Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ryan Anderson on the challenges to religious freedom

At First Things, Ryan Anderson has posted a short piece summarizing the argument he advances in his new book, Truth Overruled:  The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom (available here).   Among other things, Anderson identifies succinctly three reasons why religious freedom (correctly understood) is vulnerable at present:  First, "government has changed"; second, "sexual values have changed"; and third, "religious liberty has changed."  

As Michael McConnell, Tom Berg, and John Garvey note in their excellent Law and Religion casebookReligion and the Constitution, it is (paraphrasing) relatively easy to protect and respect religious liberty when everyone agrees about the big questions and when governments don't do very much.  But, as governments do more, and as disagreement with respect to non-trivial matters (including, as Anderson points out, sexual morality) deepen, the occasions for conflict between religious believers and government actions and aims increase.  Add to this mix a diminishing commitment to religious freedom as a fundamental human right -- or, an increasing view that "religious freedom" is a special-interest concern only to people whose views are increasingly out of sync with academic and other elites -- and, well, we've got trouble.  

Anderson's First Things piece concludes with this:

So the three steps that have undone core elements of the American Founding—progressive government and the administrative state, the sexual revolution’s elevation of desire, and the whittling of religious free exercise down to the freedom to worship—all need to be countered. Political organizations, religious and civic organizations, and legal organizations will have to play their roles in empowering the citizenry to reclaim their government and culture. I offer a roadmap for these groups to follow in Truth Overruled.

Without a return to the principles of the American Founding— ordered liberty based on faith and reason, natural rights and morality, limited government and civil society—Americans will continue to face serious and perplexing challenges. The dilemmas faced by bakers and florists and charities and schools are only the beginning.

I am less confident than, it appears, Anderson is that government and culture are likely to be "reclaimed" in a way that will undo the developments that he (correctly, I think) identifies as having made religious freedom vulnerable.  (That said, if everyone were as civil, even-keeled, and charitable in public argument about controversial matters as Anderson is, I might have more confidence.)  Like Anderson, however, I think that the work of organizations like the Becket Fund is and will continue to be crucial, in order to protect space for believers and institutions alike not only to worship and pray privately but also to teach, serve, bear witness, and inspire by example.  

Anderson writes (and I agree) that "[t]rue religious liberty entails the freedom to live consistently with one’s beliefs seven days a week—in the chapel, in the marketplace, and in the public square."  At the same time, I do not think it is likely that, "in the marketplace" (and in public employment) employers, employees, and business organizations whose owners hold traditional beliefs about sexual morality will be accommodated through exemptions from nondiscrimination laws.  As I see it, the live and pressing issue on which religious-freedom advocates should focus, now and going forward, is on the importance of making sure that the government's (and others') many carrots and sticks -- accreditation requirements, licensing standards, public-forum access, public-funds eligibility, television contracts, merchandising agreements, tax exemptions, student-loan-participation rules -- are not used to force religious educational, healthcare, and social-welfare institutions to assimilate, homogenize, or give up their distinct religious character and mission.


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