Domestic Religious Liberty


June 4, 2016

The Benefits of Religious Liberty

The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s presentation on Religious Liberty and the Common Good, held on May 23, very effectively made its key point that religious liberty is vital to a free and virtuous society. Its first panel, reviewed in an earlier article, discussed the principles of classical religious liberty, the right to disagree about ultimate things, which is currently threatened by the idea of inclusivism growing out of the social revolution of the 1960s. In the second panel, Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, John Inazu, law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom legal service organization, discussed the practical benefits of religious liberty to society.

Anderson said that religious freedom is valuable to society because it protects other freedoms. There are basic rights, which protect human goods, and instrumental rights, which contribute to basic goods. The right to life is a basic, or intrinsic right, as is the right to bodily integrity. Free speech and property rights are instrumental rights, contributing to human flourishing. Religious liberty is both intrinsic and instrumental. It protects “the basic good of religion.” It means that we are free in human law to respond to God and act on religious commitment according to our understanding of his commands. He said that one of the greatest social benefits of religious action is that religious communities do best in helping the poor. It might also be noted that the most important question for any human government is how it relates to what is ultimately right and wrong. Here religious freedom involves the right to decline action believed sinful or immoral. In this regard, Anderson noted that if the state can attack conscience, it can also attack speech or property.

Professor Inazu said that in addressing religious liberty we should aim for a “confident pluralism.” We can be serious about religious commitments that have “great depth,” but we need pluralism because of differences. He said a problem in the current conflict over religious liberty is that pluralism has been a bad word with Evangelicals. While pluralism can indeed be mistaken for or become relativism, we “should give up power games,” he said.

In answer to the question of whether religious liberty is a “veil for discrimination,” Kristen Waggoner said that sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws are not used to stop discrimination, but to attack religious merchants. Finding a reasonable alternative to requiring accommodation of homosexual behavior is not at all comparable to the discrimination of Jim Crow laws. Florists who refer to other florists who provide the same service should not be penalized, she maintained, and there are no cases of homosexual customers being denied service because they are homosexual. All cases involve requiring people of faith to violate their consciences.

A vital point on this current intense controversy is that conscientious objection, which is grounded in religious liberty, is no different with homosexuality than with anything else. It is crucial to see the difference between persons and their behavior. Bakers, photographers, bed and breakfast owners, and others whose religious liberty is infringed on by SOGI laws are not objecting to homosexuals as persons, but to behavior that is believed to be evil. Anderson said we can take an historical analogy, and use abortion as an example. Doctors shouldn’t be penalized because they are pro-life. Their freedom to decline to perform or be involved in abortions is protected in law. “Freedom must be a two way street.” Bakers should be free to bake or not to bake cakes for homosexual ceremonies, he said.

Inazu said that the right to disagree is fundamental to the constitutional order, and thus it is fundamental to religious freedom. Anderson expanded on this to say that religious freedom in particular protects the right of all persons to pursue the truth about God as they understand him. The right to sincere belief, and to live out those beliefs in personal conduct, means more civic harmony, Anderson said. Paradoxically, the right to differ means less real conflict in society. But as religious commitment dwindles, the result is “atomistic individuals.” This means both a loss of a sense of community, and the need for more state regulation of individual conduct.

Waggoner was asked why she “goes to the mat” for religious liberty. She said that religious liberty protects “the vulnerable, women and minorities,” and protects other civil liberties. Contemporary opponents of religious liberty maintain that only the right to believe is absolute, and freedom of religious action (or religiously based inaction) may be restricted. But all regimes have the freedom to believe, Waggoner said, while not all regimes have the free exercise of religion to act on those beliefs. She said that all citizens are needed to support religious liberty. This is important to making the legal principle of religious liberty culturally plausible. Each generation must struggle to tell the story of religious liberty, and preserve it, she said.

As an example of this, Anderson said that the Catholic Church did the best job through its adoption agencies of placing hard to place older children. Just as Archbishop William E. Lori noted in the ELRC’s earlier panel that Catholic schools in inner cities principally serve non-Catholic children in poor areas, and serve them as an exercise of religion, so Anderson noted that Catholic adoption agencies, while an excellent service, are also an exercise of religion. They must provide children for adoption in accordance with Catholic religious principles, and thus children must be placed with married couples consisting of one man and one woman. Faced with state requirements to provide children to homosexual couples, Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to close. Children have been hurt by the government’s commitment to the ideology of the sexual revolution, Anderson said. The next issue, he said, will be the non-profit status of Catholic schools. Again, he noted, the biggest losers are children.

Inazu then observed that the free exercise of religion is a very diminished right at the present time. It is not a strong defense against laws and policies that are indifferent or hostile to the commitments of believers. As another example of how the wider society suffers from this loss of religious freedom, he pointed out that InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was one of the best groups in improving social relations on campus; its expulsion from some campuses hurts the campus environment. Having a society in which disagreements are legal results in a better society. The alternative is a state imposed ideology, Inazu said.

But while there remain many Americans committed to freedom of religious action, there is also now a significant part of the public, especially among the political and cultural leaders of society, which wants to restrict it, and their attack is very wide ranging. Inazu said that the current religious liberty situation gives us a lifetime of issues to work through.

9 Responses to The Benefits of Religious Liberty

  1. Doug says:

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with government restraining “evil” speech:

    For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ Mark 7:10

    The problem is polytheistic religious liberty, as advocated by this article, prohibits government from having any recourse to the absolute Truth of Scripture as a basis for its law.  For instance, the author states, “Bakers should be free to bake or not to bake cakes for homosexual ceremonies…”  On the contrary, government is required by God to restrain homosexual activity.  This cake bake situation should never even be allowed to take place.  We can clearly ascertain this from Scripture.

    Understandably, it is popular to advocate polytheistic religious freedom under the self preservation logic, “If all religions are protected, we will be protected too.”  Nevertheless, polytheistic religious freedom is contrary the plain thrust of God’s revelation to us:

    Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. Mark 12:29

    The polytheistic religious freedom advocated by Jefferson, Madison, and Leland was more radical than today’s SCOTUS advocating homosexual marriage. In fact, SCOTUS’s actions are the fruit of polytheistic religious freedom. We must recognize the absolute necessity of acknowledging the LORD alone, if we hope to have any future as a nation.

    • believer says:

      There is absolutely no way to minimize the blasphemous act of SCOTUS when it hijacked and defiled Christianity’s First Divine Law, marriage, clearly defined in the sacred text as the union between one man and one woman. (Genesis 2:18-25). SCOTUS knowingly and unlawfully seized claim to a WRITTEN divine law and attempted to redefine it. Some injuries incurred by people of faith were false accusations of discrimination, lawsuits, run out of business, bankrupt, and even incarcerated for exercising their religious freedom.

      The people of faith know that the Divine Law for marriage is constant and omnipresent, not a variable subject to change, no more than SCOTUS can redefine when the sun rises and sets. The government does not have authority over sacred texts and does not have the freedom to do with it what it pleases. Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Marriage belongs to God, instituted at the outset of creation.

      The “redefinition of marriage” is a false doctrinal law imposed on the American people and initiated the homosexual assault on religious liberty. Homosexuals covet Christianity’s First Divine Law, their symbol of the First Divine Agreement – the rainbow, and now they want to kill the First Freedom of the One Nation under God and the people of faith will defend it without waiver. The people of faith believe what the bible says about homosexuality in Romans 1:16-32.

    • Khanhminh Nguyen says:

      I see. Freedom of religion means freedom for Christians only. Thank you for showing me Christians’ true color.

      Thank goodness that most Americans don’t think like you do. Otherwise, my naturalized citizen Buddhist parents would be put to death for not practicing dharma.

  2. Religious Liberty aka Violations of the First Commandment.

    CLUE: There were no openly practicing Muslims, no Mosques, no Sharia, and no Islamic terrorism in 17th-century Colonial America whose governments of, by, and for God were established upon Yahweh’s moral law, beginning with the First Commandment:

    “…Religious Freedom and Christian Liberty are not the same thing. They are, in fact, hostile to each other. The former is born of the First Amendment. The latter is born of the First Commandment. In 1789, the First Commandment and Christian Liberty were formally sacrificed on the altar of the First Amendment and Religious Freedom.

    “When the 18th-century founders replaced the First Commandment (found intact in some 17th-century Colonial Constitutions) with the First Amendment, America was transformed from a predominantly monotheistic Christian nation (a united nation under one God, Yahweh) into arguably the most polytheistic nation to exist (a divided nation under many gods, including Islam’s Allah).

    “It’s one thing to allow for individual freedom of conscience and private choice of gods, something impossible to legislate for or against. It’s another matter altogether for government to enable any and all religions to proliferate through the land and evangelize our posterity to false gods. This is what the First Amendment legitimizes. It is an unequivocal violation of the First Commandment and the polar opposite of the following First Commandment statute:

    ‘[Y]e shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves. For thou shall worship no other god: for Yahweh, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: Lest thou … go a whoring after their gods….’ (Exodus 34:13-15)….”

    For more, see blog article “National Religious Freedom Day aka celebrating the Founders’ Violation of the First Commandment” at

  3. Copy Cat says:

    Is this accurate?

  4. JessLove75 says:

    You are a bag of contradiction, I pity you, fool!

  5. Bleh. says:

    Religious liberty is only good up to a certain extent. The issue here is that in the US, religious freedom heavily favors Christianity, and the even bigger issue is that, like most belief systems, it has many nebulous, arbitrary morals that can vary DRASTICALLY depending on demoninations, cultures, family, etc. Christians may respect other religions, but up until recently, Christianity has pretty much strutted around the US with a lot of power and a chip on its shoulder. Now that more policies have been put in place to try and protect non-Christians, the LGBTQ community, and other minorities, Christians are in an uproar about their freedom being reduced when their “freedom” was the privilege to not play by the same rules as everyone else. I agree that people have the right to choose their religion (or choose to be non-religious), but the ability to practice it in certain settings has to be something that is heavily scrutinized and restricted.

  6. Ashley says:

    I thought that it was interesting when you said that religious freedom is crucial to the constitution because it protects other freedoms. I have been wondering if the freedom of religion is important to specify in America and I haven’t been able to find solid evidence. I will share my findings on this subject and will continue researching so that I can continue to discover more reasoning behind this right.

  7. Faylinn says:

    I loved that you said that religious freedom can protect other freedoms. I have been thinking about becoming more spiritual. I will look for options online and in my area.

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