Is This The Religious Liberty We Need?

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President Donald J. Trump displaying Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

Last Thursday, May 4, two significant government actions dominated the news. One was the narrow passage in the House of Representatives of the AHCA, legislation designed to roll back a number of provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The other was the signing by the President of an Executive Order on Religious Liberty, surrounded by religious people of various faiths.

As a religious person, I do care about religious liberty and think the First Amendment protections in our constitution important to uphold, and indeed strengthen, because of the long and global history of religious persecution. We do not do it perfectly but we have a system that allows an incredible diversity of religious expression in our country and works hard not to privilege any one over the others. This is a relatively singular occurrence in human history that is a mark of American greatness.

One thing that is important to note about the executive order, available to be read on the White House website is that it is a directive to federal agencies that does not repeal laws but only addresses the approach taken to enforce them. Only a new law can repeal a law. Only court decisions can overturn laws. What is significant, from what I can read in the executive order, is it suggests a disposition on the part of government to defend religious liberty rather than undermine it. Section One on policy says:

“It shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce Federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom.  The Founders envisioned a Nation in which religious voices and views were integral to a vibrant public square, and in which religious people and institutions were free to practice their faith without fear of discrimination or retaliation by the Federal Government.  For that reason, the United States Constitution enshrines and protects the fundamental right to religious liberty as Americans’ first freedom.  Federal law protects the freedom of Americans and their organizations to exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the Federal Government.  The executive branch will honor and enforce those protections.”

These are broad statements that amount to saying that the executive branch will uphold the Constitution, which is in fact what the President says he will do in taking the oath of office. But to go on record in this regard is heartening.

Much has been made of Section Two. Contrary to popular belief, it does not repeal the Johnson Amendment banning the endorsement or opposition to political candidates by churches or other 501 (c)(3) organizations. David French (a lawyer I had the chance to work with on a religious liberty issue), writes in The National Review:

In fact, a lawyer will commit malpractice if he tells a pastor or director of a nonprofit that this order allows a church or nonprofit to use its resources to support or oppose a candidate. Even if the Trump administration chooses not to enforce the law, a later administration can tear up Trump’s order and begin vigorous enforcement based on actions undertaken during the Trump administration.”

What may be the case is that this will presumably make some feel bolder in talking about political issues or even endorsing candidates because they need not fear enforcement. French’s warning is, “for now.” I certainly wouldn’t use this as a warrant to endorse candidates not supported by the current administration!

Section Three concerns conscience exemptions to the preventive care (read contraceptive) mandate. It says that several government agencies “shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.” In fact, this has already been mandated by the Supreme Court during the Obama administration.

French makes an important point in his article–executive orders are no substitute for law-making. At best they are only a start. John Inazu, in his book Confident Pluralism, articulates three areas where substantive law-making is needed to protect religious and speech freedoms in the public square (summary is quoted from my review of his book):

The Voluntary Groups Requirement:

“Government officials should not interfere with the membership, leadership, or internal practices of a voluntary group absent a clearly articulated and precisely defined compelling interest” (p. 48).

The Public Forum Requirement:

“Government should honor its commitment to ensure public forums for the voicing of dissent and discontent. Expressive restrictions in these forums should only be justified by compelling government interests. Private public forums that effectively supplant these government-sponsored forums should in some cases be held to similar standards” (p. 64-65).

The Public Funding Requirement:

“When the government offers generally available resources (financial and otherwise) to facilitate a diversity of viewpoints and ideas, it should not limit those resources based on its own orthodoxy” (p. 79).

French notes in his article the attacks on religious groups in universities that infringe on the first and third of these requirements and the attacks on dissenting views that would infringe on the second.

I would argue that the protections Inazu talks about include but are broader than just religious liberty. They protect the freedom of conscience and associative and speech freedoms of all citizens, not just religious citizens. I would argue that these are the liberties for which we need robust protections, not simply in executive orders but in law.

There is one other religious liberty I long for. I have written often about the way the American church has offered itself as a voluntary captive to the political process. Actually, one of the concerns I have about the relaxation of enforcement around political speech in pulpits is that in so doing, I think the government is helping the church dig its own grave. Perhaps it is anecdotal, but I am watching not only younger, but also older evangelicals angered by this political captivity, leaving evangelical churches, even churches not overtly engaged in this kind of behavior.

I long for the day when churches cast off the chains of partisan politics and repent for how they have alienated people from the gospel of Christ that unites people across all the divides of our contemporary politics. I long for a church that speaks prophetically to both left and right (currently it seems only late night television is doing that). This is the kind of speech for which you actually need religious liberty protection.

I have to admit to being troubled by the setting in which this order took place. Religious leaders are gathered around in the Rose Garden celebrating the protection of their own liberties while down the street the party of the President is passing legislation to make the protection of one’s health increasingly difficult for the most vulnerable in our society to obtain (“the Unaffordable Health Care Act”?). I’m torn. I’ve had to advocate against real attempts to undermine religious liberty. Yet I was telling a friend recently that religious liberty concerns me less than the attack on the liberties of the poor, children, the elderly, the most vulnerable in our society. Perhaps the only way to reconcile this is the idea that all liberties are important and that the attack upon the liberty of any of us is in fact an attack on the liberty of all of us. Might we agree upon that?

 

Review: Roger Williams and The Creation of the American Soul

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Roger Williams and The Creation of the American SoulJohn M. Barry. New York: Viking, 2012. [Publisher link is to paperback edition]

Summary: A study of the life of Roger Williams focusing on the intellectual influences upon Williams, his journey to Massachusetts, banishment and founding of Rhode Island, and his signal ideas of freedom of conscience and government by consent of the governed.

Questions of church and state, a “Christian” vision for America, and the battle to be free to believe as one wills and practice those beliefs are as contemporary as the most recent national elections, but trace back to our very beginnings in New England. Reading this account of the life of Roger Williams gives me a deeper appreciation of a figure who laid the groundwork of the protections of both religious liberty and from religious tyranny that we enjoy, and the recognition of the human right of freedom of conscience.

Many accounts of Williams’ life begin with his banishment from Massachusetts and his flight into the wilderness, taking shelter with the Narragansetts he had befriended, and then establishing the town that would become Providence, leading eventually to the chartering of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. This account begins by tracing his youthful apprenticeship with Edward Coke, one of the greatest legal minds of the age, and a steadfast resister of royal tyranny, whose resistance resulted in his going to the Tower of London. He also closely observed Francis Bacon, the great scientist, but also chancellor to King James, and from him developed a commitment to reaching conclusions by evidence that led later to his own independence in forming theological views, leading to his break with the founders in Massachusetts.

Like many Puritans, Williams, who for a time was sheltered as a “chaplain” to a distinguished family, faced the scrutiny of Bishop Laud, and like many, fled to America. The Massachusetts colony was established with a vision of being a “city on the hill” where Christian faith shaped every aspect of the colony’s life and where religious and governmental functions were closely enough aligned to be at one. Williams, exposed to this theocratic government concluded that government could enforce only those parts of the law (the second table) having to do with human beings relationships with each other. To try to enforce the first would be to intrude upon the individual conscience. Williams also reached conclusions that questioned the basis upon which colonists obtained the native people’s land. Eventually, the authorities, including close friends from England, banished him and even attempted at one point to seize him by force and take him to England, where he likely would have been executed. Only flight in mid-winter saved him, and led to the beginnings of Rhode Island.

From the beginning, Williams vision was to set up a place, not where anarchy ruled, but where conscience was free and people could believe and worship as they pleased (or not). At various points we see Williams fending off Massachusetts, Plymouth, and Connecticut from carving up Rhode Island, even as he also intercedes with Native tribes to avert war with the colonists.

Eventually this leads to a return of Williams to the England he had fled to obtain a charter that would formally recognize Rhode Island (and Providence Plantations–its full name) as a colony in its own right. Furthermore, Williams is proposing the radical idea of a colony with no state church. The account of how he does this, as well as a significant work he published during a second visit, The Bloudy Tenent is fascinating, and along with the early influences in his life, often overlooked.  In The Bloudy Tenent he argues both for freedom of conscience and for the idea that the state’s power to govern should derive from the consent of the governed. These ideas, via John Locke, shaped the thinking of the founders.

Williams did not remain unscarred in all the conflicts he faced. After his banishment, he took up briefly with the Baptists, but then never again joined or formed a church. He continued to believe, but his significant contributions would be in the learning of Native languages and his relations with Native peoples, his leadership in Rhode Island and politically savvy relations in England, and his political thought that laid the foundations for freedom of conscience, religious liberty and freedom from religious tyranny, which has also frustrated efforts to enforce a Christian conscience upon the nation that continues to this day.

Barry offers a narrative that helps us see the combination of intellectual influences and life events that shaped the thought and actions of Williams. It strikes me that the peculiar genius and grace of Williams was to create a space for the liberties and form of government he believed in without attacking those who attacked him. He worked skillfully and shrewdly and yet as a man of peace in the midst of warring factions in the colonies and civil conflict with bloody executions in England. It seems we could use more like him.

Review: Hiding in the Light

Hiding in the Light

Hiding in the Light, Rifqa Bary. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2015.

Summary: A memoir of Bary’s turning from Islam to Christianity during her teens, her flight from her family when she feared for her life, and her subsequent struggles to prevent the courts from forcibly returning her to her family.

Seven years ago, the story of Rifqa Bary was big news where I live. This teenager, from a Sri Lankan Muslim family had run away from her family after converting to Christian faith, and had taken shelter with a Florida family she met on Facebook. The news coverage showed caring and concerned parents trying to regain custody of their daughter, a diminutive teen age girl who felt her life was in danger, and court proceedings and actions in Florida and Ohio.

This book tells Rifqa’s side of the story. It is the story of a child growing up with Sri Lanka who, even at an early age, had a sense of the warm loving presence of God, was raised with the strict observances of Islam and came to America after an incident of sexual abuse by a male kin, a shameful occurrence not for him but for her. They lived first in New York City, and then in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. She tells a tale of domestic violence where male rage had to be borne by women. She lost the sight in one eye when her older brother threw a toy at her. She claims she was slapped about by her father for the tiniest infractions. At one point, she cried out for God, whoever God was, to show herself to her.

Through school friends, she began to learn about Christianity, started reading the Bible, and unbeknownst to her parents, attended a church. Eventually, she was baptized in a creek not far from, but hidden from her home. She continued to participate in Christian services and events, taking ever greater risks, while deceiving her parents as to her whereabouts until finally they became suspicious, began to threaten her, and limit her activity.

Things came to a head while her father was on a business trip, cut short by warnings from her Islamic Center to the family, that she needed to be dealt with. Given her father’s temper and threats, she fled, with the help of friends, taking refuge with a Florida couple she knew from Facebook. When the couple realized their own legal situation of harboring a runaway, they notified the authorities, beginning a long battle in both Florida and Ohio to keep Rifqa out of the custody of her parents, marked by several attorneys who were zealous advocates for her, and ultimately succeeded in keeping her in state custody, first in Florida, then in Ohio, until she turned 18.

Close to the time that she turned 18 she was discovered with a rare form of deadly uterine cancer. After surgery and beginning chemo, she decided to refuse further treatment and a hysterectomy. At this time, the cancer has not recurred and she is a college student studying philosophy and political science with the possible hope of becoming a lawyer.

I had several responses to this book. Throughout, I was struck by the deep faith that sustained this young woman through prison, fear for her life, court proceedings, difficult foster care situations, and cancer. A recurring theme were passages from scriptures and an accompanying “witness of the Spirit” that brought peace and courage. There is an undeniable genuineness of Christian experience and wholehearted dedication to Christ evident in this story.

I struggled with the deception of and flight from her parents. It troubled me that most of the Christians advising her before her flight were peers or just a few years older. It is clear to me that she made a free and un-coerced choice to embrace Christianity and had strong convictions about pursuing that faith. I don’t know if she would have listened to adult counsel had it been present. She goes against one pastor’s advice to wait until she was 18 to be baptized.  I found myself wondering if both the threats from the family, the flight, getting others caught up in potential legal liabilities, and the protracted court fights might have been averted.

There is also her portrait of her parents, in marked contrast to how they presented themselves publicly. Here, I’m inclined to believe her narrative, given how hard it must be growing up in her culture to speak against one’s family in any way. Were the threats and danger to her life real? I do not fully understand honor-shame cultures but sense she was on good grounds to have the fears she did and to do everything in her power, having fled, to avoid being returned to this situation. However, I would not want to see this one family’s unfinished story used in a Muslim versus Christian polemic. That said, as I argued a few days ago, I believe it is a universal human right to be able to change one’s beliefs and to follow the dictates of one’s conscience and that honor and shame needs to be re-framed within a commitment to such rights.

Finally, I found troubling the descriptions of juvenile detention and foster care in both of the states where she sought shelter. I was thankful for the zealous advocates whose efforts prevailed against political and bureaucratic maneuverings that would have put her at risk of harm. I hope some of those who have oversight of these services will read this book and take a hard look at whether children really are being protected who need protection.

Rifqa Bary lives in an undisclosed location. The book title represents her sense of continuing to live in hiding and yet to be in the light of Christ. I hope for the day when she need no longer hide and that she continue to walk in the light no matter what she faces.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Freedom to Change One’s Mind

Flew and Bary

Antony Flew                                                               Rifqa Bary 

 

It would seem that the idea that a person should freely be able to change one’s mind is, well, a no-brainer. And yet in two books I am reading at present, a change of mind was occasion for controversy, and in one case, at least the possibility of danger. In Did the Resurrection Happen, David Baggett includes an interview with Antony Flew after he announced that he had shifted from a lifelong atheist stance to one of belief in God, albeit an Aristotelian, deistic God. This set off a firestorm of controversy and criticism in the atheist community against its one-time arch apologist.

The other change of mind concerned the freedom of a teenager living at the time in my home metro area, to turn from Islam to Christianity, necessitating, in her account, flight from her family, long court battles over custody until she came of age and continued estrangement from her family. The young woman is Rifqa Bary and her book is Hiding in the Light.

The difficulty with a change of mind, particularly, concerning religious questions, is that we are often part of families or communities that share these deeply held beliefs. Conscientious parents often believe it their responsibility to impart their beliefs to their children. And because these beliefs concern matters of ultimate, and perhaps eternal importance, for a child, or even spouse to turn from these is a grave concern. It can also be a matter of shame with one’s community. When you have been a key advocate, or long time co-belligerent, a change of mind might seem a betrayal, or at least a craven flip-flop.

Yet this begs the question of what is to be done when one can no longer in clear conscience hold one set of beliefs, and as often follows, another sense of beliefs is more persuasive. Is there something sacred about the conscience that dictates that belief must not be imposed upon it? Are their loyalties higher than to family or a community of belief?

To the family or community of belief, I can understand how it would be hard not to say “no.” And yet, to assume this stance is to elevate the family, or community of belief, or in some cases, the state, to a kind of godhood, requiring one’s ultimate allegiance. As troubling is the violation of conscience involved in enforcing belief against the will of another that can only result in either the destruction of personhood, or the alienation of relationship.

A change of mind is unsettling. It may raise the fear of what will happen to the person who has changed. Perhaps it raises the question of whether we have been wrong. It reminds us  that belief for all of us is living in this place between reason and the unknowns of our lives. Yet the fact that we care so much speaks to our shared belief of both the importance of matters of ultimate concern, and the intrinsic value of the person changing her mind.

Might it be that the pursuit of truth is more important than preserving boundaries of families, communities of belief, or states? Might agreeing to this principle actually serve to forge bonds across our differences? Might agreeing to this save families, not from difference, but heartache?

It is for reasons like these that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the following statement in Article 18:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Likewise, the flip side of this idea is that no change of belief should be forced. Actually it seems to me a measure of the integrity of any system of belief that it both renounces any effort to compel belief, or to constrain those who would change their beliefs.

Perhaps on this we could agree. Perhaps.

The Month in Reviews: October 2014

As the days shortened and the nights grew chillier, my reading this month tended toward the weightier, with wonderful respites of George MacDonald fantasy and Civil War fictional history and the first installment of Morris’s Teddy Roosevelt biography. At the same time, I explored the question of secularity as a definition of reality, freedom of conscience, a theology of the Holy Spirit and an intellectual and social history of the religious right. Here’s the list of books from the past month:

1. Is Reality Secular?, Mary Poplin. Poplin challenges the secularist assumptions that govern, as she sees it, public discourse and explores four different worldviews and their take on reality.

2. Earthquake StormsJohn Dvorak. Dvorak gives us a combination of history, biography and science in a fascinating account of the history of the San Andreas fault.

realityearthquakesrise3. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris. This is the first of a three volume biography on the life of Teddy Roosevelt, tracing his adventures from sickly childhood through young rancher, civil servant to the fateful day he learns he has become President at the death of McKinley.

4. Meditation and Communion with God, John Jefferson Davis. Davis seeks to articulate an evangelical theology of spiritual formation and relationship with God.

5. The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald. This classic fantasy explores themes of evil and courage and faith in the intersection between the goblins, Princess Irene, Curdie, her “great grandmother” and the King.

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6. The Global Public Square, Os Guinness.  This book argues that a public square safe for diversity is one that protects freedom of conscience for all.

7. Spirit of Life, Jurgen Moltmann. Moltmann’s theology of the Holy Spirit. The title is important, as this book is an exploration of the Spirit’s role in our embodied existence.

8. A Blaze of Glory, Jeff Shaara. This is Shaara’s slightly fictionalized account of the Battle of Shiloh and explores what a near run thing this was to a Confederate victory.

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9. The Cross and Gendercide, Elizabeth Gerhardt. This book breaks new ground in giving a theological basis in the cross of Christ for Christian advocacy and resistance against violence toward women and girls.

10. Blueprint for Theocracy, James C. Sanford. A carefully researched study of the theology behind the Christian Right and actions resulting from this theology, marred, I thought, by its scare-mongering tone.

What will I be reading and reviewing in the coming weeks? I’m in the midst of the second volume of the Teddy Roosevelt biography, covering his presidential years, a book on the life of the apostle Paul, an exploration of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and a book on modern literature and the question of belief. Soon, I will be picking up the next installment in Jeff Shaara’s western battles of the Civil War series, which focuses on Vicksburg. I also am planning to read the sequel to The Princess and the Goblin, titled The Princess and Curdie.

What will you be reading in November?

 

 

Review: The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity

The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity
The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity by Os Guinness
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18.

Os Guinness has penned this extended argument as both defense of and elaboration of how this statement passed in the United Nations in 1948 might shape the public squares of our countries nearly 70 years later, in a climate where this “first freedom” may be less enjoyed now than in 1948. Guinness argues here not for the privileging of any religion, or merely for religion at all. Rather his basic argument is that freedom is conscience is one of the things that defines us as human beings. He would argue this applies equally to the atheist and the materialist, as it does to any religious believer and that the compromise of this freedom, by the state or by competing belief systems, weakens this freedom not just for those immediately attacked but for all. Therefore, Guinness argues for neither a sacred public square, privileging a particular religion, nor a naked public square, banishing all religious belief from public discourse, but rather a civil public square where diverse beliefs, religious and secular, might listen and seek to persuade one another with regard to the well-lived life and the well-ordered society.

Guinness expresses grave concern over the impairing of the freedom of conscience in various parts of the world. His concern is not simply the forced conversions of religious believers in parts of Africa and the Middle East or the continuing persecution of religious believers in Communist countries. He equally, and especially has concern for the West, and what he sees are incursions on the singular freedoms of speech and conscience enshrined in documents such as our Bill of Rights. He would argue that mandates in health care laws that force religious organizations to provide abortion and other medical benefits contrary to their faith are such an infringement, as are the bans of religious groups on university campuses who “discriminate” because they require leaders (not participants) to affirm the religious beliefs of the group. He argues that while such impairments of liberty may not affect most of us, we may be witnessing a “death of a thousand cuts.” Each chapter concludes with this peroration:

It is time, and past time, to ponder the question. What does it say of us and our times that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could not be passed today? And what does it say of the future of freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief if it can be neglected and threatened even in the United States, where it once developed most fully–that it can be endangered anywhere? Who will step forward now to champion the cause of freedom for the good of all and for the future of humanity?

Guinness has not left this task to others. In addition to this book, and his recent A Free People’s Suicide which I reviewed earlier this year, Guinness helped draft the Global Charter of Conscience, published in Brussels at the European Parliament in June of 2012. It articulates both the inherent rights of freedom of conscience and the necessary responsibilities any society must undertake to sustain that right.

Some might think this either unnecessary fear-mongering on one hand, or impossible idealism on the other. My own sense is that it is a clarion-call alerting us to not take for granted the singular freedoms we have enjoyed in the west and a well-thought out proposal for extending these freedoms in contextually appropriate ways throughout the world.

A friend of mine who is an ancient historian observed that violence, the execution of enemies of a different faith, and the forced conversion of women and children has been the way of the world throughout most of human history. The experience of freedom of speech and conscience of the last few centuries in the West, with all its problems and limits, has been a singular space of civility in a brutal world. If Guinness is right (and I think he is) the choice before us is whether to protect and seek to extend that civil space or to revert to the brutality that is characteristic of most of humanity through most of history that quashes the very thing that makes us most deeply human, our freedom of thought and conscience.

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Freedom of Worship = Freedom of Religion — Not!

Have you noticed lately how the language of “freedom of worship” has cropped up in our political discourse? That sounds like a good thing, something Americans have always stood for. Actually, it represents a shift in our rhetoric from the language of freedom of religion, which is a much broader concept. Why does this matter?

It matters because the concept of ‘freedom of worship’ has to do with simply protecting what one does in religious assemblies and that the state won’t intrude on these or on one’s private practices of religious expression. What it does however is represent a movement toward confining religious protection to religious assemblies and one’s private life. It does not protect the freedom of conscience of religious people (or for that matter those who embrace any philosophical view) in their public life or protect the expression of points of view that are religiously grounded in the public arena.

Progressive evangelical, Jim Wallis, has noted on various occasions, including this interview, that the gospel is personal, but never private. To confine religious expression and practice to houses of worship or one’s private life is essentially to say that in other realms, the state is supreme and that in these realms allegiance to the state, its laws, practices, and ethical standards, transcends one’s religious beliefs. It makes the state, rather than local communities and marketplaces of ideas and commerce, the final arbiter on a whole array of matters. In the past, we have described other societies who do so as tyrannies who violate fundamental human rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights  does not similarly confine religious expression and practice to a merely “private” sphere or speak merely of “freedom of worship”. Article 18 states:

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

This declaration argues for freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It recognizes that to ask people to act in ways that violate conscience is a fundamental infringement on human dignity and freedom. It allows people to change their religion or belief without fear of reprisal. And it allows for the public as well as private manifestation of belief not only in teaching and worship, but in practice and observance.

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I am not arguing for the establishment or privileging of any religion, least of all my own. Whenever this has occurred it tends to be to the detriment of the religion! Rather, I am contending for the protection of religious conscience, religiously grounded expression of ideas, and religiously informed ethical practice in public life. I would contend that all humans are “religious” in some sense and all have basic worldviews that frame their thinking, expression and ethical practice. Actually, I think the religious versus secular distinction to be false–secularism is also a religious point of view and equally should not be privileged.

What it all comes down to is that language matters. We have enjoyed a rare and wonderful expression of religious freedom and recognition, at least in principle, of the dignity of people, regardless of their beliefs, or other attributes. But such a freedom is not inevitable or inviolable. It can be eroded, redefined, and limited. Those who would use language to do so should be watchful because in this and so many other things, there may be others who use the same tactics even more skillfully. Protecting freedom is messy because it means protecting those we don’t like or agree with, not just ourselves. Yet it seems to me that the alternative is even messier…