of the Western legal system. There is a chapter on law, and Berman’s work is discussed, in this new book from Princeton on the influence of medieval Christianity on the rise of the state in Europe, Sacred Foundations: The Religious and Medieval Roots of the European State, by Stanford Professor Anna Grzymala-Busse. Looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:
Sacred Foundations argues that the medieval church was a fundamental force in European state formation. Existing accounts focus on early modern warfare or contracts between the rulers and the ruled. In contrast, this major study shows that the Catholic Church both competed with medieval monarchs and provided critical templates for governing institutions, the rule of law, and parliaments.
The Catholic Church was the most powerful, wealthiest, and best-organized political actor in the Middle Ages. Starting in the eleventh century, the papacy fought for the autonomy of the church, challenging European rulers and then claiming authority over people, territory, and monarchs alike. Anna Grzymała-Busse demonstrates how the church shaped distinct aspects of the European state. Conflicts with the papacy fragmented territorial authority in Europe for centuries to come, propagating urban autonomy and ideas of sovereignty. Thanks to its organizational advantages and human capital, the church also developed the institutional precedents adopted by rulers across Europe—from chanceries and taxation to courts and councils. Church innovations made possible both the rule of law and parliamentary representation.
Bringing to light a wealth of historical evidence about papal conflict, excommunications, and ecclesiastical institutions, Sacred Foundations reveals how the challenge and example of powerful religious authorities gave rise to secular state institutions and galvanized state capacity.