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PART III MORAL, PHILOSOPHICAL, AND SCIENTIFIC REFLECTIONS This page intentionally left blank 133 7 RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND HUMAN FLOURISHING Robert P. George Why honor religious freedom?1 What is the point of respecting and protecting the right of people to act on their religious convictions and fulfill what they judge to be their religious duties (absent truly compelling reasons for governments to prohibit or compel acts whose performance or omission is required by some citizens as a matter of religious duty)? 1. Religious Freedom: Social Contract or Human Right? The way some people see it, the reason for respecting religious freedom is purely instrumental and self-­ interested. If you and I disagree in matters of religion, I should tolerate your beliefs and religious practices so that you will tolerate mine. Religious freedom, in this view, is not so much a moral or human right as it is the product of a social contract. It is a kind of mutual nonaggression pact. Everyone fears what will happen to members of their own group. And so each group agrees to tolerate the other groups so that it, too, will be tolerated. The moral force of the obligation to respect religious liberty is precisely as stringent as the force of an obligation to keep a contract. It is easy to see the attraction of this view or to explain why some people hold it. A world in which members of each community live in fear that members of another will seize power and oppress them is hardly an ideal state of affairs. But that, of course, is what happens where there is little or no protection for religious freedom. 134 Robert P. George But there is a problem with this view. It ignores the fact that at its core, religious freedom means something far deeper and more profound than people grudgingly tolerating each other in a kind of modus vivendi. Simply stated, religious freedom means nothing less than the right to be who we truly are as human beings. The fact is that as human beings we are drawn to ponder life’s deepest questions and seek meaningful, truthful answers: Where do we come from? What is our destiny? Is there a transcendent source of meaning and value? Is there a “higher law” that pulls us above personal interest in order to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us”? No matter how these existential questions are answered, one thing is indisputable: human beings cannot stop asking them, and they would be diminished precisely as human beings if they were to try to do so. This suggests that the religious quest is a constitutive part of our humanity—­ an irreducible aspect of our flourishing as the kind of creatures we are—­ namely, rational, intelligent, and free actors. This, in turn, suggests that we must cherish and honor, preserve and protect the right of persons to ask and answer these questions as best they can, and, within the broadest limits, to lead their lives with authenticity and integrity in line with their best judgments of conscience. And so, both as individuals and together with others in communities of faith, religious freedom means the right to ponder life’s origins, meaning, and purpose; to explore the deepest questions about human nature, dignity, and destiny; to decide what is to be believed and not to be believed; and, within the limits of justice for all, to comply with what one conscientiously judges to be one’s religious obligations—­ openly, peacefully, and without fear. The great English theologian and man of letters John Henry Newman once observed that “conscience has rights because it has duties.”2 We honor the rights of conscience in matters of faith because people must be free to lead lives of authenticity and integrity by fulfilling what they believe to be their solemn obligations. But authenticity and integrity are directly threatened whenever there is coercion or compulsion in matters of faith or belief. Indeed, coercion does not produce genuine conviction but merely pretense and inauthenticity. A coerced faith is no faith at all. So, as the Qur’an says, “there can be no compulsion in religion” (Q Baraqa 2:256). Compulsion may cause a person to manifest the outward signs of belief or unbelief, but it cannot produce the interior acts of intellect and will that constitute genuine faith. Therefore it is essential that freedom of religion include the right Religious Freedom and Human Flourishing 135 to hold any belief...


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