Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How can you protect religious freedom? By defining it better.

One of the issues our church leaders are talking about these days is the importance of protecting religious freedom. 

The term "religious freedom" carries with it certain assumptions, but it is hard to define what they are exactly and articulate them all. This is actually at the root of the problem of protecting it.  We have to know what religious freedom really is in order to recognize when and where it is eroded. 

We have nebulous ideas about how it involves:
  • freedom of conscience
  • freedom of worship
  • freedom to speak religiously
  • freedom to act out our beliefs
  • freedom to share our beliefs
  • freedom to change our beliefs
  • equality under the law with other religions
But we sense that there is more to it and we're not sure what it is.

I just ran across an awesome article from the January 2013 newsletter of BYU's J. Reuben Clarke Law Society called "A Contest of Greatest Importance": Robert Smith on Religious Freedom.  In it he asks the question of how we can more precisely define what is meant by "religious freedom" and then he answers it in a very reasonable way.  I particularly like this article because there is a minimum of fear-mongering and maximum edification.

To summarize, who are the groups that must have religious freedom?
  • Individuals (and families)
  • Religious organizations, and 
  • Society at large (surprisingly) 
What are the principles underlying the religious freedom for each of these groups?  To quote Robert Smith:
1) For individuals, this is the
a. right of conscience and
b. the right to practice one’s religion.
2) For religious societies as entities, this is the
a. right to not be subject to discrimination vis-à-vis other organizations,
b. the right to internal church decision-making or autonomy, and
c. the right to retain the historic uniqueness of religious associations.
3) For society at large, this is the
a. obligation to permit and the right to hear religious voices in matters of public policy.
I learned a lot from this article, and one thing I learned that I didn't realize before is that society must have religious freedom too. That freedom comes in the form of the right to hear religious arguments be included in public discourse. There are people who think religious arguments shouldn't be included in making public policy decisions, but for full religious freedom, society has a right to hear religious arguments as well as secular ones. 

I hope you'll read and enjoy the article as I have. 

As a postscript, the J. Reben Clarke Law Society is having Religious Liberty in 30 Seconds Contest. They want submissions of paragraphs, slogans, audio/video, or visual ideas to communicate religious freedom.


Jocelyn Christensen said...

There's also what Elder Hales defined as the four cornerstones of religious freedom...freedom to believe, freedom to share one's beliefs, freedom to form religious organizations, and freedom to live ones convictions in the public sphere.