In the last week the US Supreme Court has acted in two religious freedom cases (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College v. Burwell) in favor of conservative Christian plaintiffs seeking exemptions from the contraceptive coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Liberals have gone nuts, wildly predicting the end of the world as we know it. While I share their distress about the effects of these decisions on women, I want to talk about religion. I believe that it is time for some serious self-reflection on the part of liberals. To the extent that these decisions are about religion (and there are certainly other reasons to criticize the reasoning in these opinions), they reveal the rotten core at the heart of all religious freedom laws. The positions of both liberals and conservatives are affected by this rottenness but I speak here to liberals.
Posts Tagged ‘religious freedom’
In a recent essay on equality and citizenship in a multi-religious Sudan, Noah Salomon describes a commitment among development experts to equality before the law as a “non-ideological” solution to the problems of post-conflict societies. Salomon disagrees with the consensus, suggesting rather that “law, the institutions which promote it, and our relationship to them enfold deep ideological and political commitments which require a whole host of presumptions about justice and how best to achieve it.” While the rule of law is assumed to govern from a neutral public space that has transcended ideological and political particularities, the hegemony of rule of law discourse should not be taken as a mark of neutrality. It would be a mistake to remove the rule of law from conversations about power, history, difference, and governance.
The same may be said of secularism.
Is freedom of religion really “good for business”?
Monday, May 12th, marked the ninth and final phase of India’s general elections, and the results announced in coming hours will likely declare Narendra Modi as India’s prime minister. Modi, the candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance, would then lead the world largest democracy—one with a staggering 814.5 million registered voters—but has been denied entry into ours: for almost a decade, the Department of State has banned Modi from entering the United States. Looking back at how this came to be highlights the uneven history of religious freedom as part of American foreign policy.
Having been invited to reflect upon the themes of this forum, first raised during the European University Institute (EUI) workshop “Beyond Critique,” I hope the reader will not mind if I begin my essay with a story about shipwrecks.
In a now-famous talk, the Columbia University historian Carol Gluck suggestively argued that history finds itself, temporally and conceptually, “after the shipwreck.” The “shipwreck,” for Gluck, stands as a metaphor for the destruction of the major metanarratives (scientific objectivism, progress, modernity, chronological linearity, historical materialism, the nation) and paradigms (Marxism, Liberalism, Nationalism) that have underpinned much of modern historiography. The deconstruction of such metanarratives is inseparable from the scholarly turn to critical theory, post-structuralism, and post-colonial approaches to the study of history starting in the late 1980s.
Walking down Bowne Street in Flushing, Queens, you may see a most interesting sign. “Bowne House; Built in 1661,” it reads, “A National Shrine to Religious Freedom.” Flushing is known for many things—the New York Mets, for example, or its Chinatown. It is not, however, known for being the location of one of the first debates over religious conscience and tolerance in the American colonies.
Religious freedom has become an international concept: As the scope of the recently concluded Politics of Religious Freedom project attests to, the grammar of religious freedom has spread far and wide, creating a broad and complex field where international norms and procedures frequently clash with deeply embedded local conceptions of law, religion, and freedom.
Before making projections about the future of religion and secularity in China, we should first take a step back and reconsider some notions about how China’s approach to religion has historically differed and sometimes conflicted with Western ideas and practices.
The first is the image of the People’s Republic as an axiomatically anti-religious state. One could certainly be forgiven for thinking of socialism and religion as oil and water. Marx famously declared religion to be the “opium of the people.” Lenin saw the Orthodox Church as the last and most recalcitrant bastion of Tsarist sympathy and insisted that the landed monasteries had to be destroyed in a way that was violent, thorough, and public. After the Second World War, the Catholic Church and Catholic-affiliated movements emerged among the most strident critics of Communism. Decades later, Catholic support would be instrumental in helping a Polish labor movement bring about the collapse of Soviet power in Europe.
The complex and ever-changing relationship between the Chinese state and the nation’s religions stretches back thousands of years. While the state never struggled with religious leaders for power, it governed an embedded religiosity in the population, one best described as diffused, non-exclusive, and pluralistic. As a companion to The Immanent Frame’s newly launched series of essays on the state of religion in China, this piece embarks on a brief historical survey, outlining the wide variety of beliefs and practices that religion in China encapsulates, and paying particular attention to the events and philosophies that have shaped the policies of the atheist People’s Republic of China.
Earlier this summer, The Immanent Frame published an off the cuff exchange about the State Department’s new initiative to engage religious communities in US diplomacy. Conversation and critiques are still going strong; Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, an original contributor to “Engaging religion at the Department of State,” has penned a commentary for Al Jazeera America in which she critiques US faith-based engagement abroad as a violation of the separation of church and state.
For those of you following The Immanent Frame‘s off the cuff discussion of the new State Department’s office of religious engagement, officially announced as the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives, another perspective can be added into the mix.
In its annual survey, “Minority Religious Communities At Risk,” the First Freedom Center of Virginia observed intensified contention over the right to freedom of religious expression in both Canada and the United States. As evidence, the editors highlighted a major Canadian Supreme Court decision as well as public criticism of the conservative government’s creation of an Office of Religious Freedom; for the United States, the editors cited the litigation over the 2011 Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act. The contention in both countries seemed to pit conservative religious-freedom advocates against a progressive secular establishment. However, as I argue here with the Canadian case, the situation is more complicated.
In late July, The Immanent Frame published a set of reflections on the Department of State’s plans for a new office dedicated to engaging religion. Following an official announcement by Secretary Kerry on August 7th, scholars and policy commentators have continued to weigh in on the implications, challenges, and potential of the new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives.
Allison Kaplan Sommer and Dahlia Lithwick write at The New Republic write about the struggles of an emergent form of feminist protest among Modern Orthodox Jewish women in an Israeli city. The article profiles a struggle against the unofficial gender segregation that these women are sometimes pressured to comply with.
This past week, the US Department of State announced the creation of a new office that “will focus on engagement with faith-based organizations and religious institutions around the world to strengthen US development and diplomacy and advance America’s interests and values.” Citing widespread religious persecution and violence overseas, proponents of the new office of “religious engagement” hope to further institutionalize an official US commitment to globalize religious freedom, marginalize extremism, and promote interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance. Yet this initiative also raises concerns regarding the intersection of religious freedom, religious establishment, and foreign policy.
What are the prospects for the new office, and what are the potential implications of its efforts for the politics of religious diversity, both locally and transnationally? What assumptions about “religion” underlie these efforts, and what are the implications for civil society, including organizations and associations that do not self-identify as religious?
Dennis J. Goldford was recently interviewed by Religion Dispatches Magazine about his new book The Constitution of Religious Freedom: God, Politics, and the First Amendment, which explores the notion of “separation of church and state” and the religious identity of America.
In The Future of Religious Freedom, editor Allen D. Hertzke assembles a diverse team of international scholars to not only determine the current status of religious freedom in the world but also understand the prospects for improvement.
I have been observing and analyzing religious trends in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa for several decades, with a particular focus on new religious movements, variously termed “minority religious groups,” “sects,” or “unconventional religious groups.” My years of living in southern Nigerian cities afforded me valuable insights into the workings of complex religious landscapes. As democratization, neoliberalism, media deregulation, and global religious activism increasingly change the stakes of coexistence between religious groups, and between such groups and the state, the management of Africa’s increasingly competitive religious public spheres has become a more compelling area of investigation.
In Debating Sharia: Islam, Gender Politics, and Family Law Arbitration, editors Anna C. Korteweg and Jennifer A. Selby gather a multidisciplinary group of academics to tackle the challenge of promoting diversity while protecting religious freedom and women’s equality.
This short piece attempts to come at the current debate on law and religious freedom from two unusual angles. I end by looking at the strange and revealing positioning of “religion or belief” in current legislation in England and Wales. And I begin by putting a different spin on religious freedom by exploring the terrifying freedom of the concepts of religion and belief. We have never needed the rise of Al Qaeda, so-called Islamicism or a hardline religious right to terrify us with a resurgent specter of specifically religious (as opposed to purely “political”) “terror.” Instead of bearing down on us like some old specter of the Turk or Moor at Europe’s gates, the terror of religion emerges—or insurges (if “insurge” can be made into a verb)—from within the normative conceptualizations of religion in the so-called modern West.
New Directions in the Study of Prayer grantee Peter Manseau observes that both the Obama and Romney campaigns describe religious liberty as America’s “first freedom,” a characterization that has “become so commonplace that it seems churlish to question it.” But Manseau finds that what constitutes the first freedom has historically been far from clear-cut, and […]
Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, co-Guest Editor of the TIF discussion series The politics of religious freedom, reflects on the sometimes paradoxical effects of the state promotion of religious freedom—and argues that Canada’s proposed Office of Religious Freedom should adopt a more nuanced, less top-down approach.
On October 11, 2012, the Religious Freedom Project of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University’s School of Law will convene a conference at Georgetown University on “Differences between the U.S. and European Approaches to Religious Freedom.”
I would like to begin with a famous case in Egypt that, though over a decade and a half old, remains salient for thinking about religious freedom. This is the apostasy case of Nasr Abu Zayd, the professor of Arabic and Islamic studies who was declared an apostate by the Egyptian courts, and whose marriage was forcibly annulled as a result. The case was raised using a highly controversial principle within Egyptian law, and much of the debate was about whether its use was acceptable within this case. This principle was called hisba, and it technically means, “the commanding of the good when its practice is manifestly neglected, and the forbidding of the detestable when its practice becomes manifest.”
Unlike Europe and North America, the discussions in South Africa relating to religious freedom do not center on the extent to which religion can be excluded from the public domain but rather the extent to which it can be accommodated. It is not surprising that South Africa has chosen to respond to the issue of religious freedom in a more tolerant manner given its discriminatory-laden history under colonialism and apartheid. While race-based discrimination was the most obvious, religion was a further invidious form of discrimination. Christianity was the dominant religion and was often used by the apartheid government to justify its oppressive laws. For instance, marriages that did not conform to Christian values such as monogamy and opposite-sex unions were regarded as uncivilized relationships that were not worthy of legal recognition. Thus, potentially polygynous marriages such as African customary marriages as well as Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and same-sex marriages did not enjoy the legal protection that Christian marriages enjoyed.
Recently, David Johnson, Web Editor at the Boston Review, interviewed Martha Nussbaum and discussed her new publication, The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age.
These essays provoked me in a number of ways, especially with their combined penchant for probing raw nerves. Indeed, I didn’t fully understand how raw—let’s say conflicted—I was about religious freedom discourses and practices until this intervention was staged. In the spirit of therapy, then, we can begin: “Hi, my name is Greg, and I’ve led a carefree lifestyle, all along assuming religious freedom is a good thing. I’ve been drinking this cocktail for years; it has become part of my identity. Thanks to these scholars, I’ve been sober for three days.”
To this stimulating and learned series of posts I cannot add much about the genealogy of religious freedom or its fate in the US courts, never mind predict the consequences of judicial decisions, or even address a larger question raised by Winni Sullivan and others which, I take it, has to do with the general effects of submitting questions of religious practice to a particular kind of legal system, one that works by means of precedents, binding decisions, etc. I make two comments as an anthropologist.
Last week at The New York Times, human rights advocate Benedict Rogers wrote an op-ed piece on the state of religious relations in Indonesia.
At its March 2012 meeting, the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty,” a document drafted by the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
Everson v. Board of Education is considered a landmark of First Amendment jurisprudence. That 1947 case marks the first time the Supreme Court held that the disestablishment provision of the First Amendment is binding on the states, and not just on the federal government. The “incorporation” of the principle of disestablishment thus completed the task begun seven years earlier in Cantwell v. Connecticut, when a unanimous Court held that free exercise applied to the states. In Cantwell, the Court overturned the convictions of three Jehovah’s Witnesses, who had been arrested for unlicensed soliciting and a breach of peace.
As several contributors to this forum have pointed out, legal provisions regarding religious freedom do not emerge from history fully formed and self-interpreting. At their core, they are iterations of words and texts, (re)produced and (re)authorized by different persons or groups for different purposes. What they mean depends on local facts.
This contribution expands upon this observation by offering a different story about drafting religious rights in a particular place and time. I will show the ways in which religious rights, as rhetoric, serve not as apolitical instruments, but as indicia of political alliances; not as generic, universalizable norms, but as specific formulations of norms suited to particular moments and in service of particular political programs. In this version of the story, religious rights, rather than conclude conflict and harmonize societies, signpost disagreement.
In this post I explore the case of Bangladesh: the state of secularism there and the tensions and polemics that accompany the pursuit of an ideal secular state and society. I do this by reflecting on reactions surrounding women’s turn to greater religious engagement fostered through their participation in Quranic discussion circles in Dhaka. In outlining some of the tensions underlying the reactions, I wish to draw attention to the stakes of remaining confined to a binary view of religion and secularism, especially as new religious forces and faces come into the public space with the intent of developing and transforming it.
Adopted in 1950, Article 17 of the Indian Constitution legally abolished untouchability—the ancient Hindu system of social discrimination—forbade its practice in any form, and made the enforcement of any discrimination arising out of this disability a criminal offence. At the same time, the Indian Constitution guaranteed freedom of religious belief and practice under Article 25 and autonomy of religious institutions under Article 26. The discussion of Employment Division v. Smith in Winnifred Sullivan’s post and subsequent comments reminded me of the very substantial jurisprudence surrounding Article 26.
The Tunisian uprisings of December 2010 are often depicted in negative terms, as lacking leadership, ideology, and political organization. Nahda (the Tunisian Islamist movement that, after decades of exile and repression, won 40 percent of the seats in the elections of October 2011) members are now accused of working to turn Tunisia into a “sharia state,” in which religious freedom, women’s rights, and freedom of expression would cease to exist. While the fears of individuals and groups who disagree with Islamists have to be taken seriously, discussion of current changes needs to be based on a real engagement, not on caricature.
Religious freedom and religious establishment have come to mean many things to many people. This is, in part, because of the shifting contours of the definition of religion itself (as has been pointed out by others in this series, including Winnifred Fallers Sullivan and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd). But it is also because the nature of freedom is contested ground. The shifting nature of these two concepts makes normative assessment—religious freedom is good, religious freedom is bad—extremely difficult to carry out in any meaningful way. Further, when people advocate for or against religious freedom they are often talking about very different things. Similarly, the measurement of establishment is equally nebulous.
What is the politics of religious freedom? For the past decade and more, those who would like to see the active promotion of religious freedom at the “core” of foreign policy in the U.S. and now in Canada would have us understand that religious freedom is the foundation of democracy, the basis for political stability and first step to all other freedoms. The mission statement of the Office of International Religious Freedom in the U.S. Department of State links its promotion of religious freedom to human rights and to political “stability” for “all countries.” Referring to the establishment of a new Office of Religious Freedom within his government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in a statement to the United Nations last year, the Canadian UN Ambassador declared, “History has shown us that where religious freedom is strong, democratic freedom is strong.”
I want to start with a paradox. In the secular age, as Charles Taylor has amply illustrated, religious belief no longer structures our social imaginary. Instead, it has become one option, one possibility, among others: one of the ways in which we give meaning to our lives. The secular age, then, is characterised by the fact of pluralism—an irreducible pluralism of beliefs, values, commitments. Yet we secular moderns also give special primacy to freedom of religion. Freedom of religion is standardly presented as the archetypical liberal right. So the paradox is this: how (and why) do we protect freedom of religion in an age where religion is not special?
As Elizabeth Shakman Hurd’s and Saba Mahmood’s earlier contributions to this discussion remind us, the received wisdom in Western policy circles today emphasizes the necessary synergy between democracy and religious freedom. What I wish to suggest in my remarks here is not that this characterization is wrong, but that it is sociologically too simple, and that the oversimplification can result in ill-conceived prescriptions for pluralist religious freedom.
The collapse of the Soviet Union marked the end of seventy years of anti-religious policies—of a period in which religious expression was severely curtailed and religious institutions were always controlled, at times co-opted, and at other times brutally repressed, with the aim of effecting the demise of religion, an aim which was never fully realized. The post-1991 era was radically different, at least in those newly independent countries that adopted and implemented liberal laws regarding religious expression and organization. It might be expected that religious leaders and practitioners would have a straightforwardly positive view of this widening scope for religious activities, but this turned out not always to be the case.
It is hard to remember, but religious pluralism meant something quite different fifty years ago. We have, I would argue, so shifted our collective understanding of religious pluralism, and this transformation has been so naturalized, that we have little common conception that this shift even happened and much less sense of its consequences.
Over at Foreign Affairs, Andrew Preston has written an article exploring the paradox of religion in U.S. foreign policy.
The problem with the history of toleration is not that no one is studying it. There is now a rapidly growing number of books and articles approaching the topic from a number of angles and in several different countries. The problem is that we assume that all of those studying toleration are studying the same thing. Though in fact we are describing a diversity of arrangements, dynamics, and possibilities taking place in different societies at different times, we still write and think as if there were a single proper form of toleration to which all others should adhere, or an ideal like “religious freedom” to which all should aspire.
As a historian of religion, much of my recent work has focused on tracing the genealogy of what we call religious freedom in developments internal to European Christianity. My goal has not been to frame a normative theory of what limit ought to be placed on the freedom of religion—whatever this word is taken to mean—in any contemporary jurisdiction nor (apart from the effect of British colonialism on India) to trace the very different histories of the modernization of cultural traditions in other parts of the world, as these traditions have been shaped by the complex forces of economic development, nationalism, and technologization.