Monthly Archives: June 2012

Guest Post: Recent Case-Law of the European Court of Human Rights and the U.S. Supreme Court on Church Autonomy

By Jaco van den Brink. J. van den Brink (LLM) is attending a Master’s in Political Philosophy at Leiden University and meanwhile preparing a PhD research on religious freedom.

A couple of quite interesting judgments were issued by the ECtHR, the last two years, concerning the internal autonomy of churches. The most recent judgment was in the case Fernandez-Martinez vs. Spain (15th May 2012). The applicant was a Catholic priest, who was married and was therefore discharged by the Church authorities of the teaching activities he performed before. The question was at stake: is it primarily the state’s task to protect the employee’s position and free private-life choices, or to refrain from interfering in the appointment policies of the Church? The Court didn’t find a violation. According to Stijn Smet on , the Court sided with the Spanish Constitutional Court in deciding that the state was not allowed to engage in this religiously inspired internal policy of the Church, without really engaging in a balancing of interests by testing the reasonability of the Church’s decision. The Court itself however, seems to suggest that it intends to perform such a test.In January of this year, the Court seemed to take quite another approach in Sindicatul "Pãstorul cel Bun" v. Romania. In this case the Court ruled that the Romanian Orthodox Church could not refuse legal acknowledgment to a kind of labor union of a certain group of clerics and lay members. The Church’s freedom of religion and association apparently did not preclude its duty to grant full associational freedom within its sphere, to all its members.

The three ‘German cases’ (September 2010, Schüth vs. Germany and Obst vs. Germany; and February 2011 Siebenhaar vs. Germany), were judged in a way that seems to be somewhere in between the two mentioned above. These cases were quite similar to Fernandez-Martinez vs. Spain, but here the Court undoubtedly engaged in a balancing of interests and judged (albeit marginally) the reasonability of the decision by the churches to end the employment contract.

These cases are often compared with the US-Supreme Court judgment in the case Hosanna-Tabor, in which case a religious teacher was dismissed by a Lutheran church. The Supreme Court -unanimously -did nothing to evaluate this church’s decision, but merely elaborated on the ‘ministerial exception’, according to the Court implicit in the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. This principle contains that religious institutions are more or less free to make their own choices in the appointment of ‘ministers’, regardless of the employment regulation. The state therefore doesn’t have a say in such church’s internal affairs, as the Supreme Court concludes. It seems to me that this judgment goes even further in recognizing church autonomy than the ECtHR in Fernandez-Martinez vs. Spain.

To conclude, I’ll put some reasons why I’m inclined to think that the Hosanna-Tabor-type of reasoning is the most sound:

  • Much can be said in favour of the principle that the legitimacy-area of the state stops where the area of church authority begins. Churches and states both fulfil important roles in people’s lives, but their roles are very different and irreducable to each other. (By the way, such a principle would also apply to religious institutions in general, but maybe also to other civil society institutions, and perhaps even to families).

  • If the state’s competences are to be restricted this way, then indeed there is even no room for a balancing of interests in a case like Hosanna-Tabor or Fernandez-Martinez. As long as the church doesn’t interfere in the state’s prerogatives of protecting citizens against violence or other clear cases of exploitation and abuse, the church’s internal business are to be left up to the church’s proper authorities. A court which evaluates a church’s appointment decision, holds implicitly that the state has full competence to direct everything in society and is free to decide how much autonomy it is willing to grant to churches.

  • This becomes still more important when we take the religious character of churches into account, since it is not up to the state to evaluate the content of religious ethics.

  • We cannot strive towards a protection of individual autonomy, regardless what kind of institution is involved, since that would be to deny the special, indispensable role that such institutions (as collective institutions) play in human life and in society. This role is not reducable to individual choice only, and neither to the goods which the state provides.

Paper-presentation during conference on ‘Religion and Civil Society’, Harvard Law School

I will be attending the conference on ‘Religion and Civil Society; The Changing Faces of "Religion" and "Secularity"’ this week, organized by the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS) of the University of Navarra (Pamplona, Spain), at Harvard Law School. For the conference, which was announced earlier on this blog, I co-authored a paper with Jaco van den Brink on ‘The State, Civil Society and Religious Freedom’. The final program appears below:  

7th June



"The changing faces of religion and secularism"
Mary Ann Glendon
Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University Law School, Cambridge.


"Parenthood in God and civil society"
Rafael Alvira
Professor of History of Philosophy at ICS University of Navarra


"Religious civilization and civil religion in a multicultural world"
Carmelo Vigna
Professor of Moral Philosophy at Università Ca Foscari of Venice

12:30 Lunch



Workshop 1
Religious Freedom in Contemporary Juridical Context

Chair: Francisca Pérez Madrid, Professor of Law. University of Barcelona

Crosses and Culture: State-Sponsored Religious Displays in the United States and Europe
Mark L. Movsesian
Frederick A. Whitney Professor and Director at the Center for Law and Religion, St. John’s University, New York.

The State, Civil Society and Religious Freedom
Hans-Martien ten Napel
Assistant Professor of Constitutional and Administrative Law at Leiden University.

A Cookbook of Ways to Dissolve Religious Associations through Law
Iain T. Benson
Senior Associate Counsel of Miller Thomson LLP in Canada. University of the Free State of South Africa.

Freedom of Religion and Belief: Is there a Role for the European External Action Service?
Pasquale Annicchino
Research Fellow at Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute, San Domenico di Fiesole.

Forum Internum and Forum Externum and the Negotiation of the Public-Private Divide in Canon Law and Public International Law with a Particular Reference to the Jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights
Peter Petkoff
Research Fellow. Director of Law, Religion and International Relations Programme. Regent’s Park College, Oxford. Brunel University Law School, West London.

Religious freedom and the cultural dimension of religion
Francisca Pérez Madrid
Professor of Law at University of Barcelona.


Workshop II
Medieval Political Theology: Theory & Practice.
Chair: Jaume Aurell. Dean of the School of Philosophy and Social Studies, University of Navarra

How did "Political Theology" exist in the Middle Ages?
Montserrat Herrero
Associate Professor of Political Philosophy at ICS, University of Navarra.

Ernst H. Kantorowicz and Gabriel Naudé: from "Mysteries of State" to "Coups d’État"
Antonio Bento
Associate Professor of Political Philosophy at University of Beira Interior.

Places of Power: the City and the Court in Late Medieval Iberia
Rita Costa Gomes
Associate Professor of Medieval History at Towson University

Just War and Criticism of Crusade in Western Medieval Society
Martin Aurell

Professor of Medieval History at University of Poitiers. Institut Universitaire de France

King Peter of Aragon Self-coronation (1336) and its Historical, Liturgical and Iconographical Representations
Jaume Aurell
Associate Professor of Medieval History at University of Navarra

The iconology of breaking medieval seal matrices
Alfons Puigarnau
Associate Professor of Theory of Art at International University of Catalunya

18:30 Dinner



"Culture and Civil Society"
Robert Royal
Faith & Reason Institute, Washington, D.C.

8th June



Defending Civil Society: Religious Advocacy in American National Politics
Allen Hertzke
Presidential Professor of Political Science at University of Oklahoma


Why Religion and ‘the Secular’ cannot be Separated
Jean Bethke Elstain
Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the Divinity School. Department of Political Science and the Committee on International Relations at the University of Chicago


The Theologico-Political Problem Today
Russell Hittinger
William K. Warren Professor of Catholic Studies. Research Professor of Law at University of Tulsa

12:30 Lunch



Workshop III
Liberalism, Capitalism and Religion

Chair: Raquel Lázaro, University of Navarra

David Hume and True Religion
Gordon Graham
Henry Luce III Professor of Philosophy and the Arts at Princeton Theological Seminary

Living toguther differently: beyond the liberal synthesis
Adam Seligman
Professor of Religion at Boston University. Research Associate at Institute for Study of Economic Culture, Boston University.

The role of Religion according Mandeville and Hutcheson
Julio Seoane
Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of Alcalá

The Ethical Gap in Modern Ideals of Citizenship: A Diagnosis and a Proposal
David Thunder
Visiting Assistant Professor at Villanova University

An analysis of the history of Western Man: Personhood, Individuality & Transformation
Robert de Simone
Research Fellow at ICS at University of Navarra-New York

God and Religion in a commercial society, according to Adam Smith
Raquel Lázaro
Associate Professor of Modern Philosophy at University of Navarra


Workshop IV
The Media and the Process of Secularization of Society
Chair: Mercedes Montero and Mónica Codina, University of Navarra

Freedom of speech as naturalized religious freedom: historical antecedents and views from social pragmatism
Mariano Navarro
Chief of Communication Research Division at Panamericana University, México D. F.

Free speech and the rationality of public communication in a changing era
Mónica Codina
Associate Professor of Ethics and Communication at University of Navarra

˜Without religion, there is no peace". Religious freedom in the catholic and liberal newspapers in Mexico City (1833-1857)
Inigo Fernández
Research Fellow at Panamericana University, México D. F.

The secularization of society and the role of the media. The "agenda-Gramsci" in the Spanish newspaper El Pais
Mercedes Montero
Associate Professor of Journalism History at ICS, University of Navarra


Workshop V
Monotheism & Violence
Chair: Alejandra Vanney. Austral University of Buenos Aires. (Argentina)

Monotheistic Trinitarianism, Theological Exclusivism, and Nonviolence: An Overlooked Alternative
Peter D. Anders
Instructor in Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Boston

Monotheism and Political Violence: Reflections on the Argumentative Sustainability of a Causal Claim
Govert Buijs
Lecturer in Social and Political Philosophy at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Islam, Intolerance and Violence; a view from the West
Javier Gil
Ph D. ICS, University of Navarra

The One True God: Making the Truth about Monotheism Count
Alejandra Vanney
Associate Professor of Political Science at the Austral University of Buenos Aires

20:00 Dinner


Hoe confessioneel was De Geer eigenlijk?

Hieronder volgt de tekst aan de hand waarvan ik op 31 mei 2012 heb geopponeerd tijdens de verdediging van het proefschrift van Meindert van der Kaaij, Een eenzaam staatsman. Dirk de Geer (1870-1960), in het Groot Auditorium van de Universiteit Leiden (zie ook de eerdere post over dit proefschrift). Promotor van Van der Kaaij was prof. dr. J.Th.J. van den Berg. Van de promotiecommissie maakten voorts deel uit: prof. mr. H. Franken, prof. J.C. Kennedy PhD, prof. dr. R.A. Koole, prof. dr. P. de Rooy en ondergetekende. Aan de oppositie namen verder nog deel prof. dr. C. van Baalen en prof. mr. J.W.M. Engels. De promovendus hoefde de onderstaande vraag overigens niet meer te beantwoorden, aangezien deze werd onderbroken door het gebruikelijke Hora est.

Meneer de kandidaat,

Volgens de historicus Puchinger, die ik goed heb gekend, is het kenmerk van goede geschiedschrijving het recht doen aan mensen. Zelf is hij daarin jegens De Geer, in tegenstelling tot veel andere auteurs, kennelijk behoorlijk in geslaagd. U betoont zich althans lovend over zijn standaardwerk Colijn en het einde van de Coalitie. En in uw nabeschouwing haalt u de slotalinea aan van Puchinger’s biografische schets van De Geer in zijn Nederlandse minister-presidenten van de twintigste eeuw: ‘Wie zijn tragiek hebben aanschouwd, weten dat er naast het gebeurde in 1940-’41 nog een ander, vroeger verleden omhoog rijst, dat evenmin kan worden tenietgedaan, omdat het de staatkundige geschiedenis van Nederland van voor de Tweede Wereldoorlog mee blijft verlichten.’

Dit recht proberen te doen aan De Geer is voor mij ook hét kenmerk van uw boek, dat u als ‘buitenstaander’ schreef. Daarmee getuigt dit boek van een zelfde soort ‘zelfstandigheid van denken’ die Eddy de Geer bij J. Donner constateerde. Enig nadeel is dat dit het voor mij nog niet zo eenvoudig maakt om vanochtend oppositie te voeren. Dat geldt eens te meer nu ik enigszins tot mijn schaamte heb moeten constateren dat in de 40 lemma’s tellende historische Canon van de christen-democratie, die vorige week is gepresenteerd en waarvan ik mede de redactie heb gevoerd, de naam van De Geer slechts welgeteld eenmaal valt en dan nog in een relatieve bijzin.

Maar natuurlijk kom ik, komt u daarmee niet weg en derhalve wil ik u toch een vraag voorleggen. Op p. 427 vermeldt u hoe de anti-revolutionair Fabius De Geer eens typeerde als een ‘christelijken liberaal’, hetgeen hij niet in complimenteuze zin bedoelde. Ook meer in het algemeen was dit het voornaamste verwijt dat De Geer door confessionele collega’s, zoals Aalberse en Nolens, is gemaakt. Van deze ‘liberale, tolerante inslag’ van De Geer geeft het boek inderdaad verscheidene voorbeelden, zoals zijn opvattingen over het kiesrecht, zijn afwijzing van het anti-papisme, zijn houding tegenover de lijkverbranding en zijn visie op de positie van de vrouw.

Naar aanleiding hiervan werpt u in uw nabeschouwing de vraag op hoe confessioneel De Geer eigenlijk was. Hij zou los van de Bijbel zijn standpunten hebben bepaald (p. 429). Puchinger haalt in zijn eerdergenoemde biografische schets van De Geer evenwel een brief van Lohman uit maart 1921 aan, waarin deze schrijft dat De Geer en hij ‘zoo geheel geestverwant zijn en altijd zijn geweest’. En, zo voegt Lohman daaraan toe: ‘voor het voortbestaan van onze beginselen reken ik inzonderheid op U.’

In uw boek verwijst u zelf naar het feit dat De Geer tijdens de verkiezingscampagne van 1937 een voorkeur uitsprak voor een christelijk kabinet, aangezien hij nog graag de echtscheidingswetgeving wenste aan te scherpen en ook de zondagsrust duidelijker verankerd wilde zien. Kwesties die door verzet van de vrijzinnige partijen in zijn ogen al tientallen jaren ten onrechte sleepten (pp. 274, zie voorts pp. 276-277). De echtscheidingsproblematiek had hem al bezig gehouden sinds hij in 1907 in de Kamer was gekomen. Wat betreft de zondagsrust wilde De Geer bijvoorbeeld sportwedstrijden op zondag verboden zien. Eerder had hij als minister van binnenlandse zaken overigens reeds de bioscoopwet door de Tweede Kamer geloodst en wilde hij die zelfs als minister van financiën nog graag persoonlijk in de Senaat verdedigen. De Geer achtte dit weliswaar zelf geen ‘partijkenmerkende’ wet, maar dat was zij onder meer vanwege het erin voorziene overheidstoezicht op bioscoopfilms in werkelijkheid natuurlijk wel. (p. 211)

Mijn vraag is kort en goed hoe een en ander met elkaar te rijmen valt. De Geer mag dan ‘geen groot politiek visionair als Abraham Kuyper’ zijn geweest, maar was het niet evenwichtiger geweest om in de paragraaf over De Geer als ideoloog aan het eind van uw boek – naast zijn vooruitstrevende standpunten – ook deze thema’s terug te halen? Doet u hem met andere woorden ook in deze paragraaf voldoende recht, door als redenen waarom De Geer thuis hoorde in de CHU vooral niet-ideologische zaken aan te voeren zoals de over het algemeen irenische omgangsvormen en niet tevens het confessionele karakter van deze partij te beklemtonen waardoor hij zich eveneens aangesproken moet hebben gevoeld?