The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“Religious Totalitarianism, Secular Totalitarianism, and Other Threats to International Religious Freedom” & “Domestic Challenges to Religious Liberty—From Left and Right” by Professor Daniel Mark

In a two part piece at Public Discouse, JWI Affiliated Scholar Professor Daniel Mark discusses the threats and challenges that religious freedom faces internationally and domestically. In “Religious Totalitarianism, Secular Totalitarianism, and Other Threats to International Religious Freedom”, Mark comments on the differences between Religious Totalitarianism and Secular Totalitarianism and the effects it has on suppressing religious freedom internationally. Whereas, “Domestic Challenges to Religious Liberty—From Left and Right” discusses how the Right and the Left in the United States frame the debate over religious liberty in terms of competing notions of “individual rights.”

“Religious Totalitarianism, Secular Totalitarianism, and Other Threats to International Religious Freedom” Excerpts:

What’s critical to remember about those places is that the problem isn’t just religious freedom for minorities; it’s religious freedom for everyone. Even if an individual or group—or even the majority of the country—happens to adhere to the state-enforced version of religion, those people do not possess religious freedom. None of them is free to dissent, change, or deny. None of them is free to adhere to a different version of the government-backed sect. Things may be worse for religious minorities, but the theocratic ways of these countries deprive the entire population of religious freedom.

Even more important is the principle that’s at stake. Religious freedom, as enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…. People must be free to deviate or dissent from the local orthodoxy. They must be allowed to reject the local gods and to call their own by whatever name they see fit. Blasphemy laws, enforced or not, establish that, in principle, the government can regulate what you believe….blasphemy laws establish that one’s religious freedom isn’t a right in the proper sense but an entitlement or privilege subject to judgments of prudence by the state. Thus, religious totalitarianism ultimately aims to control the entire person, even down to one’s thoughts.

While religious totalitarianism fears false gods, secular totalitarianism fears the true God. This is the case, for example, in China, where the communist state is officially atheist. For Chinese officials—as in other communist dictatorships—religion is a threat because it offers a source of authority and allegiance outside the ruling party. So they are very keen to stamp out religion wherever it flourishes free from government control. China can tolerate the state-appointed bishops but not the underground ones.

“Domestic Challenges to Religious Liberty—From Left and Right” Excerpts:

We must make an affirmative case for the value of religion and therefore of religious freedom. Otherwise, we will soon see legislatures, courts, and agencies redefining the right of religious freedom and narrowing the scope of its protection. If Americans do not appreciate the importance of religion, then religious freedom will fall to claims of discrimination.

One central consequence of this denial of human nature is that it leads ineluctably to a denial of human rights. Without a firm view of human nature, we cannot construct a coherent account of human rights. I am aware, of course, that the people I have in mind here claim all sorts of things in the name of human rights. But the new menu of human rights is selective, subjective, and, finally, indefensible.

The problem with classical liberalism isn’t that we’re doing the American experiment wrong, that we’ve lost our way or forgotten the vision of the Founders, but that the American experiment was fatally flawed and bound to fail from the beginning. They reject classical liberalism in principle and especially its emphasis on individual rights.

Religious freedom today is caught between opponents on the left and the right. On the left, some who fight in the name of individual rights distort and weaken the concept so much as to make it meaningless and indefensible. Sometimes they explicitly attack religious freedom head on, in the name of more legitimate or more pressing so-called rights. On the right, witnessing the havoc in our society wreaked in the name of liberty, some have concluded that liberty is the problem. In these circumstances, we need to discover—or recover—a proper account of rights. That begins with a proper grasp of the good of religion and, finally, all the goods that constitute human flourishing.

Read the Full “Religious Totalitarianism, Secular Totalitarianism, and Other Threats to International Religious Freedom” Essay Here

Read the Full “Domestic Challenges to Religious Liberty—From Left and Right” Essay Here

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Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790