"Freedom of Complex Associations" Public Seminar - Centre for Ethics

January 28th 12:00am to 12:00am

Location: Larkin Bldg. Rm #200 (15 Devonshire Place Toronto, ON) (view on google map)

Event type: Executive Education

Freedom of Complex Associations

Jacob Levy, McGill University


This paper examines the interaction between freedom of association from the state and the interest of many associations, universities and churches primary among them, in fostering domestic associational spheres: student clubs or fraternities and sororities in the one case, religious orders, church-operated charitable and medical establishments, and religious universities in the other.  Even for those who take associational pluralism seriously, these nested cases raise the question of whose associational freedom governs, and of whether freedom of association makes sense as a norm to assert against a larger ("enterprise," in Oakeshott's sense) association, or is only a value as against the state.  I show that the cases crosscut many of our habits of how to think about more and less "liberal" associations, and argue that freedom of the top-level association should be the governing legal rule-- guaranteeing, for example, both the Catholic Church's associational superiority over religious institutions and orders that have taken positions at variance with the Church's authority, and secular universities' associational freedom to impose "all-comers" rules on their internal conservative religious student clubs.  Indeed, I argue that no other legal rule is coherent.  But I also argue that this legal rule coexists with strong reasons complex associations face for respecting some domestic freedom of association for their subordinate organizations, and for facing head-on the questions that arise about that freedom's limits. The paper concludes by looking at the difference between incorporated and organized complex associations on the one hand, and examples of nested group life that are less organizationally coherent at the level of the overarching group.  While in general associational freedom should not strongly depend on organizational forms, I argue that complex associations provide an exception.  A non-corporate group cannot assert its authority over subordinate groups in the way that a corporate association can.