Can State-Sponsored Religious Symbols Promote Religious Liberty?
Journal of Catholic Legal Studies, 2013
26 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2012
Date Written: August 25, 2012
In Lautsi v. Italy, the European Court of Human Rights upheld the display of crucifixes in Italian state schools. Somewhat differently, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld state-sponsored displays of symbols such as crèches or menorahs, and of religious texts such as the Ten Commandments, but only outside the school setting, and only if they are accompanied by other elements giving the overall display a secular message. In both instances, the high courts in question found that the displays could co-exist with religious liberty. But given the negative effects that such displays can have on dissenters and on social peace, the public argument for them would be much stronger if they do not merely co-exist with religious liberty but can actually promote it. This paper, for a symposium comparing state-sponsored displays in Europe and America, offers ways in which such displays can actually support a vigorous conception of religious liberty for all faiths. They can communicate important messages of limited government and transcendent freedoms, including freedom for religion to be relevant to public life, not confined to private, insular settings. I then, however, acknowledge and revisit some of the problems with such official displays, and I briefly suggest ways in which the vigorous conception of religious liberty can be recognized and promoted without them. The crucial thing is to cultivate the spirit I have described of limited government, transcendent rights, and a religious freedom whose scope extends to public settings.
Keywords: Religious freedom/religious liberty, Establishment Clause, First Amendment/Religion Clauses, Religious Symbols/Displays, Comparative Constitutional Law, European Human Rights Law, Human Rights
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