A programming note: this coming Wednesday (October 21), I will participate in a panel here at St. John’s University on the war in Karabakh, “The Crisis in the Caucasus.” Other panelists include Siobhan Nash-Marshall (Manhattanville College) and Artyom Tonoyan (University of Minnesota). The event, which will cover the history of the conflict, its religious implications, and its importance for the international human-rights community, is sponsored by the university’s Institute for International Communication. Details and login information are available at the link.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- The U.S. Supreme Court refused a church’s request to enjoin application of California’s COVID-19 restrictions that limit attendance at religious worship services to 25% of building capacity or 100 attendees.
- The Department of Justice filed suit against the township of Jackson, New Jersey, alleging that it violated RLUIPA by using its zoning ordinances to target the Orthodox Jewish community.
- Suit was filed in a Virginia federal district court by a Catholic family of 12 challenging the provisions in Governor Ralph Northam’s COVID-19 order that bars worship services with more than 10 people.
- A Delaware federal district court refused to issue a temporary restraining order to the pastor of a Baptist church who objected to Governor John Carney’s COVID-19 restrictions on worship services.
- Congress gave final passage to the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 which calls on the President and the State Department to designate China as a country of particular concern under the International Religious Freedom Act.
- An Italian administrative court rejected an attempt by the Ministry of Culture to revoke a 19-year lease granted to a conservative Catholic organization, Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI), in a 13th century abbey.
Here is an interesting-looking book from Princeton University Press that critiques the concept of universal human rights: Rights as Weapons: Instruments of Conflict, Tools of Power, by political scientist Clifford Bob of Duquesne University. (Full disclosure: Professor Bob was a participant in a conference our Tradition Project co-sponsored in June 2017, on the differing conceptions of tradition in American and Russian politics, at the Bruno Kessler Foundation in Trento, Italy). Here’s the description of the book from the Princeton website:
Rights are usually viewed as defensive concepts representing mankind’s highest aspirations to protect the vulnerable and uplift the downtrodden. But since the Enlightenment, political combatants have also used rights belligerently, to batter despised communities, demolish existing institutions, and smash opposing ideas. Delving into a range of historical and contemporary conflicts from all areas of the globe, Rights as Weapons focuses on the underexamined ways in which the powerful wield rights as aggressive weapons against the weak.
Clifford Bob looks at how political forces use rights as rallying cries: naturalizing novel claims as rights inherent in humanity, absolutizing them as trumps over rival interests or community concerns, universalizing them as transcultural and transhistorical, and depoliticizing them as concepts beyond debate. He shows how powerful proponents employ rights as camouflage to cover ulterior motives, as crowbars to break rival coalitions, as blockades to suppress subordinate groups, as spears to puncture discrete policies, and as dynamite to explode whole societies. And he demonstrates how the targets of rights campaigns repulse such assaults, using their own rights-like weapons: denying the abuses they are accused of, constructing rival rights to protect themselves, portraying themselves as victims rather than violators, and repudiating authoritative decisions against them. This sophisticated framework is applied to a diverse range of examples, including nineteenth-century voting rights movements; the American civil rights movement; nationalist, populist, and religious movements in today’s Europe; and internationalized conflicts related to Palestinian self-determination, animal rights, gay rights, and transgender rights.
Comparing key episodes in the deployment of rights, Rights as Weapons opens new perspectives on an idea that is central to legal and political conflicts.
In my experience, the Western human-rights community overlooks, or downplays, human rights documents that come from non-Western sources. A good example is the Cairo Declaration, a statement of human rights announced by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1990: few human-rights courses in American law schools spend significant time on the Cairo Declaration, notwithstanding its importance in global human-rights debates. That may be because these non-Western sources offer a challenge to Western understandings of “universal” concepts like human dignity. But I’ve written about that subject elsewhere.
Here is a new collection about the OIC from Penn Press, The Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Human Rights, edited by Marie Juul Petersen (Danish Institute of Human Rights) and Turan Kayaoglu (University of Washington – Tacoma). The publisher’s description follows:
Established in 1969, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is an intergovernmental organization the purpose of which is the strengthening of solidarity among Muslims. Headquartered in Jeddah, the OIC today consists of fifty seven states from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The OIC’s longevity and geographic reach, combined with its self-proclaimed role as the United Nations of the Muslim world, raise certain expectations as to its role in global human rights politics. However, to date, these hopes have been unfulfilled. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Human Rights sets out to demonstrate the potential and shortcomings of the OIC and the obstacles on the paths it has navigated.
Historically, the OIC has had a complicated relationship with the international human rights regime. Palestinian self-determination was an important catalyst for the founding of the OIC, but the OIC did not develop a comprehensive human rights approach in its first decades. In fact, human rights issues were rarely, if at all, mentioned at the organization’s summits or annual conferences of foreign ministers. Instead, the OIC tended to focus on protecting Islamic holy sites and strengthening economic cooperation among member states. As other international and regional organizations expanded the international human rights system in the 1990s, the OIC began to pay greater attention to human rights, although not always in a manner that aligned with Western conceptions.
This volume provides essential empirical and theoretical insights into OIC practices, contemporary challenges to human rights, intergovernmental organizations, and global Islam. Essays by some of the world’s leading scholars examine the OIC’s human rights activities at different levels—in the UN, the organization’s own institutions, and at the member-state level—and assess different aspects of the OIC’s approach, identifying priority areas of involvement and underlying conceptions of human rights.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- A federal jury in Denver (CO) concluded the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal and service organization offering financial products to members, breached a verbal contract with UKnight Interactive, a technology company, and awarded UKnight $500,000 in damages.
- A Lebanese-American man was referred to Lebanese prosecutors after confessing to working for Israel during its occupation of Lebanon as a senior warden at Khiam, an infamous prison where prisoners were tortured and detained without trial.
- Catholic school leaders appeal to the governor of Jharkhand, India, the National Commission for Human Rights, and the National Commission for Minorities for help after a Jesuit school in Jharkhand was attacked last week by a crowd of 500 presumed radical Hindu nationalists.
- Police arrested and charged a thirty-six-year-old man with first-degree arson in connection with a fire that destroyed the historic Orthodox Adas Israel Synagogue in Duluth (MN), which had been actively used for 119 years.
- The Missouri attorney general will refer twelve men, who previously served as Roman Catholic clergy, for potential criminal prosecution after a yearlong statewide investigation found that 163 priests or clergy members were accused of sexual abuse or misconduct against minors.
Most critics of human-rights universalism come from the Right. Conservatives oppose human-rights universalism because they believe it slights important local traditions, is anti-historical, and pretends to a global agreement on the nature and definition of rights that does not exist. A book released this year by Palgrave Macmillan, Human Rights and Relative Universalism, suggests that some Progressives also have their doubts about the globalizing project. The author is Marie-Luisa Frick (University of Innsbruck). Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
This book argues that human rights cannot go global without going local. This important lesson from the winding debates on universalism and particularism raises intricate questions: what are human rights after all, given the dissent surrounding their foundations, content, and scope? What are legitimate deviances from classical human rights (law) and where should we draw “red lines”?
Making a case for balancing conceptual openness and distinctness, this book addresses the key human rights issues of our time and opens up novel spaces for deliberation. It engages philosophical reasoning with law, politics, and religion and demonstrates that a meaningful relativist account of human rights is not only possible, but a sorely needed antidote to dogmatism and polarization.
Here is a Call for Papers for the sixth ICLARS conference, scheduled for September 2020 in Cordoba, Spain:
The general theme of the conference is: Human Dignity, Law, and Religious Diversity: Designing the Future of Inter-Cultural Societies. The aim is to analyse how the notion of human dignity, which is the central axis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, can help create common ground between competing understandings of human rights. Human rights were conceived as an instrument to achieve social
cohesion and harmony but have often become a battlefield for conflicting ethical and political positions. This betrays the very notion of human rights, which are universal by nature and should be aimed at uniting, not dividing, society.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- Greek Orthodox Bishop Amvrossios was convicted of violating laws against racism and abusing his office over an anti-gay blog posting and received a sentence of seven months, which will be suspended for three years.
- Pakistan’s Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of Christian Asia Bibi’s death sentence for blasphemy.
- The Catholic Church dropped its opposition to the Child Victims Act, which would extend the statute of limitations for sex abuse victims, in light of amendments that would treat public and private schools the same.
- On Monday, President Trump tweeted support for state legislatures introducing bills to offer elective Bible literacy classes in public schools.
- A Dutch Protestant church ended its continuous church service that began on October 26th after it sought to protect a family of Armenian asylum-seekers from deportation.
- An Alabama Muslim inmate on death row is arguing that requiring a Christian chaplain, instead of a Muslim imam, to stand by him during execution violates his rights.
- The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey violated the rights of a group of Seventh Day Adventists when the group attempted to register its religious foundation.
- A Roman Catholic priest has pled not guilty to charges under Ontario’s abortion bubble zone law for attempting to intimidate people entering the Morgentaler abortion center in Ottawa.
- A senior Vatican official resigned after a former nun accused him of making sexual advances, claiming he wants an investigation into the allegations.
- Pro-life groups gathered Tuesday to call on federal law enforcement agencies to investigate threats of violence made online against the Covington Catholic High School students.
From Routledge, here is a collection of essays on the work of Christos Yannaras, one of the most important Orthodox Christian theologians working today: Christos Yannaras: Philosophy, Theology, Culture. In the Orthodox world, Yannaras is known for his skepticism about much contemporary human-rights discourse, which, he believes, is too heavily influenced by Western individualism. His work is therefore a challenge to easy assumptions about the universality of international human rights–a topic we will address at our Tradition Project meeting later this year in Rome.
The Routledge collection is edited by Andreas Andreopoulous (University of Winchester, UK) and Demetrios Harper (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki). The publisher’s description follows:
Christos Yannaras is one of the most significant Orthodox theologians of recent times. The work of Yannaras is virtually synonymous with a turn or renaissance of Orthodox philosophy and theology, initially within Greece, but as the present volume confirms, well beyond it. His work engages not only with issues of philosophy and theology, but also takes in wider questions of culture and politics.
With contributions from established and new scholars, the book is divided into three sections, which correspond to the main directions that Christos Yannaras has followed – philosophy, theology, and culture – and reflects on the ways in which Yannaras has engaged and influenced thought across these fields, in addition to themes including ecclesiology, tradition, identity, and ethics.
This volume facilitates the dialogue between the thought of Yannaras, which is expressed locally yet is relevant globally, and Western Christian thinkers. It will be of great interest to scholars of Orthodox and Eastern Christian theology and philosophy, as well as theology more widely.
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that all human beings are “endowed with reason and conscience,” a phrase which suggests a Western, individualist worldview. In fact, as Mary Ann Glendon recounts in A World Made New, the phrase appears in the document largely at the instigation of the Chinese delegate, P.C. Chang, who wished to temper Western individualism. The original text referred only to “reason,” which Chang sought to balance by adding the Chinese word, ren, for a Confucian concept which would be roughly translated in English as “two-man mindedness”–benevolence, or empathy. The drafters apparently found it impossible to translate ren in a felicitous way and so settled on “conscience,” which has a rather different connotation. It’s interesting to think about what human rights law would look like today if Chang’s more communitarian concept had made it into the document.
This story is no doubt discussed in a forthcoming book from the University of Pennsylvania Press, P. C. Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by scholar Hans Ingvar Roth (Stockholm University). The publisher’s description follows:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of the world’s best-known and most translated documents. When it was presented to the United Nations General Assembly in December in 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the writing group, called it a new “Magna Carta for all mankind.” The passage of time has shown Roosevelt to have been largely correct in her prediction as to the declaration’s importance. No other document in the world today can claim a comparable standing in the international community.
Roosevelt and French legal expert René Cassin have often been represented as the principal authors of the UN Declaration. But in fact, it resulted from a collaborative effort involving a number of individuals in different capacities. One of the declaration’s most important authors was the vice chairman of the Human Rights Commission, Peng Chun Chang (1892-1957), a Chinese diplomat and philosopher whose contribution has been the focus of growing attention in recent years. Indeed, it is Chang who deserves the credit for the universality and religious ecumenism that are now regarded as the declaration’s defining features. Despite this, Chang’s extraordinary contribution was overlooked by historians for many years.
Peng Chun Chang was a modern-day Renaissance man—teacher, scholar, university chancellor, playwright, diplomat, and politician. A true cosmopolitan, he was deeply involved in the cultural exchange between East and West, and the dramatic events of his life left a profound mark on his intellectual and political work. P. C. Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the first biography of this extraordinary actor on the world stage, who belonged to the same generation as Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek. Drawing on previously unknown sources, it casts new light on Chang’s multifaceted life and involvement with one of modern history’s most important documents.