Rights and Judgment

This story reports that the Obama Administration has issued a statement questioning the “judgment” of the magazine Charlie Hebdo in publishing insulting pictures of the Prophet Mohammed (discussed by Mark immediately below).  The Administration — through its “porte-parole” Jay Carney — was careful to distinguish the issue of the magazine’s constitutional “right” to publish the pictures and its judgment in doing so because the Administration “know[s] that these images will be very shocking for many people,” and “might provoke violent reactions.”

The reaction of the Administration reminds me very much of the controversy over the construction of the so-called September 11 mosque in New York City.  I recall distinctly that the position of some at the time was that though there was and surely should be no legal barrier to the use of particular property vaguely proximate to the site of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, it would be unwise, or evince a lack of good judgment, for the rights-holders to exercise their rights.  I recall the cute statement, made somewhere by someone, that it is “not a question of rights, but a question of what is right.”  I also remember that the President came out at first quite strongly in support of the mosque and cultural center (as did Mayor Michael Bloomberg), but then backed off a bit when the issue was put not in terms of rights, but of judgment: ““I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,” the President said. “I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.” 

How about it readers?  Are the situations formally identical (with the exception that the President has commented negatively on the wisdom of publishing the cartoons, while he declined to do so with respect to the Ground Zero mosque)?  If so, are there nevertheless other salient differences between them?  Are there categorical differences, for example, between the wisdom of exercising a speech right and the wisdom of exercising the freedom of religion?

Hicks on Power, Empire, and Expansion in Studies of North American Religions

Rosemary R. Hicks (Tufts U.) has posted Between Lived and the Law: Power, Empire, and Expansion in Studies of North American Religions. The abstract follows.

Taking debates about the Park51 (or ‘Ground Zero’) mosque and Islamic Community Center as a case study, this article demonstrates the need for scholars of religious traditions in North America to move beyond liberal modes of historicizing that pluralize narratives about religion but ignore how religion is defined and regulated. Liberal modes of historicizing create space for different traditions by first naturalizing differences as ostensibly fixed, inherent, and eternal – a dynamic that has proven to produce antagonistic narratives and relations as well as ‘tolerant’ ones. This is in part due to the fact that such narratives somewhat broaden the inclusivity of the U.S. public sphere but in so doing obscure the various means and power dynamics by which the boundaries of acceptable religiosity are policed. Finally, this article examines and offers analyses that provide more robust mechanisms by which to understand issues of religious diversity and liberty in the United States.

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