Tuesday, 16 March 2010

CALL FOR PAPERS: POSTGRADUATE AND EARLY CAREER WORKSHOP WITH PROFESSOR LOIS MCNAY

'Subjects Before the Law: Membership, Recognition and the Religious Dimensions of Women's Citizenship.'Workshop with Professor Lois McNay.

We invite PhD students and Early Career Researchers (no more than 3 years post-viva) from any discipline to apply to participate in a workshop, to take place on Thursday, September 9, 2010. The workshop is hosted by the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights and the Institute for Social Science in the 21st Century, University College Cork, Ireland. The workshop is organised as part of an IRCHSS Thematic Project on Gender Equality, Religious Diversity and Multiculturalism in Contemporary Ireland.

The workshop organisers are Eoin Daly and Máiréad Enright.

WORKSHOP THEME

Recent years have witnessed a shift by states away from policies and politics of multiculturalism. Against a background of diminishing state sovereignty, matters of affiliation, allegience, membership and belonging have become important projects for government. Across Europe, transnational and sub-national constellations of belonging are viewed as threatening social cohesion, loosening the ties that bind the nation-state. State responses have been marked by an anxious and exclusionary politics of membership, which seek to restore and re-inscribe the state's role as first or sole sovereign. Religious citizens have appealed to notions of religious rights grounded in law in an effort to bypass or restrict state scrutiny and regulation of group activity.Such attempts can be seen today in debates on the role of Muslim family law, in litigation on the display and wearing of religious symbols and in the regulation of intimate relations and reproductive autonomy. Historically, the demarcation of gender roles has frequently been intertwined with attempts to identify defining attributes of national identity. Thus, new interactions between religious groups and the state in the field of law have particular implications for women, as gender roles and status become intertwined with the boundaries and limits of membership.

The aim of the workshop is to discuss themes and questions such as:
  • What are the implications for women of the shift away from multicultural policies and politics?
  • Can law provide 'refuge' for religion from hostile post-secular politics? How should we imagine the new 'legal turn' in religious engagement with the state?
  • Who is the religious subject before the law? How does the law construct women's religious, cultural and political affiliations? How might it do better?
  • What does recognition theory tell us about the possibilities and limits of religious engagements with law?
  • What are the limits and role of rights discourse in responding to deficiencies in how law 'sees' religion?
  • What shape does the 'public' concept of citizenship take in the regulation of 'private sphere' religious activity?
  • What are the implications of integration and citizenship testing for women? What should be the responses of feminist and human rights discourse to such testing?
  • How useful are concepts of 'multiplicity', 'plurality' and 'intersectionality' to a legal analysis of membership conflicts?
  • Where and how do we locate Ireland in current debates on women's membership, multiculturalism and the law?


PARTICIPATING

If you would like to present a paper, please email corkworkshop2010@gmail.com to express your interest. Your email should cotain:

  • Your position and the name of your university/research centre.
  • A 250 word abstract of the paper you propose to present at the workshop. Your paper should address an aspect of your thesis or other research as it relates to one or more of the questions set out in the workshop theme above.
  • Your CV, including a list of any publications, forthcoming publications and papers presented at other conferences and workshops to date.
  • The title and short description (no more than 250 words) of your current major research topic (PhD candidates should provide details of their thesis)

Participants will commit to:

  • Producing a draft paper (no more than 7,500 words) for circulation to all participants in advance of the workshop.
  • Presenting their paper to the workshop (for 20 - 25 minutes, with time afterwards for questions and discussion)
  • Acting as a discussant for one of the other papers.
  • Reading the other papers in advance of the workshop and participating in the general discussion of other papers.

Deadline for applications: May 1 2010.

Successful applicants notified: May 15 2010.

Deadline for draft papers: July 15 2010.

WORKSHOP FORMAT

The workshop will begin in the morning with a seminar by Professor Lois McNay (Somerville College Oxford), author of Against Recognition, Gender and Agency:Reconfiguring the Subject in Feminist and Social Theory. and Foucault and Feminism: Power, Gender and the Self. We are particularly keen to receive papers which address Professor McNay's work on agency and recognition in some respect.

The seminar will be followed by two sessions in which the participants will present and discuss one another's papers. We plan to restrict participation to a small number group; 6 to 8 at most. We are investigating the possibility that some of the papers will be published after the workshop.

We are in a position to offer a modest grant to participants in the workshop which should cover most if not all of the cost to participants of economy transport to Cork from elsewhere in Ireland, the UK or mainland Europe. We will also provide one night's accommodation in Cork and meals and refreshments on September 9. There is no additional fee for participation.

The workshop is run in conjunction with a one-day international conference 'Gendering the Boundaries of Membership', which will take place in University College Cork on September 10. The conference will feature presentations by a number of prominent scholars working in the area of gender and multiculturalism. Confirmed speakers include Anne Phillips (LSE), Audrey Macklin (University of Toronto), Betty de Hart (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen) and Maleiha Malik (King's College London). Workshop participants will be welcome to attend the conference free of charge (some meals will be provided on the day).

All queries should be addressed to corkworkshop2010@gmail.com

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Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Pluralisation of Blasphemy law: Possible Constitutional Implications

This blog post was submitted by PhD candidate Eoin Daly, who is reading for a PhD under the supervision of Dr Conor O'Mahony. He is a Government of Ireland Research Council for the Humanities and the Social Sciences Scholar.

Following months of controversy surrounding blasphemous libel, the Defamation Bill 2006 has been signed into law. The question of the constitutionality of the offence of blasphemy therefore awaits the prosecution of a blasphemous statement, and judicial review by the superior courts. However, although Atheist Ireland has promised to immediately test the law, Dermot Ahern has bizarrely stated that it will be “practically impossible to get a successful prosecution” (Irish Times, July 10). It is indeed possible that the offence may remain shrouded, indefinitely, in a degree of constitutional ambiguity. Here, I briefly consider some of the arguments that have been raised concerning the constitutionality of the new offence. In particular, however, I focus on what I regard as the most interesting aspect of the new offence – the fact that is has been “pluralised”, encompassing material that is “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion.” This pluralisation of blasphemy law is underpinned by the ruling in Corway v. Independent Newspapers [2000] 1 IRLM 426. The Supreme Court held that the common law offence of blasphemy had not survived the enactment of the Constitution, since it only protected Christian beliefs. This implied that the constitutional mandate for a blasphemy offence had to be reconciled with the guarantee against discrimination on religious grounds contained in Article 44. Thus, what Corway and the recent legislation appear to signify is that blasphemy law has shifted from a religious to a secular legitimation, from the protection of a particular religious truth, to the protection of the sentiments of religious persons, of all recognised affiliations.

However, it is this very fact of a secular legitimation, of “outrage among a substantial number of [any religion’s] adherents”, which renders the contours of the offence unfeasibly vague. While the State is ostensibly removed from any role as an arbiter of religious truth, the determination of what is offensive to “any religion” necessarily involve the courts in an implausibly arbitrary inquiry as to the content of religious belief. While the offence is ostensibly justified in view of the secular rationale of protecting the sentiments of the believer, the content of individual conscience remains unascertainable; thus, even a “plural” blasphemy law could only be enforced through consultation of clerical authority. Furthermore, the “outrage” experienced by an individual believer is unascertainable to any external authority; this criterion is then inevitably determined with reference to some form of external orthodoxy. Therefore, the secular legitimation of blasphemy law, appealing notionally to the “rights” of those believers offended by attacks on their belief, is illusory. The offence transgresses an important boundary between the protection of the rights of the believer, and protection of religious belief or truth itself.

We know that the Constitution permits an offence of blasphemy, because it plainly states in Article 40.6.1º that “the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.” This does not, of course, mean that the offence in its current form is necessarily valid, not least given the Article 44 guarantees of freedom of religion and conscience. It is thus arguable that the offence creates a restriction which is broader than what is mandated by Article 40.6.1º

Firstly, it may be argued that Barrington J erred in the Corway ruling, and that Article 40.6 was in fact merely intended to give constitutional effect to the common law offence which protected only Christian belief – or, at most, that it warrants protection of the Abrahamic denominations originally enumerated in Article 44.1. Accordingly, the legislation would restrict speech relating to religion in a sense broader than that envisaged by the Constitution, and therefore violate freedoms of expression and of conscience. It is not implausible that Article 40.6.1º was historically intended in this limited sense; however, there is a broad consensus that this historical method of interpretation is inappropriate to provisions which engage “values and standards.” We should be less concerned with ascertaining the framers’ intent than rendering the most coherent contemporary account of the relevant provisions; in this lens, it is quite conceivable that the prohibition on religious discrimination implicitly requires the pluralisation of any blasphemy legislation.

Secondly, it might be argued that in targeting expression causing “outrage” against “any” religion, the legislation restricts religious speech which offends other religions, and therefore constitutes unwarranted interference in religious exercise. A Protestant preacher might cause “outrage” to Catholics by denigrating their sacraments in his sermons, and a restriction on this expression might constitute a restriction on religious conscience which is clearly not mandated by Article 40.6.1º. The freedom of all religions would be restricted by the sentiments of all others. However, the presumption of constitutionality probably means that the legislation could be read such as to exclude from its ambit speech which, although outrageous to other religions, was itself protected by Article 44.

Thirdly, Eoin O’Dell has recently argued (Irish Times, July 22) that the offence is of “dubious constitutionality” because it is not confined to outrage which threatens public order. However, his argument relies on English and ECtHR precedent rather than the constitutional text. Article 40 already permits restrictions on forms of expression conducive to public disorder; the mandate for a blasphemy law, particularly when read in light of the constitutional stipulation that “the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God,” clearly mandates a higher degree of protection for religious belief and sentiment. It is inconceivable that, given the privilege accorded to religion within the constitutional order, it warrants a blasphemy law only to the extent that is necessary to achieve secular goals such as public order, rather than the protection of religion itself. It is probably overly-optimistic to suggest that Article 40.6.1º only encompasses forms of expression causing tangible harm.

In suggesting that the provision may not, after all, be invalid under the current Constitution, I do not wish to suggest that it is coherent, necessary or desirable in a general sense. It is an anachronistic and cynical measure, but it almost certainly requires constitutional revision to be overturned. What I wish to stress here is that the pluralisation of blasphemy law is illusory, and that its enforcement will necessarily hinge upon deference to clerical authority rather than on the protection of individual conscience per se. Religions, rather than believers are protected; therefore, pluralised blasphemy law differs from its historical precedent only in the plurality of religions protected, rather than in the object of protection. It is left to the courts to determine what is offensive to a “significant number” of adherents rather than to a given, individual believer. This inevitably requires protecting certain beliefs over others, and consecrating the contingent power relations prevailing between and within different belief systems, with more prevalent forms of belief attracting protection. On a final point, it should not be assumed that it is constitutionally impermissible for the Courts to consult religious authorities to ascertain the nature and content of religious belief, a measure which is implicitly necessitated by the blasphemy provision. In Quinn’s Supermarket v. Att. Gen. [1972] IR 1, the Supreme Court took such evidence from the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, in ascertaining whether Jewish religious practices warranted their exemption from laws of general applicability. Again, while the new offence likely protects religious authority rather than individual conscience, it incorporates a Catholic-centred view of religion, assuming the presence of a recognisable central religious authority which is competent to determine the content of doctrine and belief. The very fact of individual religious belief is, in itself, offered no protection against ridicule or abuse; it is instead, implicitly, only those beliefs which are buttressed by recognised clerical authority, as well as the sheer weight of empirical prevalence, which now receive the protection of the criminal law.

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Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Indirect Discrimination in Denominational Schools' Admission Policies

The Jewish Free School (JFS) is considered the best Jewish school in the United Kingdom. As a result the school is over-subscribed. As in Ireland (under s. 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act 2000), denominational schools in the UK are entitled to favour children of the same denomination as the school in enrollment procedures. In the case of the JFS one of the selection criteria was to “be recognised as being Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth” (JFS Admission Policy). It appears that the Chief Rabbi was, in the case of admissions to JFS, using a sub-rule for admissions that considered whether a child was ethnically Jewish (i.e. having at least one Jewish parent or grandparent), with ethnic Jews being preferred in the case of over subscription to the school.

Yesterday the Chief Schools Adjudicator ruled that the exclusion of a child whose mother (who incidentally is head of English at the school) was a convert to Judaism and not, therefore, ethnically Jewish, was “indirect” discrimination. Importantly, however, the CSA also held that there was no race-relations implication in preferring Jewish students over non-Jewish students, finding instead that this was a matter of religion.

The question of ‘indirect discrimination’ in school admission policies may become germane in Ireland as schools (particularly at primary level) continue to be oversubscribed. Can a Catholic school, for example, not only prefer Catholic children to non-Catholic children in its admission policies but then prefer some Catholic children to others if the number of applicants still out-strips the number of available places? Would it be permissible to narrow down the field of applicants based on the frequency of a child’s attendance at church services? Or based on whether their parents went to Catholic schools? Or based on whether their parents are Catholic? It is clear that the JFS admission criteria were not attempts to assess levels of genuineness of religious conviction or levels of religious conviction; Judaism is an ethnicity as well as a religion, the same is possibly not true of Catholicism (although see O’Toole, “Ethnic Catholicism in Boston” (1992) New England Quarterly 117 for an alternative view). However questions of indirect discrimination may begin to arise in Ireland, and the JFS case suggests that s. 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act may not allow for such admission policies on the part of denominational schools.

This story is also reported in The Guardian and Ha’aretz.

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