October 25, 2012
Arkes, "Is Religious Freedom a 'Natural Right'?"
At Right Reason, Prof. Hadley Arkes considers whether religious freedom is a "natural right." A taste:
. . . How is there anything, in the mandates on contraception, that is aptly countered by a claim of "religious freedom" standing against the law? Bishop Lori and his brother bishops, accomplished men that they are, were not able to break out of this box. The heart of the problem, again, is that they have not been able to explain whether the freedom they are asserting is really grounded in reason, in an understanding of natural right, or whether they are claiming to be aggrieved distinctly as Catholics and theists by an assault on matters of "faith" that are not shared with everyone else in the population. What is missing is precisely the account offered by John Paul II on Catholicism constituted both by faith and reason: There was the revelation to the Jews, enlarged by the revelation of Christ and his mission, but fortified as John Paul II said, by the tradition of Greek philosophy. He remarked in Fides et Ratio that it fell to the "fathers of philosophy to bring to light the link between reason and religion." . . .
He concludes with this:
Without that underlying moral understanding and the doctrines of natural law, it would be impossible to explain a regime in which a system of law is built upon a body of first principles forming a fundamental law (or a "constitution"). Without that accompanying faith it would be hard to explain why we seem to think that human beings, wherever we find them, will have an equal claim to our sympathy and respect; that they are made in the image of something higher; that they are creatures of reason who deserve to be ruled with the rendering reasons for the laws imposed on them. Without all of that, it becomes harder to explain why we can accord to them the standing of "bearers of rights" flowing to them by nature. In short, then, without the moral understanding sustained now mainly by the religious, it would be hard to take seriously the notion that there are natural rights that command our respect because they are grounded in truths about "the human person." That is the case for religion as a natural right, and the measure of our desperation is that, in the current state of our public life, the bishops find the gravest test of their preparation and learning as they try to explain the matter to their own public in a post-literate age.
There's a lot more, so read the whole thing.
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