Thursday, March 15, 2012

Religious Freedom

I found the following series on the LDS Newsroom today. It is a five part series. I thought I would include the full text of each of the articles below. In my opinion they are well written and begin to outline a case for why religion should still matter in the public square. Religious freedom has been under attack of late and I believe this is a nice starting point for those interested in seeing it protected. Though not preachy the following articles lay out some good suggestions and a nice framework. I highlighted a few passages I thought were especially meaningful. Enjoy!

For those of my friends who choose not to be religious I fully support you. This post is not intended to arose offense.

Here is a link to each one:
One: An Introduction to Religious Freedom
Two: What Religious Freedom Means
Three: Why We Need Religious Freedom
Four: Why Religious Freedom Matters to Mormons
Five: Religions Vital Place in Society

Part One: An Introduction to Religious Freedom
This article is a broad introduction for a forthcoming series of articles on religious freedom.

For many people in the world, there are few things more precious than freedom. Freedom — the power to live as one would choose — is one of the great sources of human dignity. Exercising freedom correctly is also one of the great responsibilities that humans hold. We continue to grapple with how to define our freedoms, how to understand them, and how they should be both cultivated and tempered. At the heart of these questions, we find one of the most fundamental of all freedoms: freedom of religion.

What is freedom of religion?

Contrary to what some may assume, religious freedom is not simply the freedom to worship or to believe the way one chooses, though these are essential parts of it. Neither is it just for religious people. Religious freedom is actually deeper, broader and more important than most realize.

At the most fundamental level, religious freedom is the human right to think, act upon and express what one deeply believes, according to the dictates of his or her moral conscience. In fact, religious freedom has always been understood in conjunction with “freedom of conscience” — the liberty to develop and hold moral convictions and to act accordingly. So while religious freedom encompasses the liberty of religious belief and devotion, it also extends well beyond that, incorporating the freedom to act — to speak freely in public, to live according to one’s moral principles and to advocate one’s own moral vision for society. The breadth of religious freedom and its relationship with freedom of conscience helps explain why religious freedom is important for everyone, not just for people of faith.

The United States of America has a long and exceptional tradition of freedom of religion, a virtue that was embedded in the original documents of the nation and extolled by its founders. Enshrined as the preeminent freedom in the U.S. Bill of Rights, religious freedom is the first among other essential liberties and is often referred to as the “first freedom.” It is characterized this way because it enables and protects other human freedoms, like freedom of speech. Indeed, the culture of liberty and peaceful democracy in the United States in large part emerged from its firm respect for religious freedom. Like the United States, many other nations have also come to acknowledge this most essential of liberties and made it a central premise of their own governments. The United Nations, in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and in many other compacts since then, has identified religious liberty as “a fundamental human right.”

Religious freedom and society

This fundamental right is indispensable in the diverse societies of the modern world, where the rights and interests of different parties often come into conflict. Since the potential for animosity is greatest where differences are most profound or where majorities dominate, freedom of religion is critical because it allows people with differing convictions about the deepest matters of truth to live together peacefully. A careful regard for this freedom protects all groups and individuals, including the most vulnerable, religious or not. When honored, religious freedom helps to avert violence and to mediate conflict.

Nations around the world that have nurtured religious liberty have witnessed its positive effects on society. While cases of religious extremism have blemished the public image of religion, scholars recognize that religion imparts vital benefits, including harmony and stability, to the societies that support it. Their scholarship consistently shows that religious people typically are more civically minded, more generous and more neighborly than their nonreligious counterparts. Empirical data also suggest that religiously free societies enjoy many other benefits, including higher levels of other freedoms, than do those where religion is repressed or disadvantaged. These benefits are additional reasons why religion should be free to flourish in society. [1]

Honoring religious freedom does not mean discarding other freedoms and social interests or subverting the law; religious freedom coexists with other legitimate interests in society. Government has a critical role to ensure public safety and to arbitrate the conflict of some rights with others. In the United States, we maintain a healthy independence of church and state, though we should not sequester religion’s moral influence from the nation’s public affairs. Religious freedom does not exclude other interests, but as the “first freedom,” it ought to be given due respect.

Mormons and religious freedom

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have great reason to revere religious liberty. From a history that at times has involved religious persecution, Mormons have a special appreciation for the freedom to speak and live according to their convictions and faith. Religious liberty, in fact, has been significant for Mormons since the beginning. Church founder Joseph Smith was a strong and generous proponent of this principle, and he recognized that it was critical for all parties to reciprocate in upholding it. “I am bold to declare before Heaven” he said, “that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbytarian [sic], a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination.”

In a 19th-century Mormon settlement, Smith also underlined the importance of religious freedom by introducing a city ordinance that guaranteed religious freedom for inhabitants of all faiths. Freedom of conscience and religion were incorporated into the Church’s Articles of Faith, which explain, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” [2] Mormons are steadfastly committed to religious liberty and to its protection.

The mounting challenges to religious freedom

The condition of religious liberty and freedom of conscience in the United States is not as dire as it is in some areas of the world. Today, American people of faith and conscience do not generally face the physical violence or coercion sometimes experienced in other nations. However, freedom of religion and conscience in the United States are nonetheless at risk. Social and legal shifts are squeezing this liberty in new and deeply problematic ways. Americans who have long taken it for granted are being reminded of its value.

Challenges to religious freedom are emerging from many sources. Emerging advocacy for gay rights threatens to abridge religious freedom in a number of ways. Changes in health care threaten the rights of those who hold certain moral convictions about human life. These and other developments are producing conflict and beginning to impose on religious organizations and people of conscience. They are threatening, for instance, to restrict how religious organizations can manage their employment and their property. They are bringing about the coercion of religiously-affiliated universities, schools and social-service entities. They are also resulting in reprimands to individuals who act in line with their principles — from health practitioners and other professionals to parents. In these and in many other circumstances, we see how religious freedom and freedom of conscience are being subtly but steadily eroded. And of equal concern, the legal provisions emerging to safeguard these freedoms are often shallow — protecting these liberties only in the narrowest sense. In many aspects of public life, religious freedom and freedom of conscience are being drawn into conflicts that may suppress them.

The requirements of religious freedom

Given the depth of these conflicts and the controversy that they sometimes create, it is essential that all parties are civil as they negotiate these deeply important issues. This is only right, because the qualities of human dignity that are part of religious freedom also entitle all people to respect and to the expression of their views. Each group, including religious individuals and organizations, is responsible to state its views reasonably in order to contribute to meaningful discussion. As fellow citizens we should always speak courteously and show patience, understanding and empathy for those who disagree with us. We foster goodwill by giving it ourselves. [3]

Religious freedom, or “freedom of conscience,” has long been the bedrock of democracy. Long buried and taken for granted, it is now an elevated concern. There is need for Americans — Latter-day Saints included — to become reacquainted with this freedom and recommitted to it. A free society committed to religious freedom and freedom of conscience means that all its members are vigilant in protecting the freedoms of each other. Maintaining this most basic of human freedoms and the harmony it brings is imperative for us all.

[1] See Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (Simon and Schuster, 2010); Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke, The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

[2] See LDS Newsroom, “Selected Beliefs and Statements on Religious Freedom of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

[3] For further explanation of the commitment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to civil discourse, see LDS Newsroom, “The Mormon Ethic of Civility.”

Part 2: What Religious Freedom Means

Religious freedom is a fundamental freedom that runs deeper and reaches farther than many realize.

What Americans Know About Religious Freedom

Most Americans know that religious freedom is one of the most basic freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Frequently called the “first freedom,” freedom of religion is prominent in the American founding documents and gives rise to many other freedoms.

It is a fundamental human right — one that is now protected in the laws of many nations around the world and in global compacts like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Americans generally recognize and revere religious freedom as one of the unalienable freedoms they can claim.

Yet despite Americans’ awareness of religious freedom and a common perception that it is something of profound worth, research suggests that many Americans aren’t entirely clear about what it means. As a result, they also don’t fully understand why it is so critical and what it requires.

Studies do suggest that most Americans grasp the basic concept. For the average citizen, religious freedom is the right enjoyed by many in the free world to believe the things about God and about moral truth that they choose to believe, as well as the right to honor those beliefs in worship, if they want to. Intuitively, this makes sense. It would not be right for someone to be coerced in matters of religious belief or morality, or prohibited from worshipping according to their conscience.[1]

The Rest of Religious Freedom

But while these private and inward activities are vital parts of religious freedom, they do not encompass the whole of it. Religious freedom is actually much broader and deeper than this description suggests. More fundamentally, religious freedom — akin to “freedom of conscience” — is the human right to think and believe and also to express and act upon what one deeply believes according to the dictates of his or her moral conscience. This freedom applies to those who adhere to religious beliefs and those who do not.

The full picture of religious freedom reveals a deep liberty that goes much further than the right to believe as one chooses and that extends well beyond the right to private devotion in one’s place of worship or home. Indeed, religious freedom is not merely interior and private, to be enjoyed internally in our minds and in the privacy of personal life. It also incorporates the right to act according to one’s moral beliefs and convictions. And more than the freedom to worship privately, it is the right to to live one’s faith freely and in public.

Beliefs lead to actions, and freedom to believe, without the ability to act on that belief within the bounds of law, is no freedom at all. Most will agree that moral and religious beliefs don’t mean much if they don’t influence the way we live. In other words, we expect religious beliefs to influence the way that people behave, how they raise families and how they treat others. And indeed, religious freedom protects the right of individuals to act in line with their religious beliefs and moral convictions. Religious freedom does not merely enable us to contemplate our convictions; it enables us to execute them.

Because of this, religion cannot be confined to the sphere of private life. Certainly religious freedom protects the rights of individuals to observe their religion within the walls of private spaces. But religious and moral speech is also protected in the free air of the public domain. Whether in the town hall, in the newspaper column, on the Internet or elsewhere in the public sphere, people with moral convictions are entitled by their religious freedom to share those convictions, to reason and persuade, and to advocate their vision for society.

Research suggests, in fact, that religious people in the United States contribute to, enrich and improve society. They tend to demonstrate a disproportionate level of social virtues like neighborliness, generosity, service and civic engagement. Hence it is not only required by religious freedom for religious people and their voices to be welcome in the public sphere; it strengthens the civic fabric of society.[2]

Practicing and Protecting Religious Freedom

The fact that religious freedom is public and that it involves more than mere belief does not, of course, mean that it overwhelms all other considerations in society. The purpose of a democracy is to accommodate the diverse interests of all its members. Religious freedom and freedom of conscience are vital because they help sustain this system of peaceful coexistence, and they must be balanced against other considerations, such as the rights of others, the law and public safety. However, because these freedoms are so fundamental to human dignity, and because they contribute so much to society, they merit careful protection.

Such protection is the responsibility of all citizens who value their freedom and recognize that one’s own freedoms are only as secure as those of others. Protecting religious freedom also requires that it is understood fully and respected in its entirety. An inadequate understanding of religious freedom can be problematic if it leads, for example, to policy and laws that define it too narrowly and protect it too feebly. Ignorance of religious freedom can also, without care, allow for it to be slowly and subtly eroded, leaving this fundamental liberty exposed or compromised. A robust sense of religious freedom — an appreciation for its full meaning — is required for it to endure and to flourish.

[1]See “Survey Fact Sheet: What Americans Know About Religious Freedom,” American Religious Freedom Program, accessed January 14, 2012,; and“What It Means to Be an American,” Brookings Institute and Public Religion Research Institute, accessed January 14, 2012,

[2]See Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).

Part Three: Why We Need Religious Freedom

Religious freedom, or freedom of conscience, is critical to the health of a diverse society.

This is Part 3 in a series of articles on religious freedom. For the series introduction, see “ An Introduction to Religious Freedom .”

Over the past two years, general officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have delivered major addresses on many aspects of religious freedom — what it means, what it does, the threats it faces and why it is so vital for free people everywhere. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles said, “There is a battle over the meaning of [religious] freedom. The contest is of eternal importance.” And Elder Quentin L. Cook, also an Apostle, challenged university graduates to “work with people of other faiths” to protect and “be an advocate for religious freedom and morality.”

Alongside these endorsements of religious freedom from Latter-day Saints are the significant efforts of other religious leaders and citizens. So why this attention to religious freedom? Why do we as citizens of the United States need it?

The need flows from the immense diversity of our nation and society. From its very beginning, the United States has been home to a wide range of religious beliefs. Without a confining state-sponsored church (thus breaking a 1,500-year European tradition) and with a steady and assorted stream of immigrants, religious pluralism has been a signal feature in America. Americans in the new and growing nation found a range of religious choices unheard of in their past experience — they could choose their own faith group, select a congregation (or start their own) and find a minister. They could also choose not to adhere to religion at all. This vast array of religious choices demonstrated an invigorating freedom of conscience and a flourishing religious freedom. Americans didn’t simply tolerate other religious beliefs, but eventually embraced full-fledged religious liberty, realizing that the “only way to get it for themselves was to grant it to all others.” [1]

Yet there has been no royal road to religious freedom in the United States. Baptists, Jews, Catholics and other faiths — which at some time have been new, unpopular and minority religions — have felt the sting of religious persecution and societal prejudice. But the possibility of a society where diverse faiths and beliefs can coexist is rooted in the high principles of freedom of conscience and the enabling protections for religion in the First Amendment. They are the architectural framework that ensures the physical, social and legal space for individuals and groups to live out their different beliefs in meaningful ways, both privately and publicly. A statement of principles signed by scholars and statesmen emphasizes these principles: “The Religious Liberty clauses are both a protection of individual liberty and a provision for ordering the relationship of religion and public life. They allow us to live with our deepest differences.” [2]

But freedom of religion and conscience require more than simply living and coexisting with our differences. These preeminent freedoms also create rejuvenating obligations. All recipients of religious freedom — every group and individual who is free to live according to the dictates of conscience — must in turn protect that same freedom for all others, especially the most vulnerable, whether religious or not. That is the obligation. And it is rejuvenating because it “enable[s] diversity to be a source of national strength.” [3]

These principles are splendidly articulated in The Williamsburg Charter . Drafted as a national “reaffirmation of the First Amendment,” signatories included leaders of government (including two former presidents of the United States), business, education and faith groups and many other interests. Elder Dallin H. Oaks signed the document on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The charter emphasizes the vital nature and moral importance of the obligations associated with religious freedom, including the incisive observation that a “society is only as just and free as it is respectful of [freedom of religion and conscience] for its smallest minorities and least popular communities.”

Recent studies quantify the societal benefits of religious freedom. [4] These findings report, for example, that:

Religious freedom promotes stability in a pluralistic society, but when limited, it correlates to increased violence and conflict.
Wherever religious freedom is high, there is more economic prosperity, better health, lower income inequality and prolonged democracy.
Religious freedom directly correlates with the protection afforded other civil and human rights; if some agency can control the yearnings of faith and conviction, then that agency could, in James Madison’s words, “sweep away all our fundamental rights,” such as freedom of speech, press and assembly.
These are some of the consequences of religious freedom that contribute to a just and free society where tensions are negotiated and people live peacefully with their deepest differences. This is the essence of democracy.

[1] See Robert Booth Fowler, Allen D. Hertzke, Laura R. Olsen, Kevin R. Den Dulk, Religion and Politics in America, Faith, Culture and Strategic Choices, p. 6.

[2] The Williamsburg Charter, Summary of Principles, 1988.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See, for example, Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke, The Price of Freedom Denied, and Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom study, __________________

Part Four: Why Religious Freedom Matters to Mormons

Religious freedom is both a lesson of Mormons’ history and a principle of their faith.

This is part 4 in a series of articles on religious freedom.

Mormon history and religious freedom

As one of the most essential of all human liberties, religious freedom is valuable to all people. Yet it has special meaning for those groups that have at one time or another found themselves unpopular or vulnerable because of their religious convictions. This is true even in the relatively free and tolerant United States, where religious tolerance and freedom has always been the ideal but not always the practice. From early American Baptists and Quakers to Catholics, Muslims and Jews, minority religious groups in America have felt the sting of persecution for their faith and for their efforts to live by it.

As a minority faith in America, Mormons too have at times experienced intolerance, including some of the most infamous religious persecution in American history. When The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded by Joseph Smith in the early 19th century, its members often found themselves facing suspicion and hostility. As the Church grew and attracted additional converts, conflict with other groups followed, much of it a consequence of Mormons’ unique religious practices and beliefs.

Conflict in the period often escalated to intimidation, and sometimes to violence. Mobs and militias forced Mormons out of their settlements repeatedly, burning their homes and destroying their crops. One especially deadly conflict came in 1838, after the governor of Missouri ordered that all Mormons should be either driven out of the state or “exterminated.” A violent mob attacked a rural township and scattered its Mormon settlers, massacring 17 Mormon men and boys. In the wake of this and other incidents, the Latter-day Saints appealed for aid and protection from both state and national governments. Empathetic friends of the Church tried to help, but Mormons found little redress.

These days of violence and Mormon frontier settlements are far behind us now — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has since become a global and widely respected faith. But history’s lessons still linger. In light of these and other experiences in their history, Mormons remember that religious freedom is not to be taken for granted.

Teachings on religious freedom

Meanwhile, early Church leaders like Joseph Smith taught the importance of the religious liberty they sought. Church leaders taught that religious liberty was not just for Mormons; it was for everyone. Joseph Smith was an especially generous proponent of these principles. For example, in the early Mormon settlement of Nauvoo, Illinois, Smith said:

If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing before Heaven to die for a “Mormon,” I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbytarian [sic], a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.
Later Smith introduced a city ordinance that would protect the freedoms of people of all faiths — including non-Christians — in Nauvoo. These groups would have “free toleration, and equal privileges in this city.”[1] Joseph Smith recognized that ensuring religious freedom meant guaranteeing it for all. The importance of freedom of conscience and religion was also enumerated in 1842 as one of the Church’s thirteen Articles of Faith: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

Church leaders after Joseph Smith continued to teach about religious freedom. James E. Talmage, a longtime apostle of the Church, wrote in 1899 that “the Latter-day Saints proclaim their unqualified allegiance to the principles of religious liberty and toleration. Freedom to worship Almighty God as the conscience may dictate, they affirm to be one of the inherent and inalienable rights of humanity.” J. Reuben Clark, a member of the Church’s First Presidency, taught in 1935 that a guarantee of religious freedom is vital in public life, because “underneath and behind all that lies in our lives, all that we do in our lives, is our religion, our worship, our belief and faith in God.”[2]

The apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote in 1985 that religious freedom is “in one manner of speaking, the most basic of all doctrines” of the gospel. This is true for Latter-day Saints because, as he explained, the principle of agency — the innate freedom to choose and to practice one’s religious beliefs and moral convictions — underlies all of Mormons’ other vital teachings and doctrines. Human dignity and agency rest on freedom of conscience.[3]

Today’s Church leaders also continue to reiterate and emphasize these principles, explaining what religious freedom is and why it matters. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has spoken often about the need to preserve religious freedom in an age increasingly disrespectful of religion. In a major address at Chapman University in February 2011, he championed the principle of religious liberty and outlined the worrisome trends that threaten it today. Elder Quentin L. Cook has also encouraged Latter-day Saints to “be advocates for religious freedom and morality.” These modern Church leaders echo teachings about religious freedom that have been part of Mormons’ faith from the beginning.

Advocates for religious freedom

Mormons cherish religious freedom by virtue of both their history and their faith. But while they have special reasons to cherish religious freedom, they do not make special claims on it; like Joseph Smith, Mormons want to see these freedoms preserved and protected for all. At a time when challenges to religious freedom are increasing, it is the responsibility of all people of faith and conscience to understand and to advance this fundamental human freedom for themselves and their neighbors. Mormons find they have ample reason to keep this charge.

[1]History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5:498–99; 4:306.

[2]James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith (1899), 406; J. Reuben Clark, in Conference Report,  Apr. 1935, 94.

[3]Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (1985), 655; see also W. Cole Durham, “The Doctrine of Religious Freedom,” BYU devotional address (3 April 2001).

Part Five: Religion’s Vital Place in Society: 
Religion is essential to a vibrant, democratic society

This is part 5 in a series of articles on religious freedom.

Religion is vital to democracy

[We] have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.” — John Adams

Religious instruction and belief remain today the lifeblood of society’s moral ethos. Not only does religion teach virtue, it catalyzes moral action. As such, religion plays an essential societal role warranting special consideration. This role was rightly described by a Chinese economist studying democracy in America. “In your past,” the economist explained, “most Americans attended a church or synagogue every week. When you were there, from your youngest years, you were taught that you should voluntarily obey the law; that you should respect other people’s property, and not steal it. You were taught never to lie, and to respect the life and freedom of others the same as your own. Americans followed these rules because they had come to believe that even if the police didn’t catch them when they broke a law, God would catch them. Democracy works because most people most of the time voluntarily obey your laws.”[i]

Such qualitative observations are corroborated by quantitative research. Many scholars have gathered empirical evidence tracing the strong correlation between contemporary religious observance in America and virtuous behavior. For example, religiously observant citizens tend to be more generous and civically-minded neighbors.[ii] According to estimates, more than 90 percent of those who attend weekly worship services donate to charity, and nearly 70 percent volunteer for charitable causes.[iii]

Some laud these good works but attempt to marginalize the beliefs and practices that motivate them. Such efforts are unfortunate. Distinct religious beliefs and practices are fundamental to the moral actions they arouse. Examples abound of religious faith inspiring communities to profound acts of charity and selfless service. These positive contributions underscore the need to preserve the fundamental human right of religious freedom.

Indeed, preserving religious freedom also has its benefits. Bundled with other freedoms, religious liberty boosts society’s socio-economic progress and reduces violent conflicts.[iv] As a result, societies are more likely to flourish when citizens have this freedom to voice their deepest beliefs and highest ideals. In short, both religion and religious freedom contribute to a more peaceful, stable and charitable society.

Religion’s constitutional protection

For these full effects to take hold, the protection of religious freedom must extend beyond just worship. Religious freedom must include protecting morally or religiously motivated public expression. People of faith and religious-based institutions continue to play an important role in shaping social and moral issues through proper democratic channels. Like other worthy organizations and causes, religious people and institutions deserve to be heard in the public sphere — neither religious nor secular voices should be silenced.

Of course, the accommodation of religious liberty does not undermine other societal interests. The free-exercise clause of the United States Constitution unequivocally protects religion in America, but religious extremism that threatens others is not protected. Government can and does, for example, impose reasonable restrictions to ensure safety in a pluralistic society. However, the legal and legislative process provides a means to continually protect, shape and define religious freedom so it is not overridden. While reasonable protections are welcomed, they should respect the healthy separation between government and religion that allows religion to thrive.

Indeed, the proper separation of church and state has the effect of strengthening religious institutions and the broader community. To exert its positive influence, religious organizations and individuals must maintain space from government — physical, social and legal — to freely practice their faith. This enables religious institutions to express their message, determine who they are, and live out their convictions in meaningful ways. Religious space must continue to be respected, and religion should not be sequestered.

Encroachment on the first freedom

Unfortunately, religious space is increasingly being squeezed by a view that religion is purely a private matter. This trend is disconcerting, especially to people of faith.

Despite this encroachment, the role of religion in society remains indispensable. The 19th-century commentator on democracy Alexis De Tocqueville said, “When any religion whatsoever has cast deep roots within a democracy … preserve it carefully as the most precious inheritance.”[v] Religion today remains a most precious inheritance. Properly preserving this inheritance will require renewed respect for religious liberty and the democratic principles that support it. This respect will come more rapidly as individuals and governments understand and recognize religion’s vital place in society.

[i] Clayton M. Christensen, “The Importance of Asking the Right Questions” (commencement speech, Southern New Hampshire University, Manchester, N.H., May 16, 2009).

[ii] See Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York City: Simon Schuster, 2010), 461.

[iii] Arthur C. Brooks, “Religious Faith and Charitable Giving,” Policy Review (October 2003). Similar statistics are found in the “Faith Matters Survey 2006,” as cited in American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.

[iv] See Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke, The Price of Freedom Denied (New York City: University of Cambridge, 2011) and Brian J. Grim, “Religious Freedom: Good for What Ails Us,” The Review of Faith & International Affairs 6, no. 2, 3-7.

[v] Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. and ed. Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 519.

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