A bad argument for freedom of religion

S. M. Hutchens makes important criticisms of the Manhattan Declaration (a supposed declaration of principles for conservative Christians) here.  He points out that the Declaration conflates necessary Christian beliefs (e.g. opposition to legal abortion) with secular Enlightenment beliefs (e.g. democracy and freedom of religion) about which Christians traditionally have and legitimately continue to have varying opinions.

Over at First Things, Michael Liccione defends the Declaration, and in particular the capitulation of traditional Christianity to Liberalism on the issue of religious freedom.  Mr. Liccione is by no means a mindless defender of classical liberalism; he acknowledges that Christianity has nothing to do with democracy, for example.   He does think that Christianity, rightly understood, demands freedom of religion.  His reason offered seems to me deeply flawed:

Surely, though, Christians of most stripes have learned from history that they cannot reasonably claim religious freedom for people who share their theology while denying it to those who don’t, or who have no theology at all.

Let’s see how well this reasoning holds up for another case:

I cannot reasonably claim a right to tell children that it’s good to eat their vegetables if I don’t endorse the right of somebody else to tell children that it’s good to eat poison.

But yes I can!!!  Here’s one difference that it’s reasonable to note:  the one belief is true and beneficial while the other belief is false and harmless.  When I allow one to advocate the former belief but not the latter, I’m not giving myself an unfair break over the other guy.  The judgement has nothing to do with me versus him; it has to do with one belief versus another.  We are certainly not obliged to judge all beliefs to be equal.  Not only may be discriminate between beliefs, it is impossible in practice not to.  If there’s anything unreasonable about using state power to promote some religious beliefs and discourage others, Mr. Liccone has yet to show it.  (I’m assuming, for the moment, that he’s defending the American conception of religious freedom.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: