This week I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on religious freedom and the Supreme Court at the Religion Newswriters Association Conference in Austin, TX. Our diverse panel included an atheist, the head of a local C4 founded by Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood, and a Christian attorney from the Liberty Institute. Below is text somewhat closely resembling my opening remarks:
What is religious freedom and why does it matter?
The pursuit of answers to ultimate questions is a universal human experience. Who am I? Why am I here? How should I live my life?
Religion provides metaphysical answer to these questions, answers that often prescribe behaviors, lived individually and in community with like-minded believers. And despite challenges from alternative, non-religious sources of authority (i.e. Enlightenment, Marxism, postmodernism) and the occasional claim of its demise, God is not dead. Religion persists. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest its influence is as powerful as at any point in human history.
Unfortunately, despite the ubiquity of religious experience, religious freedom is all too uncommon. Our own American history is the bittersweet story of a land founded in the pursuit of religious freedom that quickly organized itself according to strict sectarian divisions, sometimes persecuting dissidents.
Religious freedom is the right to ask questions of ultimate significance, and live in light of the answers. It consists of an unconstrained mind and unconstrained body: the freedom of orthodoxy, belief consistent with doctrine, and of orthopraxy, behavior that conforms with ones beliefs.
Conforming mind and body to ones most deeply held religious beliefs is a basic human right, worthy of utmost protection.