A Simple Case for Religious Liberty

As John Stonestreet and I argue in our book Same-Sex Marriagewe are currently undergoing one of the most sweeping social revolutions in world history. Until theObergefell v. Hodges SCOTUS decision in 2015, the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman was the understanding of virtually every civilization throughout history. But this has all changed.

Now that marriage has been redefined, the law, our educational system, and other social customs have begun to change as well. As a result, there is a great tension between belief in religious liberty and claims of discrimination. Can Catholic adoption agencies operate according to their convictions that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, or is this discriminatory towards gay couples who want to adopt? Should the law coerce people to use the preferred gender pronoun of people with gender dysphoria?

Secular Case Religious Liberty

Is Liberty Worth Protecting?

At the heart of this debate is whether or not religious liberty is worth protecting. Does the state have interest in preserving religious liberty? In my experience, few people (including religious people) understand why religious liberty is so valuable for both the government and society.

I was recently reading Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination, which is a thoughtful and respectful dialogue between Ryan T. Anderson/Sherif Girgis and John Corvino. In their opening remarks, Ryan T. Anderson and Sherif Girgis offer a brief case for the state’s interest in preserving religious freedom. It is the best I have heard.

A Simple Case for Religious Liberty

While this section certainly won’t end debate, it is the starting-point of an argument that must be heard. Many questions remain, but nevertheless, here is the beginning of a simple case for religious liberty:

For all their differences, this splendid range of people from every corner of every culture across thousands of years would [Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Muslims, etc.] agree that much hangs on exploring religious questions and living by the answers. Even those who end up atheists or agnostic are compelled to search by a sense of the value of achieving harmony with whatever ultimate source of meaning there might be.

As a basic human good, religious consists of efforts to align your life with the truth about whatever transcendent source (or sources) of being, meaning, and value there might be. It’s about efforts to honor or find harmony with that source—call it “divine.” Relationship with the divine, like human friendship, must be freely chosen to be authentic. To coerce is to produce a counterfeit. So respect for your basic interest in religion demands respect for your freedom in pursuing it. For this basic good, religious liberty is a precondition.

And hence the state, which exists to protect the ability of people to pursue all the basic goods, must never directly attack this freedom. It must never require or forbid an act on religious grounds—for example, on the ground that its religious rationale is true or false, or that the associated religious community should shrink or grow. But the same basic good also requires the state to avoid needless incidental limits on religious freedom. These arise where your faith calls for you to shape your whole life by the divinity’s demands: in preaching and conversion, pilgrimage and prayer, building and worship, ritual, ascetical struggle, charitable work and Sabbath rest. All of these might conflict with legitimate laws. The state can’t avoid a conflict every time. It has to protect the wide range of basic goods for all of society, even at the expense of some instances of them, religion included. But because religion, like moral integrity, is itself one of the basic goods to be protected, the state should avoid imposition on wherever reasonably possible.[1]

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

[1] Ryan T. Anderson, Sherif Girgis, & John Corvino, Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 130-131.

 


 

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12 replies
  1. Andy Ryan says:

    Yet this website supports Donald Trump, who tried to ban Muslims from entering the country. I find it hard to avoid the conclusion that the bloggers here don’t actually care about the concept of religious liberty at all. At best they want to protect the rights of a sub section of Christians.

    Reply
  2. Andy Ryan says:

    “At the heart of this debate is whether or not religious liberty is worth protecting”

    The heart is the tension between different types of liberty. Fifty years ago people cited religion to justify denying others the right to interracial marriage. When the courts weighed in favour of the latter, was that a blow to religious liberty? Most now would argue it was a blow in favour of the rights of interracial couples. It didn’t mean people valued religious liberty any less than they did before, they just recognised it couldn’t be used as a justification to deny a black woman the right to marry a white man. Similarly, laws for gay marriage were about recognising the rights of a man to marry another man etc. It wasn’t about denigrating religious rights. If you claim it’s your religious right to burn down my house, I’m not opressing your rights if I put out the flames.

    Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        Long on insult and short on actual points, Charlie. Try showing what you believe I got wrong. Until then I’ll figure you’re just smarting because you know I’m right.

        Reply
  3. Bob Seidensticker says:

    “As John Stonestreet and I argue in our book Same-Sex Marriage, we are currently undergoing one of the most sweeping social revolutions in world history.”

    You live in a very sheltered world if this tops the list for you.

    “Until the Obergefell v. Hodges SCOTUS decision in 2015, the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman was the understanding of virtually every civilization throughout history. But this has all changed.”

    *Now* it’s changed? Perhaps you have a short memory, or maybe you’re not as old as I am. Just in my lifetime, mixed-race marriage has been made legal, divorce has been changed so that it’s much easier to get out of a bad marriage, marital rape is now a thing (and is illegal), and “Head and master” laws (which allowed the husband to have the final say regarding jointly owned property) were finally abolished in 1979. Then add all the odd differences between states—minimum age to be married, marriage to cousins allowed, requirements for divorced people, required blood test, time limits, and so on—and you can see that “marriage” is a moving target.

    Don’t tell me that marriage was defined as polygamy in the Old Testament and hasn’t changed since.

    “At the heart of this debate is whether or not religious liberty is worth protecting.”

    Who doubts that religious liberty is worth protecting? The heart of the debate is: what is “religious liberty”? Is it freedom of conscience and the right to share your beliefs? Or is it the Kim Davis approach, where (apparently) every state employee gets to decide what laws she will or won’t deign to support?

    “Even those who end up atheists or agnostic are compelled to search by a sense of the value of achieving harmony with whatever ultimate source of meaning there might be.”

    More important: if religious people can’t speak their mind, why would atheists think they would be allowed to?

    “[Government] must never require or forbid an act on religious grounds”

    Yes, separation of church and state is a core principle. I marvel that many Christians don’t seem to get this and want to push that line continually.

    “because religion, like moral integrity, is itself one of the basic goods to be protected, the state should avoid imposition on wherever reasonably possible.”

    This identifies the problem. Unfortunately, it does nothing to clarify how to avoid it.

    Reply
    • Clinton says:

      The Kim Davis approach was to do with freedom of conscience. She didn’t want her name attached to a marriage certificate that was contrary to her conscience.
      Separation between church and state was found in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, and he was saying he understood the first amendment. It is not anywhere in the Constitution. This letter was not to keep church influence out of state, but to keep the state out of the church, hence the establishment clause. Church member don’t have to to check there beliefs at the door anymore than an athiest does. The bill of rights protects the freedoms of individuals. If only athiest were allowed in government, it’s obvious that there wouldn’t be religious freedom at all judging by the many who are extremely hostile to Christians and make it their life’s work to try to shut it down.

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        Simple question, Clinton: would you accept someone saying it was contrary to their conscience to allow interracial marriage? How’s about contrary to their conscience to allow Christians to marry?
        “If only athiest were allowed in government”
        It’s ‘atheist’. There are practically no ‘out’ atheists politicians in the US. Who is trying to ‘shut down’ Christians? I think you’ve grown so used to privilege that equality looks like oppression to you.

        Reply
        • Clinton says:

          Ok. You’re going to attack a spelling error?
          Interracial marriage wasn’t a topic in the conversation. Christians weren’t the only people opposed to that idiocy, and I haven’t met many people who still are, with the exception of a few oddballs out there. And no. It’s not contrary to the Bible. I don’t recall the last time someone refused a marriage to an interracial couple. That practice was pretty long ago. On top of that, picking out someone who has, doesn’t make it the norm for everyone else.
          There’s practically no out athiest politicians in the US? Just look at Bernie Sanders.
          Organizations such as freedom from religion foundation, American atheists, and organization for separation between church and state.. these organizations are constantly filing lawsuits against everything religious. There was a Bible club a a elementary school, they filed a lawsuit, or threatened one, something like that, to shut it down. And they were proud of that. There was the cross in a park in Pensacola FL, and they were there fighting to get it removed because it offended them. Why does a cross or any other statue offend someone. Go to the park and enjoy the park. That cross isn’t going to hurt anyone. It’s just a cross. An inanimate object. I’m sure there’s a lot of atheist, Christians and Muslims who wouldn’t want to be around satanic temples, but that’s being ramrodded through in some parks.
          I never said I was being oppressed. I haven’t dealt with anything more than criticism, but there’s several people out there losing their business, going to jail and things like that because they wouldn’t provide one service to a homosexual wedding. A lot of these situations could have easily been solved by going to another store and getting exactly what they wanted from someone else willing to provide their services at the wedding. None of these people named in lawsuits asked them if they were gay and then refused to sell them anything. The only thing they did was refuse to lend their services at a wedding because it was contrary to their conscience.
          Why would you want someone serving your wedding if they don’t agree with it. If a guest at your heterosexual wedding doesn’t want to be there, why would you want them there.
          Oh, and what privilege? I have to work hard to make a living, just like you. I have to pay bills. I have to repair my car. I have to show up to work on time and perform like I’m supposed to or I get fired. I have to buy and prepare my own food. Just like everyone else. I don’t have anymore or less rights than anyone else. I have my beliefs just like you have yours. I defend my views on a personal level, I don’t try to sue someone out of their beliefs because I don’t like it. If I walked into a store and got refused a service because of my views are contrary to theirs. Oh well, I’ll go down the street where someone is willing to sell me what I want.

          Reply
          • Clinton says:

            As a matter of fact, if we were both professors of something, science, philosophy whatever. Had the exact same credentials. Exact same experience. Both had students produce good grades.
            Who do think most colleges would hire first if they knew what our worldviews were?

        • Andy Ryan says:

          “You’re going to attack a spelling error?”
          No, I’m not. I might point one out – in fact I did in my last post. It didn’t help though, as you made the same mistake again straight after. Note here: again, I’m not attacking a spelling error, just pointing it out.
          .
          “Interracial marriage wasn’t a topic in the conversation”
          It is now. You either support someone’s right not to have her “name attached to a marriage certificate that was contrary to her conscience” or you don’t. If you only support it if their conscience agrees with yours then you don’t really support the principle. It’s irrelevant if you share a religion with that person, or indeed have exactly the same interpretation of that religion – either you believe their conscience trumps the law or you don’t.
          .
          “There’s practically no out atheist (sic) politicians in the US? Just look at Bernie Sanders”
          Bernie Sanders who explicitly says “I am not an atheist”? You can claim he’s lying, but he’s still not an ‘out atheist’. And even if he was, naming a single example of X doesn’t debunk a claim that ‘there’s practically no X’. In fact, I just tried to find a member of Congress who says they’re an atheist. I couldn’t.
          .
          “It’s just a cross. An inanimate object”
          How come so many Christians sent Andres Serrano death threats for his artwork ‘P*** Christ’ then? It’s disingenuous to pretend inanimate objects have no meaning attached to them. Regarding law suits, if someone’s breaking the law then they’re breaking the law. Campaign for a change in the law if it’s a huge problem, or move to a European country that still has a national religion.
          .
          “A lot of these situations could have easily been solved by going to another store”
          Yeah, and why couldn’t Rosa Parks have just taken her place at the back of the bus rather than caused such a fuss?
          .
          “Oh well, I’ll go down the street where someone is willing to sell me what I want”
          Because you live in a majority Christian country where you know most people are on your side. I hear this libertarian view a fair bit, defending any business’s right to refuse service on the basis of race, gender, sexuality or whatever, and it’s always been from well-off, straight, white men. In other words, people who very rarely if ever have had to deal with being refused service anywhere. I don’t know your ethnicity, of course.
          .
          “Who do think most colleges would hire first if they knew what our worldviews were?”
          You, if it was a Christian college. Either if it was any other kind of college.

          Reply
      • Susan says:

        Excellent research Clinton. I had no idea they had got the meaning of the separation of church and state backwards. But it makes sense when you look at the times they lived in.

        You tube has a video called Thomas Jefferson – The Truth About Separation of Church and State

        Watch “The Hidden Faith of the Founding Fathers 2010” by Adullam Films. It discloses a lot more about the history of those times.

        Also the short video “Enter the House of the Temple” on youtube.

        Reply
  4. Susan Tan says:

    Quote:
    As John Stonestreet and I argue in our book Same-Sex Marriage, we are currently undergoing one of the most sweeping social revolutions in world history. Until theObergefell v. Hodges SCOTUS decision in 2015, the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman was the understanding of virtually every civilization throughout history. But this has all changed.

    See the quote above. It is a common mistake of Christians today to think they have the right to judge the godless world’s morality. But we don’t judge unbelievers and their godless political systems.

    We judge other believers.

    Christians should have devoted a lot more activism and resources to evangelism. Evangelism is God’s charity and changes people and the world thereby.

    All these court case battles trying to regulate the world’s morality is just Christians playing defense but why do that?

    Just withdraw from the world and let it be known. We’re not the world so obviously we don’t observe the world’s ways but that gives us no right to regulate people who have rejected Jesus Christ. Christians can become separtists when the world turns too evil and ceases to make sense like the Puritans did. They separated themselves and left for the new world in America. Our problem is the world wants to follow Christians around no matter what we do there is always some unbeliever or worldly person or some person caught up in a false religion trying to meddle with Christians.

    If Catholicism hadn’t misled a good portion of the world for a long while then a lot more of this world would be Christian today.

    Our reality and values simply isn’t the values of the world and if they insist on being godless then shake the sand from your feet like in the Book of Titus and leave the godless world behind in it’s own chaos, mess and confusion.

    If they want out of the mess to obtain something better then they will seek Christians out and learn who God is and to play by His rules.

    There is a limit to how much Christians have to get caught up in ungodly messes. We’re suppose to remain unspotted by the world.

    If non-Christians don’t understand that they are spiritual orphans without Jesus Christ then that isn’t from a lack of Christian efforts. That is on them and their failure to understand God’s perspective and by getting offended at God’s simple truths.

    Any person on the Earth without Jesus Christ as savior is a spiritual orphan. That’s why spiritual birth through Christ alone is so important.

    How am I a Christian going to force non-family of God people to conform to rules and principles that the family of God conform to?

    We simply can’t. They lack the necessary motivation to conform to God so am I as a Christian and a citizen of heaven going to force heavenly compliance onto a group of worldly people without motivation.

    So much Christian activism is absurd.

    More Christians should be setting the example and dedicating themselves more to evangelism and charity. We can’t play cop over godless people all the time and waste all our resources and time on that but we can help them to become God loving people.

    Joseph Mattera has an interesting article called “The Difference Between an Orphan Spirit and a Spirit of Sonship” over on Charisma News with more to compare.

    And Renner Ministries has an article called “You’re Not A Spiritual Orphan” written to Christians on renner.org.

    I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
    — John 14:18

    Personally I am getting tired of reading the ranting and ravings of spiritual orphans who refuse to acknowledge Jesus Christ came to justify and adopt everybody. I am fed up with their antics and them letting their orphan attachment issues make chaos in this world and if they pass the boundaries of good morals and manners then in the interest of maintaining the peace and keeping our garments spotless then we need to leave these “orphans” on their own or at least they until they look up and see what chaos they have gotten into and come to enough of their senses to repent and start over.

    Reply

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