Comparative Constitutional Law, Law and Religion, Public Theology, Religion and Politics, Whither Europe?

Upcoming Speaking Engagement: Conference, “Secular States Struggling with Religious Freedom,” ETF Leuven, Belgium, 4-5 May 2023

“This third international conference, organized by the Institute for the Study of Freedom of Religion or Belief (ISFORB), aims to give attention to struggles of secular states with the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief. As usual, this topic will be addressed from an interdisciplinary perspective and attention is given to both theoretical considerations and practical implications. Scholars are welcome to contribute to a comprehensive discussion on the subject from a legal, sociological, historical, theological, or other disciplinary viewpoint.

During our two-day conference we will be looking at topics such as a) the notion and different interpretations of the secular state and its relation to (non-)religious paradigms; b) various models of legal provisions and practices of religious policies on the backdrop of the socio-cultural and historical situatedness of different countries; c) issues of presentation of religious communities by state actors and governmental patterns of categorisation and labelling of religious difference. The topics will be introduced in plenary papers and academic discussions.”

The title of my paper is: “Some comments in response to András Sajó’s conception of constitutional secularism.”

The abstract reads as follows:

The proposed paper zooms in on the first of the three suggested topics: ‘the notion and different interpretations of the secular state and its relation to (non-)religious paradigms.’ That is an immeasurable topic. Hence it will be further delineated by limiting ourselves to András Sajó’s conception of constitutional secularism. Sajó is an attractive figure in this context, as he is a former judge in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and has an impressive scholarly output. Moreover, he has explicitly published about ‘Secular States Struggling with Religious Freedom,’ including the article ‘Preliminaries to a concept of constitutional secularism’ (International Journal of Constitutional Law, 2008). In the abstract of this article, Sajó states, ‘Constitutionalism relies on the use of the human faculty of reason and popular sovereignty. The first consideration translates into the duty of public reason giving in law and denies the acceptability of divine reasons; the second precludes any source of law but the secular. A robust notion of secularism, animated by these considerations, is capable of patrolling the borders of the public square.’ The proposed paper has three purposes: first, it will note whether, and if so, to what extent, this conception of constitutional secularism permeates ECtHR jurisprudence. Second, it raises the question of the substantive merits of Sajó’s conception of constitutional secularism, especially concerning the right to religious freedom. Third, it examines a recently defended, ‘postliberal’ alternative to Sajó’s view in international literature. Does this alternative offer or not offer opportunities for the States Parties to the Council of Europe Convention to shape religious freedom more robustly?

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