Roger Trigg, of Georgetown’s Religious Freedom Project, breaks down the four recent decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, which Mark Movsesian also pondered on our blog earlier this week. Trigg agrees with Movsesian that, while “religious liberty” claims do continue to evince sympathy from European judges, and sometimes even seem to trump rules of the workplace and corporate protocols, there is nevertheless also a specific, emerging pattern of disfavoritism whenever they conflict with assertions about gender or sexuality. Trigg sees in this an absence of principle and a lack of coherence:
These two judgments, therefore, pull in rather opposite directions. It is established (as it ought be) that there is fundamental right to manifest one’s faith, but, on the other hand, circumstances may mean that it is inappropriate for that right to be exercised. Much is apparently left to the discretion of the employer, and there is room for continued controversy (and no doubt law-suits) about such matters. The Court’s decisions may have been cleverly nuanced, but they cannot be said to give clear guidance.
He ends by noting that “‘freedom of conscience has in the past all too often been paid for in acts of heroism.’”
A recent conversation with a colleague in which we speculated about possible outcomes to U.S. Supreme Court religious liberty cases found us at a similar conclusion. It’s encouraging that so many judges, especially here in the U.S., are strongly inclined to favor the principle of religious liberty over and against other claims (Hosanna-Tabor saw all nine justices align with the church over the state), and that many otherwise ordinary people are willing to perform these minor ‘acts of heroism’ in enduring job losses and fighting legal challenges for this principle. But what does it indicate that judicial rulings now occupy the first place in our imaginations when envisioning how to win these fights, and that we’ve come to depend upon routine heroic stands before this small, insulated group to–almost deus ex machina–repeatedly turn back the currents of politics and culture on our behalf?