Religious Liberty and Human Dignity

A December 30th AP article relates the results of a poll that asked respondents about their views of religious liberty. The lead paragraph reads, “Americans place a higher priority on preserving the religious freedom of Christians than for other faith groups, ranking Muslims as the least deserving of the protections, according to a new survey.” The article goes on to detail the percentages of people who thought it was important to protect Christians’ religious liberty vs. the percentages who thought it important to protect Muslims’ religious liberty, etc.

Of course, the results of all such surveys are suspect, because the way the questions are worded determines the outcomes. Given that caveat, the questions this survey asks are fundamentally self-contradictory. To speak of religious liberty for one religion but not another is an absurdity. If “religious liberty” does not apply to all religions, then it is not religious liberty, but religious hegemony. On this understanding “Religious liberty” is a Hobson’s choice: “You have the liberty to practice your religion, as long as it is the one I approve.”

Christians should be particularly keen on this issue, for at least three reasons. First, since we desire the freedom to practice our faith according to our consciences, to disallow the same freedom to those of other faiths is flagrantly hypocritical (and whom did Jesus castigate more harshly than the hypocrites?). Second, Christians have often been (and still are in many parts of the world) subject to religious persecution; if we do not defend the religious liberty rights of others, we have no reason to expect our religious liberties to be defended when someone decides it is the practitioners of our faith who should be persecuted. Finally, religious liberty is closely intertwined with human dignity; denying religious liberty to a certain group entails the denial of their human dignity, and as Nigel Cameron once said, “Human dignity is indivisible; any assault on anyone’s dignity around the world is an assault upon mine.”

 

(Also see Steve Phillips’ post from December 9th.)

(Incidentally, the Cameron quote is from a Frontline interview from about sixteen years ago on assisted reproduction; the whole interview makes fascinating reading, considering all that has transpired since then.)

 

(I could not find the actual questions asked in the survey; this post is based on the reporting of the survey results.)

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