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Is America’s Religious Freedom Under Attack?

We’ve been reading about Germany, where Jews and Muslims could face legal consequences for circumcising their (male) children. In Saudi Arabia, witches are getting beheaded. In Nigeria and Kenya, fanatical “Islamic” groups are murdering Christians in batches, and in Mali, they are desecrating ancient Sufi tombs.

So how bad are things here?

Fortunately, our blog stablemate Peter Berger, perhaps the most eminent American sociologist and student of religion active today, offers a judicious analysis of the claim that religious freedom is endangered in America. He begins:

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced a “Fortnight of Freedom” to last from June 21 to July 4. The event, based on the presupposition that religious freedom is endangered in this country, is planned as a very visible demonstration. The “Fortnight” not only ends with the celebration of the major patriotic holiday, but includes the feast day of John Fisher and Thomas More, both martyrs to the Roman Catholic faith, executed for treason for refusing to accept King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England… The planned event will have a closing mass, on July 4, at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception; the celebrant is to be Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington. In other words, the bishops are deploying massive symbolic artillery. Is the presupposition of the event plausible? Is there a crisis of religious freedom in this country?

Read the whole thing to find out Peter’s answer.

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  • ms

    I read this article, but found the answer rather odd. Comparatively, he says, the answer is no, there is no crises, but by our standards the answer is yes. Most of the article supports the yes, but the initial no response gives the whole argument a rather namby-pamby feel. I think this is because the author supports the chief challenges to religious freedom, but at the same time sees that they are serious challenges.

    Why don’t we stick with the yes and admit that religious freedom is under attack in the US? Two issues are especially salient here: Obama’s attempt to force insurance companies for religious institutions to pay for abortifacients and contraceptives and gay marriage.

    Here’s the thing–religious people have a rule book by which they live. I understand that some rules in the book were made for different times and cultures, but that does not change the fact that there is a core body of belief found in the Bible that compels Christians to act and believe in certain ways. At the heart of those rules are life itself–particularly the way new lives are brought into the world and nurtured. These are central matters about which the rules in the book are very clear. They are thus matters of conscience that heretofore have not been forced or breached in our nation.

    There are powerful constituencies that would like to force religious people to abandon beliefs that are spelled out very strongly in the Bible. They sometimes do it in the name of equality. Whatever. Equality simply means treating like things alike. People who can produce children are not the same a people who can’t. Birth control is very cheap and those who want to use it can obtain it for themselves.

    Now, I do not condemn people who hold beliefs and practice behaviors that are different from mine. They are children of God, and as a Christian, I understand that I must leave judgment to God. I can therefore live and let live as long as I am allowed to live by my conscience.

    The problem is that those who would foist their misguided version of “equality” on me are often very self-righteous and do not care about conscience or belief systems that help people understand how they fit into a world created by God. Often they think such people are wrong, and not only wrong but “bigoted.” When they think this way, they do not want to live and let live, they think those who disagree, who follow the Bible, must be crushed. Interestingly, IMO it is religious belief–that judgment is left to God–that gives people the ability to be tolerant.

    I don’t see any good answers to these problems. Religious people cannot give up what they believe. And religion in general does not fare well when it gives up core beliefs. Those churches that have survived the last 50 years are the ones that stand for something, that offer adherents a bulwark against the confusion of modernity.
    As a Christian, I believe God is in charge of the world and that ultimately things will end well, but in the meantime, things look pretty scary.

  • dearieme

    It’s always useful to remind people that More enjoyed taking protestants into his own home to be tortured.

  • Glenn Juday

    Looked at in a dispassionate way, the issue of whether the freedom to practice religion is under challenge in America is not difficult to answer. The federal government is ordering religious organizations, and individuals whose religious convictions convince them otherwise, to pay for what they believe are intrinsically immoral practices of the gravest consequences, such as chemical abortions and sterilization. Even secular, anti-religious biologists will admit that interference in the fertility of a population of animals is not a trivial matter. The federal government did not blunder or overlook, as some have attempted to excuse, it targeted the traditional moral/religious teaching of all Christians (now partially abandoned by some of them) for forced conformity to a vague but confident conclusion of the contemporary sociology of the opinion elites.

    There can be two objections to this gross interference. The first is the remorselessness of biology. Anti fertility fervor has won a resounding, world wide, cross-cultural victory of unprecedented dimensions. Clear and convincing effects – economic, social, cultural – of the failure to produce a replacement generation are obvious in most parts of the world to all who are willing to look. Again, this is not an abstruse matter. All humans have the capacity to understand the process of dying out, however reluctant they may be to admit it out loud, much less address the causes. The only real empirical issue is where in the process is a given society – early and reversible, or late and final? Assemble the facts and debate away – that is what human reason is for.

    But the other objection to gross, deliberate, artificial interference in human fertility is moral/ethical. Human fertility can be looked at in two fundamentally different ways – as the normal, natural attribute of an integrated, whole human person to be respected as the way in which new human persons are created, or as an unfortunate interference in the really important matters in life (wealth, pleasure, etc.) that is best made more convenient by being mechanically turned on and off (mainly off) or discarded altogether. Which of the two promotes a generous society that thinks and acts seriously about the great challenges facing humanity? Is it so difficult to see that the answer is the former, and that the latter promotes poorly adaptive trends? Is that really so odd a turn of logic, worthy of scorn and derision?

    And even if you fail to see the logic of particular practices that respect life and the integrity of the human body, how difficult is it, especially for Americans, to understand that although a given religious practice may not be your own, our society and the nation are better off when such practices are respected. Even more so, then, should it be understandable that the society is better off when the coercive, collective power of government is restrained from interfering with such practices. Failure to grasp that simple point is always how freedom is lost. And that, truly, must concern us all.

    Something in the sociology, perhaps even the history, of America compels, really compels, a segment of the population to deal with the serious and distinctive teachings of the Catholic Church by recourse to the hard intellectual labor of snappy answers and devastating one-liners. In times past the standard fare involved hilarities such as “garlic breath” and “smell funny.” Now the terms involve, when an inconvenient theological or social fact of the Catholic Church stands in the way of the preferred vision of progress, broad application of “pedophile,” particularly when it can be directed at those who actually resisted the corruption or carried out genuine reform in the Church.

    Meanwhile Catholics of a serious mindset are getting ready to be oppressed and, yes, murdered by their fellow citizens. In such circumstances, commentary that these strange, and yes still fundamentally foreign, Catholic citizen-strangers among us are being silly or manipulative is received about as you might expect – as the clueless death-rattle of a terminal social trend about to be overcome, after a fearsome trial, by people who are willing to undergo death to vindicate the proper principles of life.

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