Thursday, May 7, 2015
The 2015 Harvard Petrie Flom Center's Annual Conference on Law, Religion, and Health and America kicked off this evening with a pre-conference program titled After Hobby Lobby; What is Caesar's, What is God's?. The panelists for the program were E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, Diane Moore, of the Harvard Divinity School, Professor Charles Fried from Harvard Law School and Frank Wolf, a retired member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
E.J. Dionne kicked things off with what he described as several provocations. The first was his concern with what he termed the inflated scare language in the religious liberty debate, that is language the conflates challenges to religious liberty with religious persecution suffered by people in the world who are being killed for their faith. In his words, having to bake a cake or provide flowers does not have the same urgency as being beheaded for one's faith. His fear is that our religious liberty arguments are becoming so shrill that we forget that there are forms of persecution in the world that are more severe. (This is a concern that resonates with me; see my Gianella lecture at Villanova last year, which you can read here.)
His second provocation was that we need to think more about the distinction between religious accommodation and religious rights. His concern is that there may be occasions when introducing rights language early on in the debate misses what are trying to do in a pluralist society, i.e, find ways to accommodate conflicting interests. There may be reason to accommodate the interests of religious groups because of their social contributions or other reasons even if one does not believe they have a constitutional right to such protection. His worry is that we may too quickly constitutionalize these questions rather than engage in what should be a political conversation.
He went on in his remarks to talks more specifically about Hobby Lobby, which was also the focus of several of the other speakers. I found Charles Fried's discussion of the evolution of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence on what we understand the religion clause to protect to be particularly interesting (and if I wasn't so tired I might more about that).
The next two days promise to be an interesting array of papers and I will post more tomorrow.