Acton Institute Powerblog

What Exactly is ‘Religious Freedom’?

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indiana-religiousfreedomOver the past few weeks the American media has revealed two important truths: (1) Religious freedom has become a surprisingly divisive and controversial topic, and (2) very few people understand what is meant by the term “religious freedom.”

Is religious freedom merely the liberty to attend worship services? Is the freedom limited to internal beliefs or does it also apply to actions taken in the public square? Should religious freedom ever trump other societal goods?

Joseph Backholm of the Family Policy Institute of Washington examines those questions and explains what religious freedom entails:

As the debate raged, one thing became clear. Everyone says they believe in religious freedom, but there are very different understandings of what that means.

As one post on my social media feed stated, “Religious freedom is about the right to worship how you want on your own time.” Lots of people “liked” it.

But is it true? Is religious freedom about church and the right to say your prayers?

The American idea of religious freedom is rooted in the First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Those eager to take a narrow view of religious freedom often cite Reynolds v. the United States when the Supreme Court said, “Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious beliefs and opinions, they may with practices.”

This seems to suggest that the government can control our actions, even those we say are “religious.”

Read more . . .

(Via: Gene Veith)

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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