Date and Time:
Friday, October 12, 2012 – Saturday, October 13, 2012 from 4 p.m. to 4 p.m.
KIPJ Room C/D
THE FREEDOM OF THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN ERA
The Western commitment to freedom of religion, reflected in the United States Constitution and in a variety of international human rights documents, arguably descends from the medieval campaign for libertas ecclesiae—“freedom of the church.” In modern times, though, it seems that the progeny (freedom of religion) has largely displaced—and forgotten—the parent (freedom of the church). Jurists and scholars debate whether there is any constitutional commitment to freedom of the church, or church autonomy, or institutional free exercise. And they often suppose that such commitment, if there is one, must be derivative from a more fundamental commitment to freedom of religion.
The issue of freedom of the church has become urgent in recent years. Claimants sue churches in secular courts for what they perceive as abuse or discrimination. Government agencies act to compel religiously-affiliated institutions to provide goods or services such as contraceptives or abortion. In 2011 the Supreme Court considered for the first time a case raising the issue of the so-called “ministerial exemption” for churches from some federal regulatory laws. Opposing the position taken by numerous lower courts, the Obama Administration argued in that case that the Supreme Court should reject the exemption.
This conference will accordingly consider issues related to freedom of the church. Although exact topics will depend on choices of conference participants, the issues are likely to fall under several headings:
- 1. Justification? What justifications, if any, exist under present circumstances for giving legal protection to churches or religious institutions?
- 2. Scope? What kinds of associations or institutions should fall within the coverage of a commitment to freedom of the church or institutional religious autonomy?
- 3. Implications? What are the implications of a commitment to freedom of the church, if there is one, for controversies over matters such as the ministerial exemption, church property disputes, tort suits against churches, tax exemptions for churches, the obligation of church-affiliated hospitals to perform abortions, and similar issues?