Two excerpts from an important interview by the National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez with Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.
LOPEZ: What does the administration mean by insisting that it has accommodated religious liberty? What does redefining religious liberty mean at home and abroad?
FARR: The administration’s positions in Hosanna Tabor and the HHS mandate have been that religious freedom is a very limited right that consists primarily of the right to worship inside a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple. By this reading, religious freedom does not extend to the civil sphere and thus does not protect religious associations that see themselves as living out their faith in public life. Further, this reading does not appear to protect the expression of religiously informed arguments in public life, especially if those arguments derive from traditional understandings of marriage.
This is a dangerous reduction of the longstanding American understanding of “religious freedom in full,” which includes the public, as well as the private, manifestations of religion. Recall that Washington, in his farewell address to the nation, said that democracy could not stand without religious judgments contending in public life. The Obama administration’s reading turns that view on its head.
LOPEZ: The world over, why is religious freedom so important?
FARR: It is important both in humanitarian and strategic terms. […] Many of the nations with the highest restrictions on religious freedom are Muslim nations, including the theocratic autocracies of Iran and Saudi Arabia, but also the nascent and struggling democracies such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Both history and modern scholarship (see Brian Grim and Roger Finke, The Price of Freedom Denied) demonstrate that a robust system of religious liberty in both law and culture is indispensible to individual human dignity, and to the social, economic, intellectual, political, and religious flourishing of civil societies and of nations. Without religious freedom, democracy will not take root in places like Egypt and Pakistan. Without religious freedom, the ideas that feed violent Islamist extremism and terrorism are unlikely to be defeated.
Also, it was good to see this op ed by Thomas Farr in the Weekly Standard: