18 January 2013

Freedom of Associations

Freedom to associate is implicitly protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. So too in Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (here). But what about the rights of associations? Here the state of the law is definitely mixed. The Supreme Court of the United States has to a limited degree extended liberty rights to associations; the rest of the world, not so much.

Rights of associations--churches, families, organizations, etc.-- are an increasingly important concept as the depth of legal penetration by modern States grows ever greater. The "contraceptive mandate" of the recent health care law is an example of this problem in America: Will associations, outside a narrow understanding of "religious" ones, be required to provide health insurance coverage inconsistent with their formative understandings?

I had alluded to this problem in my analysis and critique of the issue of associational rights in my Looking for Bedrock piece (abstract here). You can find a more in-depth treatment from the other side of the Atlantic in an article by Jaco Van Den Brink and Hans-Martien Ten Napel "The State, Civil Society and Religious Freedom" (full text here) published in 2012 in the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion. Van Den Brink and Ten Napel make a valuable contribution to developing an analysis of this issue apart from the typically American natural rights perspective. If only for that reason it is valuable because natural rights as a unitary fulcrum of political ordering doesn't get much traction in the the rest of the world. (For what it's worth, I also find natural rights (at least apart from natural law) problematic. See my Looking for Bedrock above and my review of David VanDrunen's book Natural Law and the Two Kingdom here.)

In addition to the early works of such historical figures as Abraham Kuyper, the authors do a fine job of incorporating the insights of contemporary thinkers like Michael Walzer and Michael Sandel, all of which challenge the implicit (and increasingly explicit) hegemony of the modern liberal state.

I short, a compact piece that I can highly recommend.

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