Editorial: Background for the Third ICLARS Conference in Historic Virginia, August 21-23, 2013
Tweets from the world


Background for the Third ICLARS Conference in Historic Virginia, August 21-23, 2013 Books & Journals

W.Cole Durham Jr.

The past year has been a particularly significant one for the law and religion field. The beginning of the year was marked by the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 132 S. Ct. 694, handed down on January 11, 2012. Without question one of the most significant religion decisions of the United States Supreme Court in recent decades, this decision unanimously confirmed the existence of the so-called “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination law, thereby affirming the vitality of the rights of religious communities to autonomy in at least the core domain of hiring, supervising, disciplining and terminating ministerial personnel. Significantly, the Court definitively rejected Government’s contention that the rule of the earlier Smith case (according to which neutral and generally applicable laws trump personal religious liberty claims) could be used to restrict church autonomy claims involving ministerial personnel. Hosanna-Tabor, 132 S.Ct. at 706-707, distinguishing Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990).

Just a year later, the European Court of Human Rights decided a similarly significant set of four consolidated cases in Eweida and Others v. The United Kingdom, App. Nos. 48420/10, 59842/10, 51671/10 and 36516/10), decided on January 15, 2013. In that decision, the Strasbourg Court considered a number of factually distinct claims about the scope of protections to be afforded to religiously-based claims in the workplace. Specifically, in the first two cases (Eweida and Chaplin), the Court sustained the right of an airline employee to wear religiously significant jewelry, but rejected similar claims of a nurse, citing health and safety considerations in a hospital setting. In the second two cases (Ladele and McFarlane), the Court upheld British judgments sustaining termination of employees who objected on conscientious grounds to providing services to gays and lesbians that fell within the scope of their employment. In both cases, the employer’s right to pursue a policy of non-discrimination against service users was held to outweigh religious freedom claims.

Both the U.S. and the European cases have brought law and religion questions to the forefront of public consciousness, and the decisions have spawned (and will continue to stir) profound debates. But of course these decisions that provide temporal bookends for the past year are certainly not the only developments with salience. Another example is the controversy swirling around the mandate of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which requires that insurance coverage for contraception and other ethically sensitive matters be provided for employees of religiously affiliated institutions that oppose such coverage on conscientious grounds. This has resulted in a spate of litigation in U.S. Courts, and the underlying issues have counterparts elsewhere. On another front, the demonstrations and violent protests that erupted after the video clip “Innocence of Muslims” went viral last summer is representative of ongoing tensions in many regions involving affronts to religious sensitivities. Uncertainties about the ultimate directions and destinations of the complex social processes unleashed by the Arab Awakening remain a major concern. Still other questions arise in the context of the complex interface of religious beliefs and gender perspectives. At the more philosophical level, we are seeing new instantiations of classic tensions between liberty and equality, and differing ideas about how modern secular states can best institutionalize respect for plurality and difference. The foregoing are representative of the broader array of complex social issues that ICLARS and its members are uniquely qualified to address and with respect to which they can help promote deeper understanding.

With these and a variety of related issues in mind, the ICLARS Steering Committee is pleased to announce that the Third ICLARS Conference will be held in Virginia, August 21-23, 2013. The general conference theme will be “Religion, Democracy, and Equality.” Recommended subthemes include: (1) Religious pluralism and treatment of religious minorities; (2) Religion and anti-discrimination norms; (3) Hate speech, hate crimes, and religious minorities; and (4) Religion and gender issues. The plan is to stay in Richmond, at a location near where the language was first crafted that ultimately became the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The plan is to spend one day at the University of Virginia, and one day at the William and Mary Law School. The first is located in Charlottesville, where much of the Jeffersonian heritage is in evidence (including Jefferson’s famous serpentine wall) which some have cited with wry humor as the true image of Jefferson’s even more famous “wall of separation” metaphor for the appropriate relationship of religion and state. The second is located in Williamsburg, another major locus of historic church-state sites in early America. While a number of speakers will be commissioned, there will be a call for papers, including a call for papers from younger scholars who will have a special opportunity to give presentations on August 21. More details will be forthcoming in the near future. In the meantime, we encourage all ICLARS members to hold the date and make arrangements to attend.

The Routledge International Handbook of Religious Education
A Test of Faith? Religious Diversity and Accommodation in the European Workplace
Religion in Public Spaces. A European perspective.
Studia Canonica

News   Tweets from the world

Addressing Assembly, UN expert urges States to do more to protect the right of religious conversion


“The right of conversion and the right not to be forced to convert or reconvert belong to the internal dimension of a person’s religious or belief-related conviction, which is unconditionally protected under international human rights law,” the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, said in a news release, issued as he presented in the month of October 2012  a report on his work to the UN General Assembly.

In his report, Mr. Bielefeldt analyses the patterns of abuses that are perpetrated in the name of religious or ideological truth claims in the interest of promoting national identity or protecting societal homogeneity, or under other pretexts such as maintaining political and national security.

“While some undue restrictions on the rights of converts or those trying non-coercively to convert others are undertaken by State agencies, other abuses, including acts of violence, stem from widespread societal prejudices,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“Violations in this sensitive area also include forced conversions or reconversions, again perpetrated either by the State or by non-State actors,” he added. “In addition, the rights of converts or those trying non-coercively to convert others are sometimes questioned in principle.”

“In some States, converts may also face criminal prosecution, at times even including the death penalty, for such offences as ‘apostasy,’ ‘heresy,’ ‘blasphemy’ or ‘insult’ in respect of a religion or the country’s dominant tradition and values,” he said.


On the topic of the right to try to convert others through non-coercive persuasion, Mr. Bielefeldt observed that many States impose tight legislative or administrative restrictions on communicative outreach activities, and that many such restrictions are conceptualised and implemented in a flagrantly discriminatory manner.

“For instance, in the interest of further strengthening the position of the official religion or dominant religion of the country while further marginalizing the situation of minorities,” he said.

He added, “Members of religious communities that have a reputation of being generally engaged in missionary activities may also face societal prejudices that can escalate into paranoia, sometimes even leading to acts of mob violence and killings.”

On the issue of the rights of the child and his or her parents, the Special Rapporteur said he had received reports of repressive measures targeting children of converts or members of religious minorities, including with the purpose of exercising pressure on them and their parents to reconvert to their previous religion or to coerce members of minorities to convert to more socially ‘accepted’ religions or beliefs.

“Such repressive activities may violate the child’s freedom of religion or belief and/or the parents’ right to ensure an education for their children in conformity with their own convictions and in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child,” he said.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.

SOURCE: UN News Center


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