Summer-Fall 2013

Is Religious Liberty Possible in a Liberal Culture?

David S. Crawford

The question headlining this panel requires knowing what “religious freedom” is. The fact that we are having a conference on the topic suggests that the concept can be elusive. Perhaps, however, the phrase itself invites a certain ambiguity. Presumably, from an anthropological and theological point of view, if we take seriously Augustinian “restlessness” or the notion of homo religiosus, we would want to see “religious freedom” as simply the central truth of freedom as such. But of course, the phrase is not simply anthropological, but also political-juridical. Does the fact that the qualifier “religious” is attached to the substantive “freedom,” then, suggest that “religious freedom” is simply a subspecies of political-juridical freedom, which is therefore taken as not inherently religious? If so, then religious freedom would be treated as one of many freedoms, rather than as freedom’s central truth. What would be denied from the outset would be that these other “freedoms” are necessarily iterations and developments of this underlying freedom. “Religious freedom” understood in this way may very well be considered the “first” and “most basic” right or freedom guaranteed by government, but it will still, for all that, be only one of the many rights or freedoms. 



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