Brett G. Scharffs
Director, International Center for Law and Religion Studies
Religious freedom: Is it the grandparent of human rights, or the neglected stepchild? As with most false dichotomies, the answer is both. But it is also the underappreciated core, or tap root, of human rights. Why should we care about religious freedom? For the seeker of religious truth, the answer may be obvious: Religious freedom creates the conditions, the “constitutional space,” for investigation and the pursuit of truth. But what about those who fall into other groups? What about the religiously committed – who are confident they are in possession of religious truth. Or the religiously indifferent – who are not much interested in religion or spirituality. Or those who are affirmatively hostile to religion – those who believe religion does more harm than good. Should they – should we – care about religious freedom? There are three reasons why we should all care deeply about freedom of religion (and belief). First, is the role of religious freedom as a historical foundation for constitutional, political, civil and human rights. Without freedom of religion and belief (FORB), the entire human rights project may collapse from its own weight. Second, FORB is necessary if we are to resist statism and other monistic views of state power. And third, we may not have the intellectual, political or rhetorical resources to defend conscience if we do not respect and protect FORB.
The paper on this subject by Professor Brett G. Scharffs, Francis R. Kirkham Professor of Law at BYU Law School and Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, has recently been listed on SSRN’s Top Ten download list for two topics: (1) Human Rights, Justice for Nonhuman Animals, Ecologies, Environments and (2) Other Political Behavior: Race, Ethnicity & Identity Politics.