The relationship between religious proselytism and development is sharply contested. International covenants recognize that religious freedom includes rights to personal religious conversion and public religious witness. But critics claim that proselytism can violate the rights of affected communities to maintain their traditions and can sow division in fragile societies. This week, Cornerstone asks writers to discuss the social, political, and economic consequences of proselytism.
In honor of President’s
Day, this Cornerstone series asks contributors to explore the various approaches that
presidents employed in their promotion of religious liberty throughout the
centuries. Writers comment on presidential leadership (or lack thereof) on the issue of advancing religious freedom at home and abroad.
President Obama offered an antidote to violent extremism last week. He acknowledged that a military component is needed to end the savage cruelties of ISIS and their ilk. Indeed, we remain at war. But Obama’s antidote, offered at the closing a of US-led summit on countering violent extremism, is especially relevant in religiously freer societies. In short, the President’s antidote is to marshal all that is good and true to discredit extremist ideologies and address the social, economic and political grievances that terrorists deviously exploit. And what we do at home is critical because thousands of ISIS volunteers grew up in Western societies, including some from the United States.
Pope Francis has made headlines for his statements on issues like capitalism (in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium), free speech vs. offensive speech (after the terrorist attacks in Paris), the environment (which he will formally address in an upcoming Encyclical), and same-sex marriage (which he discussed during his trip to the Philippines). This week we explore the nature and scope of religious freedom within the Catholic Church, including the Pope's authority in statements on matters that may or may not address core doctrine in matters of faith and morals. We also ask whether the Pope's interventions on political issues represent a legitimate and healthy exercise of religious freedom, or a breach of the norms of church-state separation necessary for democracy to function.
In the past few weeks, Cornerstone contributors have assessed
the state of religious freedom in various parts of the world, including China,
Israel-Palestine, and India. Each country has a unique history and modern
political dynamic that forms a nuanced environment toward religious freedom—an environment that is often best understood when experienced firsthand. That's why this week on Cornerstone, research assistants
at the Religious Freedom Project share their experiences during their time abroad and offer distinct perspectives that highlight issues concerning religious freedom in various regions of
Recent government actions, such as Austria's new law that allows only one authorized German-language translation of the Qur'an and bans foreign funding of Muslim organizations, along with a circumcision ban in Germany, an ongoing headscarf ban in France, and a minaret ban
in Switzerland, are just a few examples of how Muslims' religious
freedom is being restricted in western Europe. Please join us on Cornerstone as diverse commentators, including many of the speakers at the Religious Freedom Project's upcoming event on Muslim minorities, explore
the obstacles that European Muslim communities face and what these
challenges mean for the future of religious freedom.
A host of recent controversies—including the resignation of Brendan
Eich as Mozilla CEO, Abercrombie and Fitch’s firing of a Muslim woman
for wearing a hijab, and many others—raise basic questions about
the nature and extent of employees’ religious rights while on the job. Responses to this topic will answer the following questions: How would you describe religious rights on the job? Should businesses be able to fire employees for their peaceful religious views and practices or is this a violation of First Amendment rights, or those rights established under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?
As the scope of the Ukraine-Russia crisis has expanded, a diverse array of domestic and international actors have become involved, including religious communities. This week's Cornerstone contributors discuss how clergy and the faithful have impacted the political and economic situation in Eastern Europe, including the rise of nationalist leaders, Russia's military intervention in Ukraine, and the ongoing separatist insurgency. Which religious groups are the most active? What is the state of religious freedom in Ukraine and Russia? How has religion influenced the actions of both countries?
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This Hanukkah is particularly special because Rabbi David Saperstein, the first Jewish ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, was just confirmed by the Senate (December 12), right on the eve of the Festival of Lights. Perhaps we could say he was the first Hanukkah gift of 2014. A veteran of global religious freedom advocacy, Saperstein has served as Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, so he is intimately schooled in the issues and challenges of his new position. We wish him Mazel Tov!
A time of sacred memory for Jews, Hanukkah also
represents a timeless account of the quest for religious freedom and the dire
consequences of its denial. Indeed,
the scriptural account in the Book of Maccabees richly evokes contemporary
challenges to religious liberty, illustrates themes from diverse religious
traditions, and echoes findings of cutting edge global research.
While religious freedom is an obvious concern in parts of the world like the Middle East, it also faces challenges in the West, including in the European Union. This ongoing series of posts will explore the changing contours of religious freedom in Europe and will also discuss how European leaders are (or aren't) using religious freedom policy as a foreign policy tool.
As Rabbi David Saperstein is scheduled to be confirmed as the new ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom (IRF), Cornerstone writers will debate the meaning and influence of the office and the policy he will enact.
EDITOR'S NOTE: While plenty of issues around the world today raise important questions about religious freedom, at Cornerstone, we don't want to forget about the past. In this blog series by RFP scholar Anthony Gill, religious freedom is viewed from a historical perspective—specifically through the observations of Adam Smith.
often have historical myopia, thinking that the problems or phenomena being
faced in our contemporary world are new to our age. Hardly! Indeed, the human
condition is frequently a repetition of themes experienced by our forefathers
and their forefathers before them. To cite Ecclesiastes (1:9): “What has been
will be again; what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new
under the sun.”
the attention devoted to the
first Roman Catholic Synod on the Family, which wraps up this week at the
Vatican, is but one sign that the ties binding hearth and altar to one another
can still be the subject of considerable concern. That’s in part because the
fortunes of the family in the West have largely ebbed and flowed with the
fortunes of religious faith over the centuries, as scholars like Peter Berger, Robert Wuthnow, and Mary Eberstadt have noted.
EDITOR'S NOTE: RFP Associate Scholar Karrie Koesel adds to our conversation on religious freedom in China. Read her thoughts in the response below.
October 1, 2014 marks the 65th anniversary of the People's
Republic of China. On this historic occasion, Cornerstone contributors examine the
nature of religious freedom in China and its impact on various religious groups such as Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, Protestants, and Catholics. They also discuss how religious freedom could buttress and sustain Chinese economic growth and examine the outlook for religious freedom—and influences from American foreign policy—in the ever-evolving Asian nation.
In light of the recent Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur celebrations, this week's Cornerstone contributors focus on Israel. In
particular, the blog posts explore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, looking at
how religious freedom—or a lack thereof—has played a role in the fighting. Cornerstone scholars emphasize how
religious freedom both in a domestic and international context can provide a benefit
that could assuage tensions in this volatile region.
“In God we trust, all others bring data.”—W. Edwards Deming
“We are drowning in information and starving for knowledge.”—Rutherford D. Roger
In the following paragraphs, I’ll apply these two provocative quotes, both from the preface of The Elements of Statistical Learning, to freedom of religion or belief with Deming’s goal for statistical data squarely in view: to provide “a rational basis for action.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: Today Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the United States for the first time since his visa ban was lifted. On this momentous occasion, Cornerstone revisits the implications of Modi's rise to power.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) recent landslide electoral victory in India was extraordinary, not only for its proportion, but also for the astoundingly meteoric rise of the BJP’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, a man to whom the United States had until recently denied a visa (even though no Indian court has yet convicted him) because of his alleged complicity in a series of deadly riots primarily targeting Muslims in Gujarat, the state he ran since 2001.
September 17 marked the two-hundred-twenty-seventh anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution. While several portions of our founding document have proven controversial in recent decades, no part of it has occasioned more contemporary comment than the religion clauses of the First Amendment. During the weeks surrounding the Constitution's anniversary, Cornerstone contributors will debate the meaning of the religion clauses with respect to one of our era's most controversial and timely questions: To what extent were the free exercise and non-establishment clauses intended to protect faith-based or religious associations, such as the non-profit NGO Little Sisters of the Poor, or for-profit corporations, such as Hobby Lobby, as opposed to individuals?
EDITOR'S NOTE: As Cornerstone engages in a conversation about religious freedom as it relates to business this week, some respondents revisit the Court's ruling in the Hobby Lobby case and its implications for religious freedom, businesses, and society.
Ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court decided that companies with religious objections cannot be required to provide health coverage for certain contraceptive services. In this week's conversation, scholars discuss the implications of this decision for religious freedom and explore the wider role of religion in American public life.
EDITOR'S NOTE: On the heels of our discussion of Christian persecution, we explore why this issue should matter to broader society. Daniel Philpott kicks off the conversation with the piece below. In it, he lays out a new joint initiative between the Religious Freedom Project and Notre Dame's Center of Civil and Human Rights that will focus on Christian responses to persecution.
Convert, pay a special tax for living here as a religious minority, or die! These were the choices given in late July to the Christians living in Mosul, Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Islamic extremist group that has proclaimed a region-wide caliphate with itself as the head. ISIS was trying to finish a job. Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq’s Christians have fled the country en masse in the face of civil war and the threats of armed Islamic extremists. Their numbers have plummeted (using conservative estimates) from an estimated 1.4 million in 2003 to less than 450,000 in 2013.
In light of recent attacks against Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq by the jihadist group ISIS, as well as ongoing attacks against Christian minorities in other regions, Cornerstone has asked respondents to discuss global Christian persecution. Contributors focus on the patterns of persecution and the attitudes informing these human rights violations.
On July 21, 2014, President Obama signed an executive order amending two Equal Employment Opportunity clauses, including "gender identity" as a category of unlawful employment discrimination. (Read the full text of the order here.)
Despite the petitions of many religious leaders, faith-based organizations, academics, and legal scholars, the order did not contain any references to religious freedom protections.
On August 4th, the United States is hosting a first-ever "Africa Summit." African heads of state are visiting Washington, DC to engage in discussions about US-Africa relations and common concerns. However, issues of human rights violations, especially in the realm of religious freedom, will not likely be on the agenda. On Cornerstone, we use the occasion of the Africa Summit to reflect on the dire state of religious freedom in sub-Saharan Africa.
Previously on Cornerstone, scholars discussed the implications of the recent Hobby Lobby decision for religious freedom and explored the wider function of religion in American public life. This week, we asked respondents to consider why contraceptives specifically are at issue in the case and to examine the lack of consensus on their use among religious and public interest groups.
On July 21, 1925, the verdict of The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, better known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, was handed down, which made it unlawful to teach evolution in state-funded schools. Today, nearly ninety years later, the intersection of education and religion still produces many areas of friction. This week, blog contributors considered aspects of both conflict and harmony in church-state relations in the area of education, from prayer in schools to religious and scientific inquiry into the origins of humanity to autonomy in hiring policies for religious institutions.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was first published on July 14, 2014 on the Weekly Number blog.
As houses of worship, sacred places and other religious properties are demolished by governments worldwide—including the Wenzhou Sanjian Church—authorities might want to consider the economic benefits they are loosing by such actions. For instance, a recent study of 12 houses of worship in just one city (Philadelphia) shows that they annually contribute $52 million in economic benefits and services to the city and its people. And another study shows that religious freedom contributes to economic growth and global competitiveness.
For some years, I have noticed troubling signs that many liberals are coming to see religious liberty as a conservative cause, not as a fundamental underpinning of a free society.
The Hobby Lobby decision seems to have accelerated that trend. The Washington Post editorialized that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) should be amended to narrow its scope, which some Democratic Senators appear ready to propose, while prominent legal scholars recommend scrapping the law altogether.
In honor of Ramadan, we're exploring the treatment of Muslim minorities in the United States. This week, we asked our contributors to discuss the legal, social, and economic obstacles that American Muslim communities face and to comment on what these challenges mean for the future of religious freedom.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This week we are revisiting the topic of religious freedom and politics (originally posted April 21) with a piece by Karrie Koesel, another scholar of the political working group.
This blog conversation explores the relationship between religious freedom and political systems. Respondents (who are also political working group members and will help shape our project over the next three years) discuss how citizens and governments benefit from robust religious freedom or, alternatively, suffer under religious restrictions. Additionally, they explore the unique contours of state-church relations, particularly in the United States.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Join us as we continue last week's discussion focusing on the threats that non-state actors pose to religious freedom and how societies and governments can respond.
As the recent abductions by Nigeria's Boko Haram and the surge of violence in Iraq have reminded us, non-state groups can threaten religious freedom and other basic human rights at least as much as governments. In this week's conversation, we ask scholars to examine the significant trends in non-state threats to religious freedom and explore the most effective ways that governments and societies can respond.
The Supreme Court will come to a decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby by the end of June. Given the oral arguments and what we know about the justices, how is the court likely to reason on the religious freedom aspects of this case?
EDITOR'S NOTE: Join us as we continue a series of posts focusing on the prioritization of religious freedom in American law and culture. This week our discussion focuses on religious freedom in the twentieth century up to the present and is being initiated with this post by Ken Starr.
With few exceptions, the Supreme Court had little experience with the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment in the first century of our nation’s existence. This is, in part, due to the express words of the amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It was not until the 1940s that the Court determined these two clauses should be “incorporated,” or act as limitations on states and not just the federal government. Now the Court would be permitted to reach religious oppression where it was more likely to occur—in the interplay between citizens and their state and local governments. (see Madison’s argument in Federalist 10).
EDITOR'S NOTE: Join us as we continue a series of posts focusing on the prioritization of religious freedom in American law and culture. This week our discussion focuses on religious liberty in America during the nineteenth century and is being initiated with this post by Richard Garnett.
There is, as Prof. Steven Smith observes in his latest book, The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom, a “standard story”—an “oft-told, much beloved story”—of religious freedom in America. This story is, he reports, “not wholly false” and “contains a number of partial truths." At the same time, it is “profoundly misleading.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: Join us as we begin a series of posts focusing on the prioritization of religious freedom in American law and culture. This week our discussion focuses on the American founding and is being initiated with this post by Thomas Kidd.
“Civil and religious liberty” was a ubiquitous phrase among Americans of the Founding era. They did not sharply distinguish between the two.... They did assume, however, that religious liberty was, by its transcendent nature, humanity’s most basic freedom.
In honor of the thousands of graduating college seniors celebrating commencement across the country this spring, we're exploring the issue of religious freedom on college campuses. Read what faculty members and graduating students have to say about religious liberty at institutions of higher education in general and at Georgetown University specifically by clicking their posts below.
This week we're asking our associated economics scholars to examine the relationship between religious freedom and economic development. Specifically, we ask if religious repression is linked to underdevelopment and poverty. Respondents also explore the opposite phenomenon, namely, if robust religious freedom leads to economic flourishing and prosperity.
We posed this same question to scholars back in late March and got an overwhelming response. This set of responses captures the more personal side of how people define religious freedom and what significance it has in the lives of individuals.
In honor of the Berkley Center's "Courtyard of the Gentiles" events this week, we invited scholars to reflect on the relationship between religious freedom and the arts. We asked scholars how robust religious freedom may promote culture and the arts or how a lack of such freedom can find an outlet in artistic expression.
Religious freedom has often been referred to as the "first freedom" in America's constitutional order, but some scholars have argued that liberalism requires that religious freedom not be treated as special or unique in the pantheon of human rights. In this post series, scholars and individuals from all different disciplines and faiths try to define religious freedom and to explain why it is a right of particular importance.
As the Hobby Lobby case, which challenges the HHS contraceptive mandate as a violation of the free exercise clause, comes before the Supreme Court, we ask what the outcomes may mean for religious freedom, American business, and corporate employees.