The question seems, on its face, silly. We are Americans. We value religious freedom and we have since before the Founding.
Religious freedom is the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights. It comes before the freedom of speech and assembly and before freedom of the press.
It is the freedom that stands as the primary bulwark of our constitutional republic.
But why? Why religious freedom?
The answer is multi-faceted, but here are a few thoughts.
First, religious freedom is the universal right of every human being. Every person has the right to freely worship their God in the manner they see fit. This is a matter of basic human dignity, and that dignity deserves protection.
Second, religious freedom is the ultimate protection against government overreach and intrusion into our lives.
Without religious freedom, government is free to invade and control the most personal of human relationships: our relationship with our God.
A stunning example of this invasion is found in China where the government has banned reincarnation without government permission.
If a government has the power to control our personal relationship with deity, then that government’s power is truly unlimited and totalitarian. If you believe in limited government, you believe in religious freedom.
Third, religious freedom is good for women. As religious freedom expands in a country the purchasing power of women tend to grow. Additionally, where religious freedom is high, you will find higher levels of earned income. Unsurprisingly, where religious freedom is high, women tend to enjoy better educational opportunities.
Fourth, religious freedom is good for the economy.
Brian Grim, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center, has found that nations and locales with higher levels of religious freedom tend to be more economically prosperous. One reason for this might be that where religious freedom is high there are fewer incidents of violent, armed conflict as groups respect each other’s right to believe and worship what they wish. Another reason could be that where there is more religious freedom there is more individual freedom and political freedom, which are both correlated with economic prosperity.
Fifth, religious freedom helps protect minority rights. Religious freedom protected by law helps religious minorities — which in America are in large part, if not primarily, people of color — by ensuring government and society cannot discriminate against them.
Believers who belong to majority religions do not necessarily need legal religious freedom protections, because their members are legislators, judges, police officers, governors, and presidents. This is not the case with those who belong to minority religions. They need legally protected religious freedoms so the majority cannot infringe on their rights and their fundamental human dignity. Thus, religious freedom is important to minority rights and racial equality.
There are many more answers to the question, but ultimately it is important to realize religious freedom is an integral part of a bundle of human freedoms that helps people progress socio-economically. Take away or infringe on religious freedom, and the bundle of human rights unravels.
For those interested in learning more about the importance of religious freedom, I suggest the works of Michael McConnell. He is a former law professor at University of Utah, University of Chicago and, now, Stanford. He was also a judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. He is the preeminent scholar on the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause and Establishment Clause. A great primer on the subject is Why Is Religious Liberty the “First Freedom”?, 21 Cardozo L. Rev. 1243 (1999–2000).
Also, if anyone would like citations related to anything contained in this article, feel free to contact the author. Citations were not included in the article’s text to make the article easier to read.
Originally posted at Publius Online.
- Religious Freedom Restoration Act: Why doesn’t Utah have one? (publiusonline.com)