Acton Institute Powerblog

Why Religious Liberty Arguments Aren’t Working

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Protect-Religious-Freedom-Rally-SignThe recent pushback against state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Acts has sent a signal that, as Utah legislator Stuart Adams say, “the landscape of protecting religious liberty has changed. Permanently.” Many Christians are drawing similar conclusions about the cause of religious liberty being all but lost. I think this view is premature and that, to paraphrase John Paul Jones, we have not yet begun to fight.

But our arguments aren’t for religious liberty certainly aren’t as persuasive as they should be. The reason, as Jennifer Roback Morse explains, is that such arguments are not “compelling enough to induce our fellow citizens to sacrifice something they value, namely, sexual liberty.” Morse identifies three reasons for this:

An increasing number of our fellow citizens do not believe in any god. A substantial number describe themselves as spiritual but not religious.

The American religious situation at the time of the American Founding was quite different. James Madison spoke for most when he regarded religion as “the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it.” When so many people do not regard themselves as having any “duty to the Creator,” the social foundation that made religious liberty appealing or even intelligible, no longer exists.

So, Reason #1 why religious liberty arguments are not working: People who don’t believe in God, couldn’t give a rip whether we religious believers are inconvenienced in our religious practice.

Secondly, the controversies over religious liberty are not about transubstantiation or the Trinity or predestination. We are arguing about sex: abortion, contraception, homosexuality and similar topics.

Our fellow citizens have absorbed and are committed to a particular view about the meaning of human sexuality and its place in our lives. Millions of people have ordered their lives around these beliefs. They are not going to give up those views, in the absence of an attractive alternative.

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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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