The Bookshelf: Essential Reading on Religious Freedom

Jun 20, 2021 by

In the culture wars that rage in our politics today, people of more orthodox faith traditions are sadly becoming accustomed to their religious freedom being threatened. In education, in many professions, and in the public square, the freedom to live according to the teachings of one’s faith in contemporary life is constantly in need of defense—rhetorical, political, and legal. When the Democrats in Congress and the Biden administration are pushing the Equality Act—which would require people to defy not only their faith but reason itself—and when the World Medical Association considers adopting the principle that physicians should be obligated to refer patients for abortion or euthanasia, it is time to stop and take stock of the foundations of our essential freedom to say “no” as a matter of conscience.

Every “no” to the state in the name of religious conscience, of course, is predicated on a greater “yes” to a power higher than the state. As James Madison famously put it in 1785, “Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe.” This principle, of the precedence of our duties to God over our duties to any government, was echoed 180 years later by the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council, which declared in Dignitatis Humanae that “every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience.”

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