Religion and Liberty

First of all, a tribute to a relatively little known hero in the fight to preserve religious liberty in the United States.

Second, and much more seriously, an essay about a continuing threat to freedom of speech and opinion in Europe and beyond.

On the latter, a few words:

I am, I hope my life and career have demonstrated, not even remotely anti-Islamic.  In fact, I’ve sought for years to educate Christian and Western audiences in the United States and around the world about Islam, and to do it in a genuinely sympathetic way, and I’ve publicly opposed some of the most vocal critics of Islam in the West. 

But, as someone who is deeply committed to a broadly libertarian political and economic position, I’ve also been concerned about the interface between traditional Islam (which grew out of a society that, like pre-modern Europe, didn’t particularly value freedom of conscience) and the West in the West.

When many Muslims demanded that the West apologize for and suppress those Danish cartoons a few years ago that seemed to poke fun at Muhammad, they didn’t seem to understand that the West — certainly the United States — simply cannot do that.

To do so would be to turn our backs on our own fundamental commitment to freedom — a commitment that is only truly tested when somebody uses it to do something to which others (and perhaps we ourselves) object.

Even objectionable speech is, or should be, protected here.  My own Christian faith is routinely lampooned, mocked, and derided in the elite media, and caricatured by certain artists.  I don’t like that.  But they have a right to do it.  My specific Mormon Christian faith is assaulted, ridiculed, satirized on Broadway and on late-night television, and unjustly criticized by commentators and pundits, and, if anything, this will become much worse over the next few months.

But all this is entailed by a commitment to liberty.  And I don’t want us to surrender that commitment.

Muslims in the West are, I hope, going to have to adjust to life in a society that will protect their rights of worship but that will not recognize any right, on their part, to be immune to even unfair criticism and tasteless “humor.”  (I’m convinced that this will be in the best interests of Islam, that Islam and Muslims will be the better for it.)  If they don’t adjust, the West will. And that will be cultural suicide.

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