September 17 marks 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 week of 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.
“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: 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.
August 25, 2014
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.
Why the Law Does Not (and Should Not) Allow Religiously Motivated Contractors to Discriminate Against Their LGBT EmployeesMartin Lederman
July 31, 2014
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.
related ׀ Violent Extremism and Religious Freedom
August 5, 2014
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.
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.
Lisa M. Kelly
August 6, 2014
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.
M. Zuhdi Jasser
July 9, 2014
Responding to Hobby Lobby: The Ruling and Its Implications for Religious Freedom
Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in the contraceptive mandate cases, both of us published blog posts that emphasized the potential harm to women’s interests that a religious exemption for Hobby Lobby would cause. (See the previous Cornerstone posts “The Constitutional Costs of Religious Freedom in the Marketplace” and “The Flaws of Individualized Religious Exemptions,” in addition to “Symposium: Religious Questions and Saving Constructions.”) What we perceived as the central legal question has mapped onto the salient political question—whether religious objections to contraception should be allowed to trump women’s interests in access to contraception.
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.
June 19, 2014
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?
Micah J. Schwartzman
June 12, 2014
Thomas C. Berg
June 10, 2014
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.”
May 30, 2014
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.
Why, you might ask, another blog on religious freedom?
Well, actually, so far as we know there are no other blogs devoted exclusively to the meaning and value of religious freedom.
That deficiency is, to put it mildly, quite odd in light of the global crisis that attends this fundamental and universal right.