Why Does Religious Freedom Matter?


Clarify why freedom of thought and conscience is so vital. Let me give you three reasons. First, in your American history and in the American experiment freedom of thought and conscience was always the first liberty. There is no hierarchy of rights. That would be invidious. But if you read the framers and the founders, they were very clear about how the three core rights – freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly – were inseparable and interlocking. And you can think of it logically You want freedom of assembly, the right to associate with people. Why? you don’t just arrive and hug each other. You want to get together to say something. And in fact, freedom of assembly assumes and requires freedom of speech. But even if you think about it, freedom of speech assumes and requires freedom of conscience. You’re free to talk about the weather or some new restaurant or whatever. but that’s not what the right is about. It’s about the freedom to speak of those things above all, of which you are convinced because you are bound by the dictates of conscience. And as philosophers point out rightly, freedom of conscience is different from freedom of choice. Freedom of choice, you are sovereign. Choose what you like. Freedom of conscience, you are subject. You are bound by the dictates of conscience. In the words of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, “Here I stand” and then the famous line, “I can do no other.” And freedom of conscience is respected because people are not just choosing something sovereignly, but they are bound by their conscience and therefore conscience is respected; and no government can come between an individual and her or his conscience. And it was considered the first liberty. Now, today in America, it’s often discounted. People say, “Religious liberty? Liberty for the religious. Who cares about them?” Or many people say “religious liberty is like the appendix in the body… we can have our appendix removed and we’re fine.” In other words, it’s a constitutional redundancy, and what really matters is something like free speech. Now if the framers were right, they’re all wrong. Freedom of conscience is the first liberty, it was only as it was guaranteed that the others came along, too; and it will only be so long as it is guaranteed that the others will be protected, too. Now we’ve got to make that argument and as you know well, even in the last month, that issue has come up in a big way in this country and it’s also come up in a big way in various European discussions, too. Religious liberty, freedom of thought and conscience is the first liberty. For more information about the Veritas Forum including additional recordings and a calendar of upcoming events, please visit our website at veritas.org

5 thoughts on “Why Does Religious Freedom Matter?

  • Greetings from the Netherlands. A very contemporary subject unfortunately, also in my country. Some people think of religion is 'an opinion'. On the other hand, it gives us a chance to educate one another…

  • yeah, but Americans persecuted Catholics when they started to immigrate and at one time outlawed Mormons. I think they actually got kicked out of what was then the country and went out west. Of course these are not characteristic of American attitude towards religion i suppose! hehe.

  • I disagree, during the time in which the constitution was written, "conscience" was interpreted in an un-scientific, pseudo-philosophical and mostly religious manner. If the majority of people developed a belief system that bound their conscience to violate the rights of others not holding the same beliefs (as religions have done so often), then freedom of conscience leads to the collapse of the other rights, the majority having arbitrarily deemed something as "wrong" for their own made-up conscience reasons.
    Religion should be gradually phased out by scientific education.

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