Religious freedom is a central issue of our time. The rights of individual conscience, religious pluralism and separation of church and state are under sustained assault by the Religious Right. And the rest of society has some catching up to do.
Religious freedom is the right of individual conscience; to believe as we will and to change our minds freely, without undue influence from government or from powerful religious institutions. The right to believe differently from the rich and the powerful is a prerequisite for free speech and a free press, the other two elements of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This makes religious freedom a progressive value by any measure – and is exactly why the rich and powerful of the 21st century are hell-bent on redefining it to their advantage.
But the Christian Right is bringing a vast set of distortions into public life in the name of religious freedom. Their goal is to impose a conservative Christian social order with theocratic elements inspired by religious law. To achieve this goal, they seek to remove religious freedom as an integral part of religious pluralism and constitutional democracy, and redefine it in Orwellian fashion to justify discrimination by an ever wider array of “religified” institutions and businesses.
The main reason for the reemergence of religious liberty as a major issue is that the evangelical Protestant Christian Right and the American Roman Catholic bishops have forged a lasting alliance with religious liberty as its leading issue frame. They aim to create zones of exemption across a vast array of society where religious institutions and individuals would not be subject to federal civil rights and labor laws. Together they seek to challenge not only a century or more of social advances, but many of the premises of the Enlightenment underlying the very definition of religious liberty in the United States.
Religious Freedom is a Progressive Value by Frederick Clarkson
We have come a long way since the revolutionaries who founded our country introduced one of the most powerfully democratic ideas in the history of the world. The struggle for religious freedom may never be complete, but it remains among our highest aspirations. And yet the kinds of forces that struggled both for and against religious freedom in the 18th Century are similar to those camps today. We are the rightful heirs of the constitutional legacy of religious freedom; the way is clear for us to find our voices and reclaim our role.
Ground-breaking report on the history and development of the religious freedom strategy, including the growth of the personnel, budgetary and institutional capacity of the Christian Right to wage the long term campaign. Includes a number of recommendations of what to do.
Contrary to the Christian Right’s false notions of religious freedom, every January 16th marks National Religious Freedom Day, honoring the definition as put forward by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. In this article, PRA discusses why the left should be discussing the meaning of Religious Freedom Day and why the Christian Right should be concerned if we do.
At one point enemies, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and powerful Catholic leaders and organizations have quietly spent the last few decades partnering to advance the Christian Right’s religious freedom agenda. Bringing complementary political, financial, and PR strengths, the partnership is being spearheaded by two key figures.
Historians may someday see the 2016 election season as the turning point in how our society understands the Dominionist movement that is seeking to recast society in its own image. While PRA’s researchers and many others have long been panned for warning of the growing dominionism movement and how it uses religious freedom to front for a theocratic agenda, the near-nomination of Ted Cruz may have finally gotten the mainstream on board.
In the Summer 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine, Gillian Kane provides an in-depth profile of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly Alliance Defense Fund), and their vast work abroad to curtail both LGBTQ and reproductive rights using a twisted version of religious freedom.
The 2014 case of General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper was a landmark event because, although the case was ostensibly about opposition to marriage equality, the decision upheld foundational notions of religious equality and equal protection under the law that bind this diverse and often fractious nation. It at once affirmed the equal standing under the law of all religious and non-religious points of view and showed that the Christian Right does not represent all of Christianity.
Despite recent losses in the culture war, the Christian Right is forging a path forward by rallying around a few key issues: anti-choice, opposition to marriage equality, and the defense of religious liberty. These themes—set forth in the influential Manhattan Declaration in 2009—have proved powerful enough to unify conservative Catholics and Protestants against their common enemies.
PRA’s original 2013 report on the Christian Right’s campaign to redefine religious freedom, documenting how religious conservatives have succeeded in reframing the debate, inverting victim and oppressor, and broadening support for their agenda. Such arguments for religious liberty are calculated to subvert the traditional progressive framing of freedom versus discrimination, effectively accusing women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender individuals of infringing on the right of conservative Christians to discriminate against them.