The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has released its annual report, finding that that religious freedom is under “serious and sustained assault” across the globe. The report, which covers the period from February 1, 2015-February 29, 2016, highlights religious freedom violations in more than 30 countries, including China, Sudan, North Korea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. It cites abuses by both state and non-state entities.
I’m happy to report that the proceedings of our 2014 Rome conference on international religious freedom, at which Pope Francis delivered the keynote address, are now in print. Edited by our colleague at LUMSA, Dean Monica Lugato, the proceedings, titled La Libertà Religiosa Secondo Il Diritto Internationale e Il Conflitto Globale dei Valori, are available here from the Italian publisher, Giappichelli, in paperback and ebook format. Papers are in English and Italian. Get it while it’s hot!
For those who are interested, next month I’ll be giving a faculty workshop at Università LUMSA (Libera Università Maria SS. Assunta) in Rome. The workshop, sponsored by the university’s law faculty, will take place on March 7. I’ll present my current draft, “Of Human Dignities,” a reflection on the incompatible understandings of dignity in contemporary human rights law, especially with respect to religious freedom . Details about the event are here. My talk will be in English. CLR Forum readers in Italy, please stop by and say hello!
In March, the Oxford University Press will release “Freedom of Religion or Belief: An International Law Commentary,” by Heiner Bielefeldt (United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief), Nazila Ghanea (University of Oxford), and Michael Wiener (Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and University of Oxford). The publisher’s description follows:
Violations of religious freedom and violence committed in the name of religion grab our attention on a daily basis. Freedom of Religion or Belief is a key human right, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, numerous conventions, declarations and soft law standards include specific provisions on freedom of religion or belief. The 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief has been interpreted since 1986 by the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. Special Rapporteurs (for example those on racism, freedom of expression, minority issues and cultural rights) and Treaty Bodies (for example the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Committee on the Rights of the Child) have also elaborated on freedom of religion or belief in the context of their respective mandates.
Freedom of Religion or Belief: An International Law Commentary is the first commentary to look comprehensively at the international provisions for the protection of freedom of religion or belief, considering how they are interpreted by various United Nations Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies. Structured around the thematic categories of the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s framework for communications, the commentary analyses the limitations on the wearing of religious symbols and vulnerable situations, including those of women, detainees, refugees, children, minorities and migrants, through a combination of scholarly expertise and practical experience.
In February, Routledge will release Religious NGOs in International Relations: The Construction of “the Religious” and “the Secular”, by Karsten Lehmann (International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue – Vienna). The publisher’s description follows:
Over the last 30 years, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become increasingly present in international discourses and active in international decision-making. Among the estimated several million NGOs in existence today, an increasingly visible number of organizations are defining themselves in religious terms – referring to themselves as “religious”, “spiritual”, or “faith-based” NGOs. This book documents the initial encounters between the particularly international segment of those organizations and the UN while at the same time covering the Protestant and Catholic spectrum that dominated the early years of their activities in the UN-context.
This book focuses on the construction of the human rights discourse inside two religiously affiliated organizations: The Commissions of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) and Pax Romana (IMCS / ICMICA). These organizations have been formally accredited as NGOs by the UN, label themselves as religious, and look back upon a long and intense cooperation with the UN. Lehmann presents material from the archives of those two organizations that has so far rarely been used for academic analysis. In doing so, as well as documenting the encounters between those organizations and the UN, and looking at the Protestant and Catholic spectrum, the book provides new insights into the very construction of the notions of ‘the religious’ and the ‘secular’ inside those organizations.
This work will be of great interest to all students of religion and international relations, and will also be of interest to those studying related subjects such as global institutions, comparative politics and international politics.
Last month, Pax Romana released “The Protection of Religious Minorities Worldwide,” edited by Elizabeth F. Defeis (Seton Hall Law School) and Peter F. O’Connor. Prof. Defeis is an alumna of St. John’s Law and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for International and Comparative Law at St. John’s. Mr. O’Connor is a third-year law student at St. John’s. The publisher’s description follows:
Throughout history, religious minorities have experienced discrimination, persecution, expulsion, and genocide. Further, in the last decade, the world has witnessed an unprecedented increase in violent persecution of religious minorities, particularly in the Middle East, in Asia and in Africa. Yet the international community has been a bystander and has not been able or willing to develop a strategy to protect persecuted religious minorities and to stop their expulsion and genocide. After the Second World War with the creation of the United Nations, there were great hopes that all peoples could live in peace with one another as good neighbors, based on the fundamental human rights and the practice of tolerance as stated in the Preamble of the United Nations Charter. However, the United Nations never developed specific and effective strategies to protect the human rights of religious minorities and to stop their persecution, expulsion and genocide. Even so, we must recognize that the United Nations has been providing humanitarian assistance to refugees who fled for religious reasons. The 2014 Symposium at the United Nations in New York on the “Protection of Religious Minorities Worldwide” was directed at the international community in the hope that it will acknowledge the dire situation of so many religious minorities and will adopt practical strategies and measures for protection of, and strong humanitarian assistance for, the expelled religious refugees.
This month, the Georgetown University Press releases “Keeping Faith with Human Rights,” by Linda Hogan (Trinity College Dublin). The publisher’s description follows:
The human rights regime is one of modernity’s great civilizing triumphs. From the formal promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to the subsequent embrace of this declaration by the newly independent states of Africa, human rights have emerged as the primary discourse of global politics and as an increasingly prominent category in the international and domestic legal system. But throughout their history, human rights have endured sustained attempts at disenfranchisement.
In this provocative study, Linda Hogan defends human rights language while simultaneously reenvisioning its future. Avoiding problematic claims about shared universal values, Hogan draws on the constructivist strand of political philosophy to argue for a three-pronged conception of human rights: as requirements for human flourishing, as necessary standards of human community, and as the basis for emancipatory politics. In the process, she shows that it is theoretically possible and politically necessary for theologians to keep faith with human rights. Indeed, the Christian tradition—the wellspring of many of the ethical commitments considered central to human rights—must embrace its vital role in the project.
In October, Brill will release “Freedom of Religion in the 21st Century: A Human Rights Perspective on the Relation Between Politics and Religion,” edited by Hans-Georg Ziebertz (University of Würzburg) and Ernst Hirsch Ballin (Tillburg University). The publisher’s description follows:
Freedom of religion consists of the right to practice, to manifest and to change one’s religion. The modern democratic state is neutral towards the variety of religions, but protects the right of citizens to practice their different religious beliefs. Recent history shows that a number of religious claims challenge the neutral state. This happens especially when secularity is rejected as the basis of the modern state. How can conflicting interpretations of the relation between religion and state be balanced in our world? This book reflects on conflicts that seem to be implied in the freedom of religion, on its causes and how they can be overcome.
A nice piece by Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post, on the efforts of Lord George Weidenfeld, a British Jew, to save some Syrian Christians. Weidenfeld was himself rescued by Christians in 1938. A British Protestant group brought him to London from Vienna, thus saving him from the Holocaust. Now, he says, he wishes to repay the favor. It’s a small effort, only 2000 families, but it’s something.
Notably, the US Government has declined to participate in Weidenfeld’s efforts, as they target Christians, as opposed to other religious minorities suffering in Syria. No doubt, this reticence comes from the by now well-known American policy of avoiding the appearance of sectarianism in the Mideast. Maybe some people in the Administration even think there would be some sort of Establishment Clause problem with helping Weidenfeld.
Both these concerns are silly. If the US Government were assisting only Christians in the Mideast, that could be a PR problem–for the US and for the local Christians. But the US is helping many religious minorities. Just last summer, it evacuated besieged Yazidis on Mt. Sinjar. So helping Weidenfeld’s group couldn’t be considered favoritism. Anyway, no matter what the US does, it will be seen in the region as a “Christian” power, however ironic that might seem to us here.
As for the Establishment Clause, I don’t know where to begin. Even if the Clause were to apply to such matters, the fact that the US Government distributes foreign assistance to all sorts of religious minorities in the Mideast, not just Christians, would surely satisfy any reasonable neutrality requirement, even the so-called endorsement test. The endorsement test asks whether government action makes non-adherents feel like political outsiders, second-class citizens. Would non-Christians in America really feel like outsiders because some small portion of US aid goes to help a charity rescuing a couple thousand Christian families from war-torn Syria?
In September, Princeton University Press will release “Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion” by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (Northwestern University). The publisher’s description follows:
In recent years, North American and European nations have sought to legally remake religion in other countries through an unprecedented array of international initiatives. Policymakers have rallied around the notion that the fostering of religious freedom, interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and protections for religious minorities are the keys to combating persecution and discrimination. Beyond Religious Freedom persuasively argues that these initiatives create the very social tensions and divisions they are meant to overcome.
Elizabeth Shakman Hurd looks at three critical channels of state-sponsored intervention: international religious freedom advocacy, development assistance and nation building, and international law. She shows how these initiatives make religious difference a matter of law, resulting in a divide that favors forms of religion authorized by those in power and excludes other ways of being and belonging. In exploring the dizzying power dynamics and blurred boundaries that characterize relations between “expert religion,” “governed religion,” and “lived religion,” Hurd charts new territory in the study of religion in global politics.