Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

Beaman Abstract

The ‘Culture’ of Popular Majorities and the ‘Religion’ of Minorities

This workshop focuses on States of Religious Freedom and this panel on the question “What are the rights of religious minorities v. popular majorities”. Of course, rights are set out in constitutional documents. But as we know, their translation is not a straightforward matter. For the purposes of this discussion I am interpreting ‘popular majorities’ as the traditional Christian majorities of most of the countries that make up western democracies. I am also taking the position that everywhere there is establishment (Beaman and Sullivan, 2014) no matter what the constitutional position is (separation or not), and that fact shapes the interpretation of rights of religious minorities. This is how, for example, crucifixes are possible in public school classrooms and publicly funded hospitals and Christian prayer in legislatures and council meetings is able to be imagined as universal and a matter of culture and heritage even when state and church are separated or when states are supposed to be neutral. I believe that this re-casting of majoritarian symbols and practices is a dangerous game that threatens to undermine the credibility of liberal democracies by failing to give robust meaning to freedom of religion and promises of equality.