Limits to Religious Freedom

Limits to Religious Freedom September 16, 2013

Since Tuesday is Constitution Day, and I will be gathering students from my course on “Religion and Freedom of Expression” soon for the first time to talk about Randall Bezanson’s book How Free Can Religion Be?, I thought I would see if there is interest in discussing the topic on this blog. As a starting point for discussion, here is a video which Hemant Mehta made and shared recently:

That there are limits to religious freedom even in a society that values religious freedom is clear.But the question of what those limits should be, and how to define them and apply them fairly, remains challenging and controversial. Bezanson’s book does a great job of highlighting the issues as illustrated by the arguments, decisions, and dissenting opinions in Supreme Court cases over the years.

What are your views on the limits of religious freedom in a free society? Which country’s or era’s approach to religious freedom do you view as optimal, and why?

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  • x x

    An insightful book that you may wish to take a look at is: The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse by Steven D. Smith, Harvard University Press, 2010. I’m currently reading it.

  • It is all too easy to come up with an answer to this question until you have thought twice about it.

    I know for sure that if a belief system does not cause any harm it should be tolerated.

    But due to the imperfection human you are never going to find such a thing.

    Maybe if a belief system does (on average) not cause more harm that something NORMAL then it should be allowed.

    But what is normal and free of presupositions of any kind?

    I know one thing for sure: certainly not the type of hardcore materialism championed by Mehta and the like.

    If you consider the fact that we only know a very small part of one universe among an infinite number of parallel worlds, that simulated universes are possible, the claim that physics AS WE KNOW IT is everything which exists, that something transcending the capacities of human reason does NOT exist, is truly an extraordinary one.

    I’m an agnostic Christian, for me it requires a leap of faith to believe in God but it also requires a leap of faith to believe what reductive materalists or hardcore atheists believe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    • David Evans

      “the claim that physics AS WE KNOW IT is everything which exists”

      I don’t know anyone who makes that claim. Do you?

      “an infinite number of parallel worlds”. You seem to assume that they exist. How do you know?

      In any case, Christians don’t claim that there might be a God somewhere in the far reaches of the parallel universes. They claim that there is one, here and now in this universe, and that they know his will. That’s the claim that atheists engage with.

      • T. Webb

        David, Carl Sagan (an athiest and materialist) is famous for his quote, “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.” I’m guessing that’s what Lothar means, but I’m more than happy to be proved wrong. And that is a common view among many militant (fundamentalist?) athiests.

        • David Evans

          You don’t have to be a militant atheist to go along with Sagan’s quote. Many moderate atheists would do so as well. However that’s a very long way from claiming that “physics AS WE KNOW IT is everything which exists”. That claim implies that there is no significant physics left to discover. No-one with a sense of history could believe that. Heavens, we don’t even know for sure what dark matter or dark energy is, and they probably make up 95% of the universe.

  • guest

    I think killing, torturing or raping people in the name of your religion should be banned. Even if they agree. So I’d be against the more traditional worship of Aztec or Inca deities.
    Generally speaking I think only people who subscribe to a particular religion should be subject to its laws.