• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Is Religious Freedom Just for Churches?

    On October 5, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a very important case concerning religious freedom. Several religious freedom cases have been in the news lately. Such cases should remind us to take seriously the nature of religion itself.

    Is religion something only to be preached about and celebrated in seminaries and worship services, or is it something to be practiced in daily life and work? Is religion solely private, or does it also take public form?

    Our assumptions about the nature of religion—assumptions about what it is and what it involves—affect which people and institutions are considered “religious.” This, in turn, shapes views about what religious freedom protects and who should enjoy that protection.

    Should it extend only to a small subset of the population—for example, to churches and monasteries, priests and nuns? Or should religious freedom apply to a broader range of groups and citizens, including schools, hospitals, and non-profits as well as teachers, secretaries, doctors, therapists, and directors of charities?

    A narrow, privatized concept of religion can lead to the problematic assumption that religious freedom is only for churches.

    According to Stephen Carter, a law professor at Yale University, “[W]e often ask our citizens to split their public and private selves, telling them in effect that it is fine to be religious in private, but there is something askew when those private beliefs become the basis for public action.”

    At the root of this process, Carter asserts, is the widely held intuition that “religion is like building model airplanes, just another hobby: something quiet, something private, something trivial.”

    According to this privatized view, only a small realm of acknowledged “religious” institutions and activities is deemed worthy of religious freedom protections. Praying and preaching seem to count, so pastors, churches, and monasteries typically enjoy freedom to do their work in accordance with their beliefs. Other kinds of activity—like treating a sick patient, running a school, or growing a nonprofit—do not often fall within narrow understandings of “religious” activity.

    Government should protect religious freedom for all citizens—not just those wearing habits and clerical collars—and for various kinds of organizations. Religious freedom is not just for churches, as this Heritage WebMemo argues.

    Posted in Culture [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to Is Religious Freedom Just for Churches?

    1. @USAGeorge says:

      I believe equally in the freedom of all religions if freedom from religion is given equal footing. Special privledges belongs only to the handicapped.

    2. yoursfaithfully says:

      Would you take this as far to say, for example, that those with religious opposition to all war, such as Mennonites, should enjoy the religious freedom to withhold or divert the part of their taxes that would otherwise go to the Pentagon?

    3. @USAGeorge says:

      No religion believes anyone has the right to freedom from "their"beliefs". If reason and common sense ruled on this matter freedom from religions would be the proper topic.

      • johnconstitution says:

        You desire freedom from religion as a Constitutional right, I take it? But what of the rights of those who practice one religion or another? Would you jail anyone who said "Praise the Lord!" in a public place?

        No, we are all part of the same society, and we must make allowances for our differences, even when we disagree. I may not like what you say, but I will defend mightily your right to say it.

    4. johnconstitution says:

      For a person of faith, keeping my practice of religion private is an impossibility. Here is just one example: My faith exhorts me to give my utmost to my employer as long as I am in his employ. If I must keep my faith private, should I then slack off at work so as to avoid the possibility of being noticed as practicing my faith publicly?

    5. Like USAGeorge says, everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe. But if we are saying that everyone has a right to PUBLICALLY display their beliefs, then that would mean that yes, indeed, all the crosses must stand. It means we Christians will be able to continue having Christmas pageants, Easter events, creche displays, street preaching, etc etc. However, it also means the Muslims would be equally allowed to have minarets & loud 'calls to prayer'. It means Buddhists can have Buddhas on streetcorners, etc etc etc. All religions should be allowed to have their icons, pageants, etc out in the public, as well. Under this presumption, then, every religion would be equally allowed to erect a tent, billboard, loudspeaker, etc etc on any public square (as long as it didn't violate ordinances like 'noise' or 'blight', etc etc). Am I wrong? Where is my thinking false?

    6. Bobbie says:

      people shouldn't be labeled by their "titled" religious beliefs (sounds like another set-up) unless it's a threat to humanity. Under civil law, people who aren't threatening and abide by the law, need no religious identification.

    7. Michelle says:

      No matter where your belief system comes from–the Bible, the Talmud, the Koran–it is impossible to separate it from your public self. Your belief system is who you are, religious or otherwise. All religious freedoms for individuals, as well as institutions, should be protected. Why is this even a question? I am reminded of Europe's Black Legend–there is not a Christian, Catholic, Mormon, or Muslim hiding behind every tree or corner ready to reach out and snatch you. Part of the American dream is to be able to be who you are. It may not go along with what I personally believe, but I certainly believe you have the freedom to be it.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×