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Why Religious Freedom?

Why the Religiously Committed, the Religiously Indifferent, and those Hostile to Religion Should Care

April 20, 2017

Brett Scharffs

This critical paper on religious freedom and its relationship to the State by Professor Brett Scharffs of the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University poses an important question: why should anyone care about religious freedom? The question here, though, is specifically directed towards those who are indifferent or hostile to, or uninformed about religious freedom.

Prof. Scharffs proceeds to examine a number of the crucial debates around freedom of religion and conscience through both an historical prism and by reviewing recent American jurisprudence dealing with this foundational, or as he terms it a "root" freedom. The arguments made by Prof. Scharffs are particularly cogent. Firstly, he articulates why religious freedom is a distinct freedom with deep historical and philosophical roots, distinct from freedom of speech, association, and assembly yet inextricably bound to them and they to it. He cautions against direct or indirect attempts to sever fundamental freedoms from the root of religious freedom—an act which would result in the withering of these related freedoms.

Secondly, in his examination of the role of the State vis-a-vis the guarantee of religious freedom he offers a valuable and timely distinction between what he terms monist and dualist views. Prof. Scharffs cautions against both secular and religious monism in which religious freedom and other freedoms are viewed as gifts of the State to citizens which can likewise be taken back by the State. He advocates for a dualism in which the State acknowledges the core principle that human rights are understood to be born by all human beings and derived from our inherent characteristics of reason and conscience and our ability to have empathy and compassion for our fellows. Prof. Scharffs raises grave concern about what he perceives to be "an erosion of the strong commitment to dualism that underlies not just the human rights worldview but most of Western history."
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Freedom of Conscience and Religion

A Casualty of the Autonomy Doctrine

March 16, 2017

Douglas Farrow

This paper by Professor Douglas Farrow of McGill University is both a timely and forthright contribution to the growing discussion on the impact of the autonomy doctrine on a broad range of concepts, beliefs, and our understanding of truth itself.

The powerful criticism of this doctrine offered here is insightful. The paper offers a very helpful summary of the development of the autonomy doctrine philosophically and historically. In his arguments Prof. Farrow asserts that the increasingly widely held belief in the radical autonomy of the individual is having and will have a severely constraining effect on religious freedom. For Prof. Farrow the world is being fundamentally reordered in such a way around the individual that there is no longer any room for counter claims founded upon conscience and religious faith except insofar as they may be an aspect of a given person's individuality. Under the autonomy doctrine such claims must be assessed for what damage they might cause to another person's autonomy. The paper goes on to argue that under this conception of autonomy the human individual is no longer viewed as an accountable moral agent but rather a self-creating, self-measuring, and self-terminating being and no form of perceived religious intolerance must be permitted to infringe on this new conceptualisation of the social contract.

For Prof. Farrow, this development is a disturbing one. He examines how this idea has taken root in Canada not simply as broadly-held opinion but institutionally through legislation and regulation. Finally, Prof. Farrow assesses this increasing entrenchment of the autonomy doctrine particularly in how this doctrine misunderstands the human body and how ultimately certain fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of religion and conscience, will become subservient to this self-same doctrine.
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Religious Freedom and the Common Good

The Importance of Religious Actors and Ideas in Public Life

February 23, 2017

Thomas F. Farr

Professor Tom Farr's clearly written paper traces for the reader the development of the idea of religious freedom in the American context from the founding days of the republic during the Enlightenment through to our times in which the very acceptance of religious freedom as a core principle in our society is under threat.

Farr argues persuasively that the United States' founding fathers created a system of religious freedom based on the free exercise principle that was genuinely new. This system recognized a public faith, one that reflected the interior faith lives of citizens in how they conducted themselves religiously in the public space. This was possible due to the conception held by the vast majority of Americans that they were a religious people, yet this historic understanding has shifted fundamentally. Farr buttresses this civic understanding of religious freedom with the Catholic understanding of religious freedom and its insistence on human dignity and conscience leading to an exploration of how religious freedom is exercised by faithful individuals and those self-same individuals existing as and operating within communities of faith.

Farr offers a clear warning around the growing intolerance for religious freedom in the United States in the face of non-discrimination laws and a rejection of religious freedom as being intrinsically bound up in the common good. This state of affairs has led to a collective forgetting of what religious freedom means. It is an amnesia that is hindering the United States' ability to engage religion when it confronts it in the world of international affairs.

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Religious Freedom in a Multicultural Society

January 10, 2017

Faisal Bhabha

In examining the impact of recent judicial rulings on cases under Section 2a of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that enshrines freedom of conscience and religion, Faisal Bhabha draws our attention to how individuals' religious expression has been and is being accommodated within Canadian jurisprudence. Bhabha argues that the Supreme Court of Canada is striving in its decisions to reflect the multicultural nature of Canadian society by striking a balance between competing interests. In so doing, Bhabha posits, the Court is shifting from a posture of strong rights articulation to a weak rights application. The paper also highlights the emerging challenge of 'faithism'—a new form of discrimination increasingly manifested by public sceptics who ascribe negative characteristics or flawed values to people who profess a religious faith—and the impact that such discrimination can have on Canada's multicultural and multi-faith reality.

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Religious Freedom as a Fundamental Freedom

January 10, 2017

Andrew Bennett

As we at Cardus continue to advance our efforts to better comprehend, reveal, and reflect on our common life, freedom of religion or conscience looms large. This freedom enables us to live fully as we are and are called to be. It bears witness to the fact that we as human beings have a metaphysical need to make sense of our world and to encounter God. Beyond the legal framings of religious freedom contained in international human rights covenants is a freedom to contemplate who I am: Who I am in relationship to you; who I am in relationship to the created world; and who I am in relationship to God or to a particular philosophy. The ability to freely and both publicly and privately act on that metaphysical need is foundational to our democracy, our common life together, and indeed to our capacity to recognize and actively embrace the dignity each one of us bears. Without the guarantee of this freedom we are no less free in our interior life, but when freedom of religion is threatened or ignored, the living out of our public lives of faith can be undermined, sometimes gravely so.

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