Posts tagged with: State religion

0701whitefieldpreachingHow did religious freedom develop in America? It didn’t happen the way most of us were taught in school—whether in elementary school or law school. In fact, notes legal scholar Richard Garnett, the “standard story” about religious freedom in Early America is profoundly misleading:

In my experience, this “standard story” is familiar to most Americans, whether or not they are historians or constitutional lawyers, though lawyers have probably been more exposed to and influenced by it than most. In this account, our sophisticated and “enlightened” Founding Fathers—with far-seeing Virginians like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the lead—took special care to write and design a “godless” constitution so as to spare our new political community and experiment from the superstition and strife that, they knew all too well, had ravaged and torn Europe in the preceding centuries. In this story, the First Amendment was crafted and constitutionalized so as to entrench a principle—a “wall”—of church-state separation and ensure a secular “public” sphere, with religion protected, but confined within, the “private” realm.

This story is not true. In fact, America’s revolution and constitution were shaped not only by the Enlightenment but also by the Great Awakening, by preachers as well as pamphleteers. And, as John Witte describes in Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment, the Founding-era arguments about religious freedom under law included not just “Enlightenment thinkers” but also “congregational Puritans,” “Free Church Evangelicals,” and “Civic Republicans.” It would not have been difficult to identify a consensus in favor of the liberty of religious conscience and a distinction between religious and political authority and office, but this consensus obtained at a high level of generality and allowed for variation and disagreement with respect to many—indeed most—questions and applications. And, it seems very unlikely that the First Amendment was widely seen as embodying, let alone entrenching, much beyond an aversion to a nationally established church, backed and propped up by legal coercion, of the kind they knew existed elsewhere. Hardly anyone, if anyone, thought that the ratification of the First Amendment meant that something called “religion” was now legally barred from the “public” or that, as a result of that provision, the constitutional validity of laws and policies was contingent on a judicial determination that they did not rest on “religious” beliefs or motives.

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The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has issued its 2015 annual report on religious liberty around the world. In their report, the USCIRF documents religious freedom abuses and violations in 33 countries and makes county-specific policy recommendations for U.S. policy. One country worthy of particular attentions is Afghanistan.

religiousfreedomreport2015For the past nine years USCIRF has designated Afghanistan as a country of particular concern, a country where the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government are serious and are characterized by at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” standard. As the report notes,

Afghanistan’s legal system remains deeply flawed, as the constitution explicitly fails to protect the individual right to freedom of religion or belief, and it and other laws have been applied in ways that violate international human rights standards.

Notice that the country has been on the list since two years after the adoption of their new constitution—a constitution that the U.S. helped to create.

In 2004, after U.S. military and allied forces overthrew the Taliban, American diplomats helped draft a new Afghani constitution. Many people around the world were hoping the result would be similar to the constitution of Turkey—or at least be distinguishable from the constitution of Iran. Instead, what was created—with the help of the U.S. government—was an Islamic Republic, a state in which “no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam.”

While the White House issued a statement calling it an “important milestone in Afghanistan’s political development,” the USCIRF had the courage to admit what we were creating: Taliban-lite.

The Emperor Constantine with his mother Helen, both traditionally commemorated as saints.

The Emperor Constantine with his mother Helen, both traditionally commemorated as saints of the Church.

This month marks the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan. While much debate surrounds the relationship of Church and state in Christian Rome, even key figures like the Emperor Constantine (traditionally considered a saint by both East and West), the Edict of Milan is something that anyone who values liberty, religious liberty in particular, ought to commemorate as a monumental achievement. While a previous edict in 311 had offered some toleration to Christians, who spent almost their first 300 years having to fear for their lives any one of many local outbreaks of persecution that periodically plagued Pagan Rome, the Edict of Milan for the first time granted the Church the same status, including property rights, as other religions. It did not establish Christianity as the state religion (that would not happen until the end of the fourth century). Even then, the history, like all history, is messy. Often different emperors had widely different practical perspectives toward their role (or lack thereof) in religion. As Lord Acton has stated, liberty is the “delicate fruit of a mature civilization,” and that includes religious liberty and Christian Rome. In all cases, it was not a total separation of Church and state, but it was an achievement, a maturation if only for a time, that marked the end of centuries of martyrdom for Christians in the Roman (now Byzantine) empire. (more…)