The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“No Free Exercise for Aztecs—or Abortionists” — Jordan Ballor

Jordan Ballor argues that the right to religious liberty is not absolute, and that courts should refuse religious exemptions to those who violate natural law by practicing abortion in the name of religion.

Some excerpts:

“It is a perennial challenge to identify the proper limits to religious liberty in America and rightly apply these limits. How can we tell when someone’s request to be exempt from the law of the land is genuine, principled, and worthy of respect? And how can we know when such requests are merely a pretext for the privileging of illegal and even immoral behavior?”

“Some of the more recent claims to religious liberty are useful for understanding the legal boundaries. The recently passed restrictions on abortion in Texas, for instance, provide a lens for determining how to identify the limits. In response to these and other measures intended to protect the unborn, Satanists have invoked religious liberty rights in an attempt to guarantee access to abortion.

“[T]here is some significant religious precedent for the kinds of things the Satanists are attempting to protect. The Hebrew Scriptures recount (and condemn) instances of human and child sacrifice in the ancient world. The Ancient Near Eastern deity Molech was a particularly bloodthirsty god. This kind of ritual sacrifice and violence was not confined to the ancient world. The archeological record in the Americas shows that Mesoamaerican groups including the Aztecs practiced ritual murder as part of their religious traditions only a few hundred years ago.

The political theorist William Galston once captured the basic, common-sense insight by which such activities—whether justified by religious appeals or not—are appropriately prohibited by law. The idea, associated with the political philosopher John Locke, is that morality—defined in terms of the natural moral order—provides the boundaries for legally acceptable religious practice.

Read the full piece 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