Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Around the Web

Some important law-and-religion stories from around the web:

Around the Web This Week

Here is a look at some interesting news stories involving law and religion from this past week:

Pope Francis in Armenia

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Pope Francis and Patriarch Karekin II of the Armenian Church (Crux)

Last weekend, Pope Francis made an apostolic journey to Armenia, a small, landlocked country of three million in the South Caucasus, bordering Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The official motto of his journey was “Visit to the First Christian Nation,” a reference to Armenia’s being the first state to adopt Christianity as its official religion, in 301 A.D., a matter of great national pride. Only a small percentage of Armenians are Roman Catholics; more than 90% belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, a member of the Oriental Orthodox communion. Yet Francis received an enthusiastic reception from the Armenian Church hierarchy, the government, and the everyday people who crowded his public events. It’s worth focusing on the reasons for the warm welcome, and on the diplomatic and ecumenical significance of his journey.

Armenia is in a rough neighborhood. To the east, the country is locked in a frozen conflict with Azerbaijan, a majority-Muslim country, over Nagorno Karabakh, a region populated by Christian Armenians that seeks independence from Azerbaijan. A ceasefire has been in effect for about 20 years. In April, Azerbaijan renewed the conflict; Armenians successfully resisted the Azerbaijani attack, and the ceasefire was restored, but nerves remain on edge. To the west, Azerbaijan’s ally, Turkey, another Muslim-majority nation, has closed its border with Armenia, preventing needed economic development. To the north, relations with Georgia are peaceful but mixed; Georgia has its own breakaway regions and leans towards Azerbaijan in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. The only strategic partner Armenia has in the region is its neighbor to the south, the Islamic Republic of Iran, which, somewhat surprisingly for outsiders, cooperates with Armenia on a number of issues. Armenia also has close relations with Russia. Indeed, the US typically thinks of Armenia as Russia’s proxy in the Caucasus. But the situation is more complicated than that. Russia plays both sides of the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh—it sells weapons to Armenia and Azerbaijan–and Armenians increasingly distrust it. As I say, a rough neighborhood.

The pope’s visit was a welcome sign that the outside world, and especially the West, has not forgotten Armenia. Even more, in Armenia, Francis once again went out of his way to use the word “genocide” to describe the massacre of as many as 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey during World War I. Before the visit, the Vatican had suggested Francis Continue reading

Pope Francis on Freedom of Religion Today

Much of the debate surrounding issues of religious freedom today seems to center around the appropriate social role of religion, whether religion is predominantly private or is something that can—or maybe must—extend to all aspects of public life.

This question becomes more critical as new laws highlight existing tensions and create new clashes between the religious rights of individuals and the rights of others. What will be required of a California doctor who wishes not to participate in euthanasia procedures after the passage of the “right to die” law? To what extent must opponents of same-sex marriage participate in gay weddings after Obergefell v. Hodges? What accommodations should be made for service providers like the Little Sisters of the Poor who feel that complying with portions of the Affordable Care Act is against their religion?

Pope Francis offered his insight into the meaning and importance of religious liberty in the public sphere in his opening remarks at the Center’s conference on international religious freedom in June 2014. A complete English translation of his remarks is available here. He said, in part:

Reason recognizes in religious freedom a fundamental right of man that reflects his highest dignity, that of the capacity to seek the truth and to adhere to it, and recognizes in that right an indispensable condition in order to deploy his own potentialities. Religious freedom is not only the freedom of a thought or of a private sect. It is freedom to live according to ethical principles consequent to discovered truth, whether privately or publicly. This is a great challenge in the globalized world, where weak thought—which is like a disease—lowers the general ethical level, and in the name of a false notion of tolerance ends by persecuting those who defend the truth about man and that truth’s ethical consequences.

Legal regimes, national or international, are called to recognize, guarantee, and protect religious freedom, which is a right that inheres intrinsically in the nature of man, in his dignity as a free being, and is also an indicator of a healthy democracy and one of the principal fonts of the legitimacy of the state.

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Last month, when the Holy Father spoke at Independence Hall during his visit to the U.S., he highlighted similar themes. (The New York Times published an English translation of his speech here.) After reminding listeners, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, that we were created with inalienable rights, Pope Francis said this about religious freedom:

It is a fundamental right which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbors whose religious views differ from our own.

Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate. But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families.

. . . In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.

We live in a world subject to the globalization of the technocratic paradigm, which consciously aims at a one-dimensional uniformity and seeks to eliminate all differences and traditions in a superficial quest for unity. The religions thus have the right and the duty to make clear that it is possible to build a society where a healthy pluralism which respects differences and values them as such is a precious ally in the commitment to defending human dignity and a path to peace in our troubled world.

The Pope’s words challenge lawmakers, individuals, and followers of all religions (and those who are not religious as well) to see religious freedom as essential to a person’s dignity. It seems difficult today to strike a balance between the rights of believers to live according to their faith and the rights of non-believers not to have the faiths of others imposed on them. This increasing tension seems at least partially due to cultural forces that pit the religious and the secular against each other. Fewer people consider themselves to be religious than previously and both the religious and the non-religious become combative and defensive. Too often, the non-religious argue that any display of religion or act of faith is an inappropriate imposition and an attempt to establish religion as the law of the land. The religious on the other hand, claim that there is a war being waged by politicians aiming to eradicate religion altogether. Legislating in light of social and scientific developments while protecting the rights of religious believers requires careful balancing.

Pope Francis insists that relegating religion to the private sphere is not a solution to this conflict, as it would deny people the human dignity of living according to “discovered truths.” Instead, individuals must go beyond labeling those who disagree with them as either immoral or bigoted and governments must prioritize the human right to publicly practice religion and live by religious principles.

Throwback Thursday: June 2014

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At the Center’s Conference on International Religious Freedom in Rome, at which Pope Francis gave the keynote address. In addition to His Holiness, that’s Center Director Mark Movsesian, Associate Director Marc DeGirolami, and St. John’s Law School Dean Michael Simons (L-R).

On the Influence of the Scribes

At the Liberty Law site, my friend John McGinnis has a very interesting post on what he calls America’s “scribal class.” These are people – professors, journalists, opinion writers, lawyers, even entertainment industry types – who set America’s cultural and political agendas. John writes that they have enormous power, and all skew one way: Left.

John extrapolates from a recent study on the liberalism of American lawyers:

Academics in the humanities and social sciences set a long-term agenda for the country by educating the young and by shaping the categories of thought. The news media shapes the shorter-term political agenda by deciding what to emphasize in its coverage and how to spin it. Lawyers, whom Tocqueville almost two centuries ago understood as the aristocrats of the United States, are experts at using the courts and the burgeoning administrative state to shift social policy. And the study leaves out the entertainment industry and government bureaucrats, groups that are also on the left.  Entertainers help set social agendas, and bureaucrats often help advance the programs of liberal politicians and obstruct those of conservatives.

Thus, the left owns the commanding heights of our democracy. Given this power, it is a surprise that the right wins as many elections as it does. To be sure, modern information technology has created a more dispersed media world and permitted conservatives a somewhat greater voice. But the imbalances remain dramatic.

John goes on to contrast the scribal class with “producers,” those people who “produce material goods and non-information services for a living.” Producers, he suggests, do not skew Left, or at least not as much as the scribal class. They serve as a kind of cultural counterweight, to the great annoyance of the scribes.

John is right in his assessment of the cultural and political leanings of the scribal class, and the outsize influence members of that class have over the direction of the country. He’s not as persuasive when it comes to the producers. Corporate America and the cultural Left often find themselves on the same side of public debates, as last spring’s controversy over the Indiana RFRA law, and last summer’s reaction to Obergefell decision, demonstrate. Corporate America really doesn’t stand in opposition to the Left, unless one defines the Left purely in economic terms.

John minimizes one factor, though, and that is the scribal class’s almost total disregard of religion, at least traditional religion. True, the media sometimes presents religious minorities in a flattering light, usually as examples of a benign multiculturalism. But there is little respect for the legitimacy of religious convictions as such, especially the convictions of traditional believers. There is little knowledge even of basic facts.

Witness, for example, yesterday’s reaction to Pope Francis’s statement on forgiving women who show contrition for having had abortions. The media has trumpeted the pope’s statement as a major, surprising departure from Catholic teaching, rather than a temporary relaxing of formal rules on who may grant absolution – as though the concept of forgiving sins was somehow alien to Christian doctrine. Pope John Paul II had relaxed the rules in the last Holy Year, in 2000, a fact most media failed to report.

To me, all this suggests two things, neither of which, I guess, is particularly new. First, religious conservatives must do a better job making inroads in the scribal class, or develop an alternative vehicle for expression, if they are not to be steamrolled entirely out of the public conversation. Second, conservatives should focus less on politics itself and more on the culture that drives politics – on hearts and minds, not election returns.

You can read John’s whole piece here.

Putin and the Pope

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How have you been?

From Crux’s John Allen, here is an interesting and provocative article on today’s scheduled meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis. Surprisingly, Allen writes, on some issues, the two men have “forged an improbably strong partnership.”

One of those issues is the persecution of Mideast Christians. While Western nations have temporized, refusing even to acknowledge the sectarian dimension of the crisis–ISIS’s actions have nothing to do with religion, apparently–Putin has made himself the champion of the region’s Christians:

“As regards the Middle East and its Christians, their situation is dire,” Putin said in April. “The international community is not doing enough … this is the motherland of Christians. Christians have lived there from time immemorial, for thousands of years.”

In some corners of the Middle East, such as the Syrian region of Qualamun, Russia actually has floated the idea of granting citizenship to pockets of Orthodox Christians, effectively offering them a security blanket.

Now, talk is cheap. And Putin’s motivations are not wholly humanitarian. By offering itself as the protector of Mideast Christians, most of whom are Orthodox, Russia can exert influence in the region. (France has traditionally put itself forward in the same role, although France tends to focus on Catholics). Speaking out for Christian minorities also increases Putin’s credibility as the representative of traditional Christianity, which no doubt wins him admirers in the developing world, where Christianity is expanding, often in conflict with a rising Islam. And, of course, championing the cause of Orthodox Christians increases his political appeal in Russia itself.

Still, whatever his motives, Putin has focused on the suffering of Christians as Christians, and that is something many leaders in the West are apparently reluctant to do. It is also a stance, Allen writes, that appeals to Pope Francis:

Since Francis’ election in March 2013, meanwhile, no social or political issue has engaged the pontiff like the plight of persecuted Christians, especially in the Middle East.

In March, he demanded that the world stop trying to “hide” the reality of anti-Christian violence, and he’s also argued that the shared suffering of Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants alike is the basis for a contemporary “ecumenism of blood.”

Allen notes that the conflict in Ukraine will pose obstacles for any real partnership between Russia and the Vatican. Ukrainian Catholics believe that Pope Francis has taken too soft a line in that particular crisis. Francis has described the conflict as an unfortunate disagreement between Christians, while Ukrainian Catholics tend to see it as the result of Russian provocation, which they wish Francis would denounce. In particular, Ukrainian Catholics resent what they see as bullying and duplicity on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church, particularly the Moscow Patriarchate.

As I say, an interesting and provocative piece.

Wills, “The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis”

In March, Penguin Books released “The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis” by Garry Wills. The publisher’s description follows:

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope and the first from the Americas, offers a challenge to his church. Can he bring about significant change? Should he?

Garry Wills, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, argues provocatively that, in fact, the history of the church throughout is a history of change. In this brilliant and incisive study, Wills describes the deep and serious changes that have taken place in the church or are in the process of occurring. These include the change from Latin, the growth and withering of the ecclesiastical monarchy, the abandonment of biblical literalism, the assertion and nonassertion of infallibility, and the erosion of church patriarchy. In such developments we see the living church adapting itself to the new historical circumstances.

As Wills contends, it is only by examining the history of the church that we can understand Pope Francis’s and the church’s challenges.

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