Freedom of Religion

So I’ve been thinking: does the ideal of religious freedom in America actually prevent the capacity of people to live peaceably?

In other words, if religion and it’s interpretations can be used in such broad and sweeping ways ought not certain theologies of destruction and destraction be regulated? Or would this regulation just lead to an even more destructive and now underground force in the world?

Again, this may assume that a goal in civil society is peaceful coexistence.


6 thoughts on “Freedom of Religion

  1. Here’s what I’m thinking: the separation of church and state may occasionally be frustrating to people of faith, but it does help to put a check, not upon theologies of destruction, but at least upon acting on those theologies. Freedom of religion means (to me) being able to believe what one wants to believe and to practice one’s beliefs within the bounds of civil society. If one’s theologies come into conflict with civil society (as they often do for me as well) then one is free to engage in civil disobedience–but also to experience the consequences of the law. Fwiw.

    I also recognize that “civil society,” even while touting its solely secular aims, in some instances may reflect a theology or cosmology one finds abhorrent. But for that reason to reject a rational ideal of the civil world leads us back into the realms of relativism as surely as (as some charge) the civil world itself does.

  2. It seems the only way to have both religious freedom and peaceful society is to put a reasonable (if arbitrary) limits on both. No limits on just one would lead to a complete downfall of the other.

    If that’s the case, then what is a reasonable restriction of religious freedom? And what’s a reasonable restriction to peaceful living?

    My personal opinion would be similar to Connie’s, that both religious freedom and peaceful living exist in the context of basic human rights, which give rise to society and law. However, I recognize that some religious doctrine cuts at the very root of that statement, defining human rights in context of religion.

    So to answer you question… look at that, time for dinner.

  3. So, are you saying that religious freedom is at the root of people NOT living peaceably? That freedom to worship according to one’s own conscience is part of the problem?

  4. Connie- Agreed, with regards to the consequences of one’s action; however, what does one do when those actions begin to take the form of civil law. In other words, I keep running into the same problem: if yes to religious freedom, then law cannot to easily interfere with the practices thereof. But, if there is limited religious freedom, then it feels like we are saying that in fact, there is no room for pluralism in the world. What then?

    I hear ya! But what happens when religious freedom isn’t respected by the law; especially with regards to religious practices of living peaceably? Say for instance in the case of a parent who wants to refuse medical treatment to their child for religious reasons. For some, this is a destructive decision on behalf of the parent. But from a religious freedom perspective, this might be just an expression of their rights? What then?

    Leslie- I think that in fact the amount of individualism that has crept into the practice of religion may be part of the problem. Not plurality of interpretation, but individualism beyond communalism. That is to say, there are far too many Indians and not enough Chiefs (as it were?).

    Is this really just a matter of control and authority?

    Thanks for the continued banter.

  5. Josh-
    But that’s the very issue at hand, isn’t it? There have to be limits on both religious freedom and peaceful living, but who sets those limits? That seems to be a question that each country on the planet is trying to answer.

    Regardless of the country, people tend to think that society is governed by morals, but it’s not. It’s governed by the law, which is made by people who have morals. The result of this seems like a running venn diagram with fuzzy edges. There are clear issues on which everyone agrees, and there are issues on which none agree.

    There are obvious situations where one can have too much religious freedom. For example, let’s say a dog-eater lives next door and it’s required by his religion to eat any dogs within 1000 feet of his house. It’s an obvious intrusion of my peaceful living if he eats my dog, but it’s a limit on his religion if he can’t.

    And there are obvious situations of religious freedom being too limited on the grounds of others’ peaceful living. For example, let’s say your neighbor is non-religious, and there happens to be a law forbidding any prayer within 1000 feet of a non-religious person, which results in you not being able to pray in your own house.

    The fringe cases, while absurd, illustrate the fact that absolute freedom in one area leads to very limited freedom (if any) in other areas.

    So it seems like each of the fuzzy cases needs to be handled by each society on a case-by-case basis.


  6. Great discussion on this. I think it’s right to say there must be limits on both, and then to ask how we discern where the limits are rightly placed.

    I don’t think drawing the lines needs to be arbitrary. The old-school Christian teaching is that grace perfects nature, and thus any theological claim which violates natural law is false. Hence, if someone’s religion requires her to sacrifice a virgin to the new moon, we have adequate grounds (natural reason + natural theology) to have the authorities enforce a proscription on human sacrifice.

    So freedom of religion within the bounds of respecting the natural law and people’s natural rights is a clear theoretical boundary. Of course, that gets messy in practice because we’re fallen and now see through a glass darkly.

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