Religion and the First Amendment

Discipline: American Politics
Instructor: Bekavac
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 1425
End: 1540
Field Work: Day 1 - Wednesday, 24 September | Ireland Download Syllabus

The course will explore the consequences for American life of the “religion clauses” of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The First Amendment reads in full:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” [Emphasis supplied] Note that the religion clauses come first in the Amendment – directing that there shall be no established religion in the new nation, nor shall the right to freely exercise one’s religion be prohibited.  Remember that until the Revolution, most of the colonies had an established religion supported directly by taxes or other levies on the whole population; generally, the established religion was the Church of England, of which the King was head as he was the head of State.  In a number of countries we will visit, the government was officially tied to a particular religion, and in Russia, after an intervening eighty years or so, the Orthodox Church is again.  Indeed, Great Britain still has an established Church.  The purpose of this course is to illuminate how the American tradition of secular government has evolved, and by comparison, how that history and policy differentiate the American experience from that of the many countries we will visit.

Field Work

Country: Ireland
Day: 1 - Wednesday, 24 September

The Republic of Ireland has a distinctive history of Church/state relations.  When it was ruled by the English – various English kings campaigned in Ireland, but it was Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland on behalf of the English Parliament.  The war lasted roughly from 1649-53; afterwards, punitive sanctions against Catholics – the huge majority of the population – enforced England’s occupation, which lasted into the 20th century.  For all of that time, resistance to the English was virtually synonymous with being a Roman Catholic and vice versa.  When the Republic of Ireland came into being, this historical connection between the Church and Irish identity was reflected in its Constitution.  See Whyte, “Religion and Education –the Irish Constitution” (ER).  As Ireland has become more international and more diverse, and as modernization has led to some secularization, relations between Church (this always refers to the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland) and state have become strained.  A series of scandals involving pedophilia and other sexual abuse by priests, physical and other abuse in Catholic orphanages and homes for unwed mothers, and, most recently, the discovery of hundreds of improperly handled infant’s remains in a home for unwed mothers run by the Church, have left the special status of the Church under a cloud.  We will read several documents concerning the case of Louise O’Keefe, an abused minor who was a student in a school run by the Church but licensed by the Irish government.  The victim sued in the Irish courts, where she lost her claim against the Government; she then sued the Government under various treaty provisions in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) – where she prevailed.  We will read the Judgment in both the Supreme Court of Ireland and the ECHR, the Press Statement and other documents.  We will meet with several of the lawyers involved directly in the case, and perhaps some other advisers, including professors.  We will tour the Four Courts in Dublin, and you will have the chance to ask questions of several important participants in this landmark case. Academic Objectives: 1.    Learn about the historical background for Church/state relations in the Republic of Ireland. 2.    Learn about the jurisdiction and procedures of the European Court of Human Rights and discuss the consequences of treaty obligations for participating countries in the European Union 3.    Discuss the concept of legal “immunity” for certain institutions within a legal system – such as the government 4.    Discuss the consequences of reputation, political power and historical deference within a legal system 5.    Discuss the professional obligations of counsel to represent a client 6.    Discuss the issue of resolving disputes without litigation, or under the shadow of litigation 7.    Discuss the professional and personal challenges of dealing with victims who have suffered severe injuries