Archive | Religion

French Constitutional Court Decision Upholds Ban on Wearing Veils in Public Places

France’s Constitutional Council recently upheld the constitutionality of a law banning the wearing of veils in public places. The text of the decision is available in French here. Despite the importance of the issue and the large potential infringement on religious freedom, the opinion is very short and conclusory. For those of our readers who understand French, here is the key passage:

[L]e législateur a estimé que de telles pratiques peuvent constituer un danger pour la sécurité publique et méconnaissent les exigences minimales de la vie en société ; qu’il a également estimé que les femmes dissimulant leur visage, volontairement ou non, se trouvent placées dans une situation d’exclusion et d’infériorité manifestement incompatible avec les principes constitutionnels de liberté et d’égalité.

Roughly translated, this means that veils can be banned because the legislature has determined that they pose a “danger to public safety” and because wearing a veil, even “voluntarily,” puts women in a “condition of exclusion and inferiority manifestly incompatible with the constitutional principles of liberty and equality.”

Later in the opinion, the court concludes that, given the public interests served by the law, the punishment imposed on violators is not “manifestly disproportionate” and therefore it doesn’t violate the religious freedom guarantees in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man.

I am no expert on French constitutional law, so I have little to say about the legal correctness of the ruling. I should also note that the institution of judicial review is much weaker in France than in the US or in some European nations such as Germany. Thus, the court’s highly deferential posture and cursory dismissal of the religious freedom issues involved may well be a correct ruling under French law.

I will say, however, that if the decision is not mistaken, it is [...]

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Hire an Atheist to Watch Your Pet After the Rapture

I’m not up on the theology behind this, but I thought I’d pass it along:

You’ve committed your life to Jesus. You know you’re saved. But when the Rapture comes what’s to become of your loving pets who are left behind? Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind.

We are a group of dedicated animal lovers, and atheists. Each Eternal Earth-Bound Pet representative is a confirmed atheist, and as such will still be here on Earth after you’ve received your reward. Our network of animal activists are committed to step in when you step up to Jesus.

We are currently active in 24 states. Our representatives have been screened to ensure that they are atheists, animal lovers, are moral / ethical with no criminal background, have the ability and desire to rescue your pet and the means to retrieve them and ensure their care for your pet’s natural life….

For $110.00 we will guarantee that should the Rapture occur within ten (10) years of receipt of payment, one pet per residence will be saved [I take it that’s not in the theological sense of “saved” -EV]….

Thanks to Arvin Tseng for the pointer. [...]

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Explaining Group Differences in Knowledge of Religion

As I noted in a recent post, the Pew Research Center survey of public knowledge of religion found that atheists and agnostics, Jews, and Mormons are the groups with by far the highest knowledge levels in this field. The disparity between these groups and the rest of the population persists even after controlling for education.

What explains the difference between these three groups and the general population? Jamelle Bouie and Matthew Yglesias argue that it is their status as religious minorities. As Bouie puts it:

To me, it’s no surprise that the highest scorers — after controlling for everything — were religious minorities: atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons. As a matter of simple survival, minorities tend to know more about the dominant group than vice versa. To use a familiar example, blacks — and especially those with middle-class lives — tend to know a lot about whites, by virtue of the fact that they couldn’t succeed otherwise; the professional world is dominated by middle-class whites, and to move upward, African Americans must understand their mores and norms. By contrast, whites don’t need to know much about African Americans, and so they don’t.

Likewise, religious minorities — while not under much threat of persecution — are well-served by a working knowledge of religion, for similar reasons; the United States is culturally Christian, and for religious minorities, getting along means understanding those reference points. That those religious minorities can also answer questions about other religious traditions is a sign of broader religious education that isn’t necessary when you’re in the majority.

I am skeptical. If Bouie’s theory were correct, the disparity between the three highest-scoring groups and the rest would be mainly the result of their strong performance in knowledge of Christianity – the majority religion in the US. Mormons (an [...]

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Public Ignorance About Religion

A Recent Pew Research Center survey of American’s knowledge about religion shows widespread ignorance. The study asked 32 mostly relatively basic multiple choice questions about various religions (including a few on religion and public life):

On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life…..

More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ. About half of Protestants (53%) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity. Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.

In addition, fewer than half of Americans (47%) know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist. Fewer than four-in-ten (38%) correctly associate Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism. And only about a quarter of all Americans (27%) correctly answer that most people in Indonesia – the country with the world’s largest Muslim population – are Muslims.

There is also widespread ignorance about constitutional restrictions on the teaching of religion in public schools. Most survey respondents believe that the Supreme Court has banned the teaching of the Bible even as “literature,” and most believe that public schools are not allowed to have “comparative religion” classes:

[A]mong the questions most often answered incorrectly is whether public school teachers are permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature. Fully two-thirds of people surveyed (67%) also say “no” to this question, even though the Supreme Court has clearly stated that the Bible may be taught for

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Queensland University Suspends Lawyer for YouTube-Distributed Blasphemy

The Brisbane Times reports that:

A Queensland University of Technology lawyer[,] … Alex Stewart[,] has taken leave from his non-academic position as a QUT [Queensland University of Technology] commercial contracts lawyer after controversy erupted over a YouTube clip in which he smokes self-made cigarettes rolled in pages from the [Koran and the Bible] before rating which “burns better”….

The Daily Telegraph (UK) reports,

[Stewart] on leave following a meeting on Monday and is facing an inquiry.

“The university is obviously extremely, extremely unhappy and disappointed that this sort of incident should occur,” vice-chancellor Peter Coaldrake said.

Stewart’s point was apparently to argue (among other things) that people shouldn’t venerate books to the point of getting upset about others’ supposed mistreatment of the books. “Is this profanity? Is it blasphemy? Does it really matter? I guess that’s the point with all this, this crip — it’s just a [bleeped out] book. Who cares? Who cares?” I quote here a video accompanying the Brisbane Times article, which includes a short excerpt from Stewart’s YouTube clip. But I do not know where one can find the full clip; if you can point me to it, or send me a file containing it, I’d be much obliged.

Note that the Brisbane Times video also quotes a police spokesman who is saying that Stewart’s actions were likely not a criminal offense. Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer.

UPDATE: Just to repeat what the title says, Stewart is a lawyer working for the university, not a professor. [...]

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Obama is too a Christian

Ann Coulter’s column today argues that Obama is not a Muslim; rather, he “is obviously an atheist.” The gist of the argument is “The only evidence for Obama’s Christianity is that he faithfully attended the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ for 20 years….Attending Wright’s church is the conscious, calculated decision to immerse yourself in hate-filled demagoguery and call it ‘Christianity.'”

I disagree with both the facts and the conclusion. Coulter is accurate in calling Jeremiah Wright “a racist nut.” However, that does not prove that Wright (and by extension Obama, to whatever extent Obama believes in Wright’s theology) is not a Christian. Some practitioners of “liberation theology” (including the black liberation theology variant) may simply be Marxists looking for some broadly-appealing rhetoric to add to their political program. Other practitioners, however, may be sincerely and otherwise-orthodox Christians who truly believe in both Christianity and Marxism, and in the liberation theology fusion of the two. For example, liberation theology was popular among many Catholics in Latin America from the late 1960s until 1984, when it was condemned by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I think it is implausible to believe that, pre-1984, the many Latin American American bishops, priests, nuns, and Catholic lay people who embraced  liberation theology were all closet atheists. It seems much more reasonable to conclude that at least some of them were orthodox Catholics who, until 1984, could consider liberation theology to be one legitimate way of expressing the Catholic faith.

Similarly, I would suggest that many of the pastors in slave states in antebellum America who taught that slavery was legitimate because of the slaves’ inherent racial inferiority were also sincere Christians, albeit grossly mistaken in their teachings on this matter.

Ergo, belief in the racist, Marxist philosophy of [...]

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Three Issues in the Debate over the “Ground Zero Mosque”

The ongoing debate over the “Ground Zero Mosque” has generated lots of commentary. But I fear that much of it conflates three separate issues: whether the government should use its power to block the construction of the mosque, whether the construction of any Islamic facility near Ground Zero is objectionable, and whether this particular organization is problematic because of the views of its leader. As I see it, the government should not suppress the mosque, and I see nothing wrong with building an Islamic facility near Ground Zero. But objections based on the dubious record of Cordoba Project leader Feisal Abdul Rauf are not so easily dismissed. There are many weak, foolish, and even bigoted anti-mosque arguments out there. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any good ones.

I. The Role of Government.

Some mosque opponents, such as New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, have argued that the government should use zoning or eminent domain to block the construction of the mosque. As Eugene Volokh and I have explained in earlier posts, such proposals violate constitutional rights to speech, religious freedom and property. The are also deeply immoral and unjust. A free society must not suppress the freedom of its members merely because their views are objectionable. If Nazis, racists, and communists are entitled to freedom of speech and property rights, so too are the owners of the proposed mosque.

But the fact that the owners have a right to build the mosque that the government must respect does not mean that their exercise of that right is unobjectionable. There are many situations where it may be wrong to exercise a right that should be protected by law. I have a legal right to join the KKK or the Communist Party. But doing so would be deeply [...]

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Koran-Burning Minister and Council on American-Islamic Relations Spokesman Play Into Each Other’s Hands

As I mentioned last week, Terry Jones — a minister at the ironically named Dove World Outreach Center — is organizing a burning of Korans to mark September 11. That strikes me as both largely pointless, non-substantive rudeness (as opposed to fair and substantive criticism of Islam, which would be perfectly proper) and as largely counterproductive to any realistic attempt to try to convert people from Islam to Christianity. In fact, it plays into the hands of those who are trying to associate American criticism of Islam — including more substantive, reasoned criticism — with angry, substance-free extremism.

But it seems to me that the response from Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (as quoted in this New York Times national feed story) itself plays precisely into Terry Jones’ hands. Here’s what Hooper was quoted as saying:

“Can you imagine what this will do to our image around the world?” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington. “And the additional danger it will add whenever there is an American presence in Iraq or Afghanistan?”

Unless I’m misreading this, Hooper is pointing out that violent Muslims might react to Jones’ symbolic expression by trying to kill American soldiers — and apparently suggesting that Jones should be held responsible for this reaction by violent Muslims.

This of course reminds people about the violent strains of Islam, and the danger those strains pose. But it also shows how some spokespeople for mainstream Islam (here, Hooper) are willing to use the actions by their violent coreligionists as a tool for suppressing non-Muslims’ alleged blasphemies and insults. That is precisely the image of mainstream Islam, it seems to me, that Terry Jones is trying to foster. I doubt that this was a cunning plan on [...]

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“46% of Americans Believe Islam Is More Likely Than Other Faiths to Encourage Violence Against Nonbelievers” = Evidence of “Islamophobia”?

“Is America Islamophobic?,” asks Time magazine. The lead story is abridged online here. I have little opinion on the title question, partly because I’m not a public opinion researcher, and partly because I don’t know what exactly “Islamophobic” means. And paragraphs such as this don’t help much:

Although the American strain of Islamophobia lacks some of the traditional elements of religious persecution — there’s no sign that violence against Muslims is on the rise, for instance — there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that hate speech against Muslims and Islam is growing both more widespread and more heated. Meanwhile, a new TIME–Abt SRBI poll found that 46% of Americans believe Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence against nonbelievers. Only 37% know a Muslim American. Overall, 61% oppose the Park51 project, while just 26% are in favor of it. Just 23% say it would be a symbol of religious tolerance, while 44% say it would be an insult to those who died on 9/11.

So 46% of Americans believe Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence against nonbelievers — which, as best I can tell, is an accurate belief. I don’t think most Muslims support violence against nonbelievers. But it seems to me that Islam as we see it in the world today is more likely than most other major faiths to encourage violence against nonbelievers, at least if we focus on encouragement that actually makes the violence materially likely (which is the sort of encouragement that I suspect most people are worried about).

This observation is hardly evidence of a “phobia” in the sense of “irrational fear” or “irrational prejudice” (it’s quite rational), or even in the sense of “hatred or hostility towards the group” (which is how I think “-phobia” tends to [...]

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Human Events’ ridiculous “Obama the Muslim” article

Ronald Reagan once said that the conservative D.C. weekly Human Events was his favorite newspaper. And with good reason. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, there were few significant alternatives to the then-hegemonic MSM. Along with National Review, which was Reagan’s favorite magazine, Human Events was an essential source for stories that the MSM refused to cover, and for perspectives that the MSM shut out or marginalized. Unfortunately, a recent article in Human Events falls very far below the solid journalism standards which helped Human Events earn the respect of Reagan and so many others.

Obama The Muslim,” by  Major Gen. Jerry Curry is an article not worthy of a fifth-rate blog, let alone a serious newspaper. The latter two-thirds of the article consists of criticisms of Obama’s policies on Israel and on Arizona border security. I generally agree with those criticisms, but they provide not a shred of evidence that Obama is a Muslim. Former President Jimmy Carter is extremely hostile to Israel, and he is obviously not a Muslim. U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) is extremely hostile to border security, and he is not a Muslim. 

So let’s consider the evidence that Curry deploys in the first third of the article:

“President Obama says there is nothing more beautiful than the Muslim call to prayer in the evening.” “Obama’s father and step-father were Muslims and he spent his childhood living in a Muslim country where his school enrollment records say his religion is Islam.”

–All approximately but not precisely true. Four years of his childhood in Indonesia, plus a school record there. The actual prayer call quote is “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset,” not “nothing more beautiful.” This is a starting point for Curry’s case, but in itself, not even close [...]

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Property Rights for Deities?

Co-blogger Eugene Volokh links to an Indian newspaper article about a ruling concerning the property rights of Hindu gods. According to the article, Hindu deities are allowed to acquire at least some types of property rights under Indian law, though perhaps “only deities of registered public trusts were allowed to acquire property in their names.”

It actually makes more sense for deities of polytheistic religions to acquire property than for a monotheistic God to do so. Most adherents of the major monotheistic religions believe in the type of God posited by “classical theism,” who is omnipotent and omniscient. An omnipotent God has no need for physical property. Even if he did, he could effortlessly create any property he needed himself, if necessary in unlimited quantity. And of course he would not need human courts to enforce his property rights, being fully capable of doing so himself at no cost in time or effort. Moreover, anyone who wanted to sue him for using his property to commit a tort would be unable to do so because there is no way a court could force an omnipotent being to pay restitution.

By contrast, most of the deities of a polytheistic religion are necessarily not omnipotent. No more than one omnipotent being can exist in the same universe. If God A cannot coerce God B, then A is not omnipotent. If, on the other hand, A can force B to do his bidding, then B isn’t omnipotent.

Unlike the God of classical theism, non-omnipotent deities have many potential uses for property rights. They might want some items they can’t create for themselves. Even with respect to some objects they could make, they might prefer to pay humans to manufacture them in order to exploit the benefits of comparative advantage. Comparative advantage [...]

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Religion and Geography

The New Zealand Herald reports,

Instead of facing Islam’s most holy city, a clerical error of astronomical proportions has seen the faithful [among the 200 million Muslims in Indonesia] directing their prayers towards Kenya and southern Somalia.

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the country’s highest Islamic body, has admitted that they made an error in an edict issued in March regarding the direction of the sacred Kaaba site in Mecca. Originally they had said that the Saudi Arabian city — where Muslims turn towards during their daily prayers — was due west of Indonesia, but they have now corrected themselves and are instead instructing followers to face a bit further to the north….

Despite the mistake, [Ma’ruf Amin, a senior MUI cleric,] reassured Muslims that any prayers made looking towards Africa will not have been wasted. “God understands that humans make mistakes,” he said.

Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer. [...]

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Atheism, Agnosticism, and Certainty About the Origins of the Universe

In a recent Slate essay, Ron Rosenbaum argues that agnosticism is preferable to atheism because atheists wrongly believe that they can explain the origins and nature of the universe:

I think it’s time for a new agnosticism, one that takes on the New Atheists. Indeed agnostics see atheism as “a theism”—as much a faith-based creed as the most orthodox of the religious variety.

Faith-based atheism? Yes, alas. Atheists display a credulous and childlike faith, worship a certainty as yet unsupported by evidence—the certainty that they can or will be able to explain how and why the universe came into existence. (And some of them can behave as intolerantly to heretics who deviate from their unproven orthodoxy as the most unbending religious Inquisitor.)

Faced with the fundamental question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” atheists have faith that science will tell us eventually. Most seem never to consider that it may well be a philosophic, logical impossibility for something to create itself from nothing.

I think Rosenbaum fundamentally misconceives the nature of atheism. Atheism is not a complete theory of the nature of the universe. Rather, as I discussed here, atheism is simply a rejection of the existence of God, by which I mean a being that is omnipotent, omniscient and completely benevolent (the definition [traditionally] accepted by [the vast majority of adherents] of the major monotheistic religions). One can reject the existence of God without believing that we “can or will be able to explain how and why the universe came into existence.”

There are numerous arguments against God’s existence that don’t depend on any particular theory of the origins of the universe. In my view, the “problem of evil” is one of the strongest. For a good and accessible summary of the major arguments for atheism [...]

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Property Rights for Advocates of Thoughts We Hate

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote that freedom of speech requires “not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.” The same point applies to property rights. A free society must protect the property rights of those who espouse unpopular views – even if their unpopularity is well-deserved. This problem is presented by a recent incident where Washington, DC police apparently refused to protect the property rights of Muslim traditionalists who are trying to prevent women from worshiping next to men in their mosque:

The D.C. police department will no longer intervene in an ongoing protest by Islamic women over their place in area mosques….

A group of Muslim women has provoked confrontations in mosques in and around the capital for months by claiming the right to worship next to men. The gestures have led to angry arguments between the women and conservative men among the Muslim worshipers.

Internal e-mails obtained by The Examiner show that the D.C. police department has now decided that the men are on their own.

“We are not to get involved,” Inspector Matthew Klein wrote in a May 24 e-mail. “Important that our officers not escort women out of there…”

D.C.’s reversal is a victory for a small group of reform-minded Muslims in the capital region who say that their faith has to shake off its backward view of women.

Told of the department’s about-face, protest organizer Fatima Thompson let out a sustained whoop.

“This is such a win,” she said. “We’re supposed to be one community. Yet the moment we walk in, we’re separated one from the other….”

But the department’s climb-down raised the hackles of Ilya Shapiro, a legal scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute.

“The religious angle is beside the point. This isn’t

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The Ongoing Debate Over Jewish Fantasy Literature

Jewish Studies Professor Michael Weingrad’s essay “Why there is No Jewish Narnia,” touched off a massive debate over the validity of his claim that there is no Jewish fantasy literature, including my own humble critique. Abigail Nussbaum has posted a helpful roundup of the debate. Weingrad himself responds to his critics here.

Like Nussbaum, I found the response unpersuasive. Indeed, it further undermines Weingrad’s case by pointing out that Guy Gavriel Kay – one of the most prominent fantasy writers of the last 35 years – is actually Jewish (which I didn’t know before). As Weingrad notes, Kay is not only a Jewish fantasy writer, but one who has actually incorporated the issues of Jews and anti-Semitism into his novels, especially The Lions of Al Rassan. Weingrad tries to distinguish Kay’s later work on the grounds that it is “historic fantasy” and not “high fantasy.” But virtually all of Kay’s “historic fantasy” works include such classic high fantasy elements as the use of magic, heroic quests, and a quasi-medieval setting. “High fantasy” and “historic fantasy” are not mutually exclusive categories. Indeed, J.R.R. Tolkien’s work (which Weingrad points to as the prototypical example of high fantasy) incorporated many historic elements from his research on early medieval languages and society.

Weingrad also admits that he “cannot state with any detailed precision what a Jewish alternative [to standard fantasy] would look like.” Without a clear definition of what he means by Jewish fantasy, it is always possible to manipulate the concept in such a way that none of the many fantasy works written by Jewish writers or addressing Jewish-related themes qualifies. Alternatively, Weingrad could define Jewish fantasy extremely narrowly, so as to exclude all of these works. But barring such gambits, I think it’s pretty obvious that there is a [...]

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