Movsesian “Human Dignities” Paper Now on SSRN

For those who are interested, a draft version of my article, “Of Human Dignities,” is now available on SSRN. The article will appear in a forthcoming symposium issue of the Notre Dame Law Review. Here’s the abstract:

This paper, written for a symposium on the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the Catholic Church’s declaration on religious freedom, explores the conception of human dignity in international human rights law. I argue that, notwithstanding a surface consensus, no generally accepted conception of human dignity exists in contemporary human rights law. Radically different understandings compete against one another and prevent agreement on crucial issues. For example, the Catholic Church and other religious bodies favor objective understandings that tie dignity to external factors beyond personal choice. By contrast, many secular human rights advocates favor subjective definitions that ground dignity in individual will. These conceptions clash, most notably in contemporary debates on traditional values resolutions and same-sex marriage. Similarly, individualist conceptions of dignity, familiar to most of us in the West, compete with corporate conceptions that emphasize the dignity of traditional religions — a clash that plays out in the context of the proselytism and the right to convert. Rather than try to forge agreement on a universal definition of dignity, I argue, we lawyers should commit to a more modest approach, one that accepts the reality of disagreement and finds a humane way to accommodate it.

You can download the paper (more than once!) here.


Panel Two: Examining the History of Dignitatis Humanae

The second panel kicks off with Phillip Muñoz, whose talk concerns the limits of state power with respect to religion as a historical matter in the text of state constitutions. Phillip’s key point is that there are some features of religious freedom that are categorically outside state power. There are some interests that the state can never pursue. Sherbert and RFRA are mechanisms through which the government can control religion. Phillip focuses on state constitutions because these documents show that the founders had a natural rights view of religious freedom and the unalienability of certain rights, over which the government has no jurisdiction. These rights were categorical limits on government power. But the rights have natural limits–to wit, the natural rights of others.

Brett Scharffs spoke next. Brett offered an interesting account of the different types of restrictions on religious freedom across the world. 39% of the world’s countries have high or very high government restrictions, and these include countries with high populations. Countries on the Asian continent have particularly high representation. There are also statistics for social hostility with respect to religion, which seem to correlate with countries with a high percentage dominant religious group. Catholic majority countries tend to score low as to both measures. His conclusions: religion is a limitation on religious freedom. Second, it is important therefore to look for justifications for religious freedom within those traditions.

Anna Su spoke last. Her presentation was historical whose points were that the US approach was an important, at first, contrast and then, later, a model for the Catholic Church. She also noted that John Courtney Murray’s contributions were prefigured by the Americanist controversy in the 19th century. Religious freedom may be less threatened in secular countries like the US, but that does not mean that religious freedom is less fragile in secular countries than in those with religious bases.

Panel 1: Religious Freedom, the First Amendment, and U.S. Law

I’m here with Mark at the Notre Dame conference and thought I would live blog some of the panels today.

The first panel deals with the First Amendment proper. After a wonderful introduction by Judge Sullivan, Tom Berg spoke first. His primary theme concerned the role of religious organizations in the broader society, particularly those organizations that span the public and private realms. Critics of exemptions say that once a religious organization enters the public realm (by hiring employees who may not share the faith), no exemptions are permissible. Tom’s focus is on what he calls “partly acculturated” organizations–organizations that are deeply involved in providing social services and in performing civic functions but that do not share all of the culture’s norms. He argued that such organizations should receive exemptions both for religious equality reasons and for reasons of the social capital contributed by such groups. As to the latter, the point is not simply about the benefits to society but about the core reasons for protecting religious freedom at all.

Rick Garnett spoke next. He focused on an under appreciated feature of Dignitatis Humanae, the idea that government has a role in creating, proactively, the conditions necessary for the full exercise of religious freedom. As to the second, is this consistent with American constitutionalism? There is at least some tension. But Rick argued that the American account of religious freedom need not be neutral if neutrality demands that the state not regard religion “as a good thing.” That is, there is an important space between establishment and the state’s proper, secular, care for religion. That understanding is reflected in DH. Care, as Rick understands it, might include the building and maintaining of infrastructural spaces within which religious institutions can thrive.

Paul Horwitz spoke third. His theme was a liberal argument for accommodation as to illiberal groups. He began by surveying the usual accommodationist and anti-accommodationist claims. His own view he described as a liberal pluralist perspective. Accommodation is valuable because the state is obliged to act as if there may be important and valuable ideas inaccessible to liberalism. But it is also valuable because not accommodating illiberal groups will ostracize them entirely from society, isolated entirely. This would be a loss for them and for the liberal society. Accommodation “keeps those groups in and not out.”

Chris Lund spoke last. His talk concerned exemptions as well. He argued that without exemptions, many religions could not survive in the modern age. He addressed the claim that certain sorts of exemptions violate the Establishment Clause, those that impose third party harms. There has to be some principle of third party harms and cost, but the difficult questions concern which sorts of harms count. And they are quite difficult. His current factors include: (1) severity of the harm, the problem of course being describing what this means. (2) likelihood of the harm, which is perhaps a bit easier to understand. (3) the religious interest in obtaining the exemption. (4) the existence of other secular exemptions. All of this will require balancing, something the Court is not especially willing to do.

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