Skaria, “Unconditional Equality”

This month, the University of Minnesota Press releases “Unconditional Equality: Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance,” by Ajay Skaria (University of Minnesota).  The publisher’s description follows:

Unconditional Equality examines Mahatma Gandhi’s critique of liberal ideas of freedom and equality and his own practice of a freedom and equality organized image (10)around religion. It reconceives satyagraha (passive resistance) as a politics that strives for the absolute equality of all beings. Liberal traditions usually affirm an abstract equality centered on some form of autonomy, the Kantian term for the everyday sovereignty that rational beings exercise by granting themselves universal law. But for Gandhi, such equality is an “equality of sword”—profoundly violent not only because it excludes those presumed to lack reason (such as animals or the colonized) but also because those included lose the power to love (which requires the surrender of autonomy or, more broadly, sovereignty).

Gandhi professes instead a politics organized around dharma, or religion. For him, there can be “no politics without religion.” This religion involves self-surrender, a freely offered surrender of autonomy and everyday sovereignty. For Gandhi, the “religion that stays in all religions” is satyagraha—the agraha (insistence) on or ofsatya (being or truth).

Ajay Skaria argues that, conceptually, satyagraha insists on equality without exception of all humans, animals, and things. This cannot be understood in terms of sovereignty: it must be an equality of the minor. This equality is simultaneously a resistance: satyagrahis (practitioners) must resist all that obscures absolute equality and do so passively, without sovereignty and in the spirit of absolute equality.

Aroney on Freedom of Religion as an Associational Right

The latest issue of the University of Queensland Law Journal is devoted entirely to issues of federalism and freedom of religion in Australia.  One article by Professor Nicholas Aroney, Freedom of Religion as an Associational Right, is particularly informative.  You can read the article in its entirety here.

In his article, Professor Aroney argues that the religious freedom clauses of the Australian Constitution (section 116), which were modeled after the American First Amendment, should be interpreted to protect not only individual rights, but also communal or associational rights.  In support of this contention, Professor Aroney provides an impressive textual and historical analysis of section 116.  He further shows how this interpretation is in accord with international law.

According to Professor Aroney, correctly interpreting section 116 is of fundamental importance, because to interpret it as protecting merely individual rights has the potential to severely weaken religious freedom. Here is Professor Aroney (footnotes omitted):

Efforts to impose an individualistic view of human rights … continue to be made by groups such as the Discrimination Law Experts Group, who argue that the rights of religious organisations engaging in ‘public sphere activities’ should simply be trumped by the rights of individuals ‘to be treated in a non-discriminatory way.’ The Public Interest Law Clearing House and the Human Rights Law Resource Centre have argued similarly, maintaining that permanent religious exceptions to antidiscrimination laws facilitate and condone discrimination by protecting ‘traditional social structures and hierarchies’. Although the context is that anti-discrimination laws apply only in certain ‘public’ contexts, the reasoning is not so limited. These arguments are not unlike that of Stephen Macedo, who advocates that modern liberalism must ‘constitute the private realm in its image’ by forcing citizens ‘to observe its limits’ and ‘pursue its aspirations’. Such persons are to be actively coerced, Macedo candidly asserts, ‘to help ensure that freedom is what they want’, even in ‘their most “private beliefs”’.

 The underlying individualism of this line of argument has been made clear by Margaret Thornton, who has argued that although the ICCPR protects the right to exercise freedom of religion ‘in association with others’, this right not only has to be balanced against the competing rights to equal treatment and non-discrimination, but all such rights need to be understood, fundamentally, as the rights of human beings – not of corporations – and so it is a ‘logical fallacy to extrapolate from an individual’s private beliefs to an impersonal for-profit corporation’. Thornton’s argument shows the weakness of religious freedom rights if they are conceptualised in reductively individualistic terms. This is because one would have to show, first, that certain individuals have particular religious convictions that are legally protected and, second, that these same individual rights are being expressed through the religious corporation’s rules or practices. If religious rights are conceptualised as inherently ‘private’ in this sense, it will be that much more difficult to establish that such rights are really being exercised as private rights in various domains of ‘public’ or ‘quasipublic’ life. But on the contrary, as has been seen, international human rights principles, while certainly premised on the rights of the ‘human person’, are not exclusively concerned to protect only individual rights or only private expressions of religious conviction.

Another problem with individualised conceptions of human rights in this domain is that such rights, although originally conceived as rights against the state, can nonetheless ‘double up as rights against everyone’. Accordingly, as Julian Rivers has shown, there are some for whom it is not sufficient that an individual has a right of ‘exit’ from his or her religious community. Rather, there is evidence ‘of a growing assumption that everyone who wishes should be able to join any religious body’ and that ‘membership tests are suspect’. The underlying assumption, in other words, is that ‘the preservation of religious identity on the part of civil society groups needs justification against the individual who does not share that identity’, even though to adopt such an approach ‘is potentially destructive of the identity of [all] non-State collectivities’. For if any individual can decide whether he or she qualifies for membership of an organisation, no organisation will be able to maintain its distinctive identity.

This reductio ad absurdum suggests that a radical individualist conception of religious liberty is simply incompatible with the existence of religious associations and communities as distinguishable groups within a society. Against such a view, William Galston has observed:

 It is not obvious as an empirical matter that civil society organisations within liberal democracies must be organised along liberal democratic lines… A liberal policy guided … by a commitment to moral and political pluralism will be parsimonious in specifying binding public principles and cautious about employing such principles to intervene in the internal affairs of civil associations. It will rather pursue a policy of maximum feasible accommodation, limited only by the core requirements of individual security and civic unity. That there are costs to such a policy cannot reasonably be denied. It will permit internal associational practices (e.g. patriarchal gender relations) of which many disapprove. It will allow many associations to define their membership in ways that may be viewed as restraints on individual liberty … Unless liberty – individual and associational – is to be narrowed dramatically, however, we must accept these costs.

 A reductively individualist conception of religious freedom is obviously opposed to the capacity of such groups to determine their own conditions of membership, but an excessively narrow associational conception may also have this effect, for there are many social groupings and traditional communities, including religions, in which membership does not initially arise by deliberate choice but by birth and circumstance. Whether voluntaristic or otherwise, unless such associations and communities are going to be understood, following Thomas Hobbes, as ‘worms in the entrails’ of the body politic, we need to recognise, as Harold Laski argued, that they are ‘as real, as primary, and self-sufficing as the whole [society]’. This does not mean of course that communal religious rights must always prevail. But it does mean that they ought to be treated with the same respect as the rights of individuals. As such, from a liberal point of view, what is most crucial in order to protect individuals is not the right to join (or remain) within a group, but the right to exit it. On this approach, the question of the legitimacy of a law which regulates a religious association becomes one of determining what conditions, if any, must accompany an effective exit right, understood to include the rights to associate, disassociate or not associate with a particular religious community on terms offered by that community. Alternatively, from a more communitarian point of view, what matters is that a religious group genuinely benefits its members and does not inappropriately interfere with the legitimate interests of those outside the group. These are large questions, of course, which lie beyond the scope of this article, the point of which has been to establish the associational and communal dimensions of religious freedom as a matter of principle.


European Court Decides Church Autonomy Case; Russian Judge Calls Clerical Celibacy a Human Rights Violation

I’m a little late getting to this, but I wanted to say a few words about Fernández Martínez v. Spain, the church autonomy case the European Court of Human Rights decided last month. By a vote of 9-8, the court held that Spain did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights when it declined to renew the contract of a public school teacher who had been offering classes in Catholicism.

Because of the close vote, some commentators have expressed worries about the case’s implication for church autonomy in Europe. I think those worries are overstated. The closeness of the vote turns on the peculiarities of the Spanish public school system, in which state employees offer religious instruction. The dissent of the Russian judge does cause concern, however. Judge Dedov’s opinion suggests a bias against Catholicism unlike anything I can remember in a judicial opinion.

In Spain, public schools offer religious instruction at state expense. The teachers are state employees. But the Spanish government has entered into agreements with four religious communities–Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, and Muslim–which provide that schools will select instructors in those religions from candidates the communities certify as suitable. With respect to classes in Catholicism, the local Catholic bishop must approve instructors. Fernández Martínez lost his job when the local bishop refused to approve him. The bishop withdrew his approval when Fernández Martínez, a Catholic priest who had decided to marry and raise a family, appeared at a public protest in favor of optional clerical celibacy.

Fernández Martínez argued that the refusal to renew his contract violated his right under Article 8 of the Convention “to respect for his private and family life.” The court disagreed. The interference with the claimant’s right was justified in this case, it held. Spain had acted to protect the important principle of church autonomy, specifically, the right of the Catholic Church to designate which people could offer Catholic instruction in the public schools. Although the instructors were state employees, they were also representatives of the Church. It was not unreasonable for the Church to assert that Fernández Martínez’s conduct affected his credibility as a Catholic representative.

All this seems straightforward. So why was the vote so close? The eight dissenting judges expressed some unfortunate skepticism about what they called “absolute” church autonomy. To my mind, though, the key factor seems to have been that Fernández Martínez was a state employee, paid from public funds. As a result, the dissenters believed, the state had an obligation to him independent of the Church’s decision. It “is not the Bishop’s decision that should be scrutinized,” the dissenters wrote, “but the [state’s] reaction to that decision.” For example, the state might have tried to find Fernández Martínez another position that would not involve teaching Catholicism. Instead, the state had simply let him go.

Judge Dmitry Dedov

In short, the closeness of the vote reflects the peculiarities of the Spanish system, in which teachers of Catholicism are state employees, rather than the principle of church autonomy itself. (I recognize that the Spanish system may not be so peculiar in the European context, but that’s a subject for another post.) On the other hand, one of the dissents does raise serious concerns. In a personal dissent, which no other member of the court joined, the Russian judge, Dmitry Dedov, argued that mandatory priestly celibacy was itself a human rights violation the court should not tolerate.

Mandatory celibacy has been a “well-known and serious problem” in Catholicism for centuries, Dedov wrote, citing Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. It had caused a great deal of grief and led priests to abuse children “in many countries.” One could not justify holding people  to a vow of celibacy, even a voluntary one:

The Convention protects freedom of religion…. But it does not entitle religious organizations, even in the name of autonomy, to persecute their members for exercising fundamental human rights. If the Convention system is intended to combat totalitarianism, then there is no reason to tolerate the sort of totalitarianism that can be seen in the present case.

“I believe,” he concluded, “that optional celibacy is the best way out of this problem and that it could also–I hope–serve as a preventive measure against clerical sex abuses of children in the future.”

I suppose Judge Dedov, who attended a Soviet university in the 1980s, is in a position to know something about totalitarianism. But, really, his dissent is an embarrassment. No one asked Judge Dedov for his views on clerical celibacy. The merit of religious doctrine is not a matter for secular human rights judges to address, and certainly not in a simplistic and gratuitously insulting way. (The Thorn Birds? Really?) And to assert, without offering evidence, that Catholicism’s rules on clerical celibacy have themselves caused the sex abuse crisis–a crisis that has, no doubt, many causes–is not what one expects from a judge.

In a human rights court, litigants from religious communities have a right to think the judges will treat them fairly and, to the extent possible, decide cases without bias. Judges are not there to offer musings on comparative religion. Judge Dedov’s dissent suggests he has a personal problem with the Catholic Church. He should take that problem somewhere else.

Johnson, “Monastic Women and Religious Orders in Late Medieval Bologna”

Next month, Cambridge will publish Monastic Women and 9781107060852Religious Orders in Late Medieval Bologna, by Sherri Franks Johnson (University of California, Riverside). The publisher’s description follows.

Sherri Franks Johnson explores the roles of religious women in the changing ecclesiastical and civic structure of late medieval Bologna, demonstrating how convents negotiated a place in their urban context and in the church at large. During this period Bologna was the most important city in the Papal States after Rome. Using archival records from nunneries in the city, Johnson argues that communities of religious women varied in the extent to which they sought official recognition from the male authorities of religious orders. While some nunneries felt that it was important to their religious life to gain recognition from monks and friars, others were content to remain local and autonomous. In a period often described as an era of decline and the marginalization of religious women, Johnson shows instead that they saw themselves as active participants in their religious orders, in the wider church and in their local communities.

Bartrum on Religion and the Restatements

Here’s a very interesting piece by Ian Bartrum (UNLV) on the ways in which the Restatements of Law (assembled by the American Law Institute, the Restatements aim to condense and synthesize bodies of law) incorporate or otherwise treat religion, and how they might do so more effectively. Because the abstract is very short, but because there is a request not to cite from the paper, I’ll just say quickly that Ian divides up the treatment of religion into two components which correspond roughly to the two guarantees of religious freedom under the religion clauses. There are provisions in various Restatements that approach religion as a matter of “natural” or fundamental right (as in the Restatement of Foreign Relations and in the Restatement of Servitudes [who knew that there was a Restatement of Servitudes!?]). But there are other provisions that seek to avoid judicial entanglement in issues of personal or institutional autonomy–such as in the “Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution” involving the religion of children of divorced couples and the extent to which courts should involve themselves in making comparative judgments about religions–reflecting familiar establishmentarian concerns.

After considering several examples where the Restatements seem to evince cross-cutting views about religion, Prof. Bartrum notes a few places where the Restatements might give greater (or even some) attention to religion. The Restatement of Torts, for example, might attend to some of the recent issues involving church autonomy and the ministerial exception. And the Restatement of the Conflict of Laws might consider some of the recent issues involving the enforceability of arbitration decisions in religious contexts. I hope these suggestions are adopted by the American Law Institute.

Federal Authorities Accuse Rabbis of Kidnapping Scheme in Connection with Religious Divorces

Often, in my class on law and religion at St. John’s, we address difficult questions about where to draw the line on religious autonomy. How far should the state go in accommodating religious practices that conflict with state rules? Or, put in reverse, how much freedom from state control can religious organizations legitimately expect? The recent contraceptives mandate is an example of this sort of conflict.

But one of my students yesterday emailed me an article from the New York Times that discusses an an easy case–at least as the facts have been reported. Federal authorities in New Jersey this week accused two rabbis of orchestrating the kidnapping and torture of dozens of men. The rabbis did this in order to force the men to consent to their wives’ requests for divorce under Jewish law.

According to traditional Jewish law, as I understand it, women have no right unilaterally to divorce their husbands. For a divorce to be final, the husband must give his permission, or get. If the husband declines to give a get, the marriage is not dissolved, and the woman becomes an agunah, or chained woman. This means the woman cannot marry again under Jewish law. Of course, the woman could divorce and remarry civilly, but many observant Jewish women decline to take this route, as it would render them, and their future children, outcasts in their own communities.

In theory, a husband must give a get of his own free will. There are ways for Jewish law tribunals to encourage obstinate husbands to give gets, however. A tribunal might ban a husband from his synagogue until he does so, for example. And some civil jurisdictions, like New York, have passed “get laws,” which try, in various ways, to create incentives for husbands to give their wives gets.

But the two New Jersey rabbis allegedly took things much further. They allegedly kidnapped men and tortured them with tasers and electric shocks until the men agreed to give their wives gets. Apparently the rabbis charged $10,000 for a tribunal ruling allowing the use of violence against the men, and $50,000 for hiring people to do the work. The rabbis were caught in a federal sting operation:

The undercover female F.B.I. agent told Rabbi Epstein that she wanted to divorce her husband, described as a businessman in South America, who refused to grant her request. Rabbi Epstein urged her to lure the man to New Jersey, which she pledged to do.

Next Rabbi Epstein and Rabbi Wolmark convened their own rabbinical court, complete with legalisms and formalities, to issue a religious edict “authorizing the use of violence to obtain a forced get,” according to court records. The undercover agent offered testimony before the two rabbis, who were joined by other religious figures.

Told that the husband was arriving in New Jersey, eight of Rabbi Epstein’s associates met at a New Jersey warehouse to finalize the kidnapping plan, according to court documents. At that point F.B.I. agents moved in to arrest the group. The agents seized masks, ropes, scalpels and feather quills and ink bottles used for recording the get they anticipated.

I’m no expert, but I can’t imagine this sort of thing is legal under Jewish law; the whole thing seems a parody of legal process. From the point of view of civil law, however, I’m sure this is an easy case. However much discretion the state allows religious tribunals–and, in my opinion, we should allow them a great deal of discretion, as a matter of religious freedom–it doesn’t go this far. Banning someone from your synagogue is one thing. Tying someone up in a van and torturing him is quite another, even if you have a tribunal decree that allows you to do it.

You can read the Times article here.

Religious Division and Identity – Richard III and the Rest of Us – Part II

Thanks again to Mark and Marc for inviting me to guest blog this month.  I hope to use this opportunity to think about a range of questions, and also introduce a bit of my own work.

Back in August, I posted Part I of some mediations on religious division prompted by the minor kerfuffle over whether the newly-discovered remains of Richard III should be reinterred in a Catholic or an Anglican ceremony.  That post looked at the question from a bit of a theological lens. I want now to say a bit about the same problem from the perspectives of history.  (I’ll have one or two more parts to this discussion, so stay tuned.)

So let’s go back to our test case: Was Richard III a “Catholic” in the modern sense of the word that would exclude his membership in the “Church of England”?  For that matter, is the contemporary Church of England in some meaningful sense Catholic and not merely catholic?

Historians, I think, would resist these questions from the get-go. For one thing, they would want to be more contextual and specific.  There is no one answer to the religious identity of either Richard III or the contemporary Church of England.  Are we talking about formal belief structures, lived spiritual premises, personal devotion, liturgical practices, institutional relations, personal networks, political allegiances, or something else?  How does the civil war that Richard fought and lost figure into the equation, if at all?  What about the radically different technology of the time, with its implications for travel and communication?  What about the long, complex, and often violent history of relations between King and clergy that long predated Henry VIII’s split from Rome?  How would Richard III himself have understood the question?  Would he have understood it?

For that matter, historians might find the question too essentialist to begin with.  Yes, categories such as “Catholic” are real and important.  But time is change.  Richard III could not be “Catholic” in the sense we understand the term because nobody in his time – before the Reformation, the Enlightenment, England’s split from Rome, the rise of secularism, and for that matter the advent of modern forms of communication and transportation – was “Catholic” in the sense we understand the term.

All this interests me, not because I’m a historian, but because the question of historical consciousness (and its limits) strikes me as deeply important to all sorts of other puzzles and challenges I’ll be taking up this month.

For now, though, I will leave to the next post or two some thoughts about the possible further theological implications of what I’ve just said about history to the fate of poor Richard III and about how law (this is a law blog, after all) fits into all this, both specifically and more generally.

Hertzke (ed.), The Future of Religious Freedom

This November, Oxford University Press will publish The Future of Religious Freedom: Global Challenges edited by Allen D. Hertzke (University of Oklahoma). The publisher’s description follows.

What is the status of religious freedom in the world today? What barriers does it face? What are the realistic prospects for improvement, and why does this matter? The Future of Religious Freedom addresses these critical questions by assembling in one volume some of the best forward-thinking and empirical research on religious liberty, international legal trends, and societal dynamics. Top scholars from law, political science, diplomacy, sociology, and religion explore the status, value, and challenges of religious liberty around the world – with illustrations from a wide range of historical situations, contemporary contexts, and constitutional regimes. Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: