Thursday, December 19, 2013 4:19 AM

Religious Freedom Under Attack

Thursday, December 19, 2013 4:19 AM
Thursday, December 19, 2013 4:19 AM

Religious freedoms are first taken quietly and finally in a sudden blow. Not only is it important for the sake of believers, but societies as a whole flourish when the freedom to worship is protected. All fundamental freedoms are defended when religion is defended.

The phrase being used by our government officials of the present administration is “freedom of worship”. In fact, it is “freedom of religion” that our Constitution guarantees. There is a great difference and they know it. Their aim is to drive religious morality from the public square for the sake of same sex marriage and homosexuality. The following is excerpts from an article by Thomas F. Farr the director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center and the author of World of Faith and Freedom.

The State Department recently announced that it was dropping coverage of religious freedom from its annual Human Rights Report. This move may be part of a larger reprioritization in human rights policy in favor of the advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.

We are today in the midst of a global crisis in religious liberty. In two exhaustive studies, the Pew Research Center recently concluded that 70 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where religious freedom is severely restricted, by either governments or private actors. And the problem is getting worse. Of all the religious groups subject to persecution, Christians came out on top: They are harassed in 130 countries.

However, historically Christian Europe is the region with the largest proportion of nations where hostility toward religion is rising. Social hostility in the United Kingdom has increased so much that that country now stands with Iran and Saudi Arabia in the category of “high” social hostility to religion. French government restrictions have increased, too, moving it ahead of Cuba in that category.

And yet, the root cause is quite similar: a belief that religious freedom is not only unnecessary for human flourishing or social development, but that it poses a threat to these and other goods. What is new, and profoundly troubling, is that religious freedom is being rejected by democratic majorities as well as authoritarian regimes.

In short, religion in much of the West is no longer seen as intrinsic to human dignity and social flourishing. It is generally understood as merely an opinion and, as a species, a dangerous opinion at that. While it is fine to practice your religion in churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples, democracy requires that you leave it there. To bring it into politics endangers democracy.

And yet, at the very moment when religious liberty is under sustained pressure around the world, contemporary scholarship is demonstrating that societies desperately need it. The empirical work of sociologists Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke, for instance, shows that religious freedom is highly correlated with the consolidation and longevity of democracy, and with other goods, such as economic development, the equality of women, and the absence of violent religious extremism.

In sum: There is no rational content to religion; religious freedom means the right to worship, but not to bring religiously informed moral judgments into political life.

Thomas F. Farr is director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center and the author of World of Faith and Freedom: Why International Religious Liberty is Vital to American National Security (Oxford, 2008).

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