Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy once opined that freedom of religion has “a double aspect—freedom of thought and action.” In other words, to be truly religiously free, one must not only be at liberty to believe, but act consistently with those beliefs. This concept of religious freedom—the right to live and act according to one’s faith—has historically been assaulted by totalitarian government authorities. For example, early in the Second Century–when Pliny the Younger was a provincial governor in the Roman Empire–he wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan asking whether he was correct in executing Christians who refused to burn incense in worship of the emperor. Trajan said he was right to punish Christians, not because he cared what they believed, but he worried, refusing to engage in emperor worship was a means of rebellion and setting themselves apart from the reigning social order. In modern times, such oppression came to be seen as a profound violation of human rights. Thus, the very first clause of the First Amendment (1789) states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” More broadly, Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) provides: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” That’s unequivocal. Freedom of religion means the right to live according to one’s own faith, that is, to “manifest” our religion or belief in practice, both “in public or private,” without interference from the state. Alas, freedom of religion is often as much under assault these days as in the time of Pliny the Younger. Indeed, assaults on religious practice are becoming increasingly commonplace. The questions are why, and what can be done about it? No one has put more thought into this urgent matter of human freedom than my guest today, Sam Brownback. Brownback served as ambassador at large for international religious freedom from February, 2018 until January, 2021. He also served as governor of Kansas from 2011 to 2018. Prior to that, he represented his home state in the United States Senate and in the house of representatives while a member of the Senate, he worked actively on religious freedom issues in multiple countries and was a key sponsor of the international religious freedom act of 1998. When Brownback left government service, he formed the National Committee on Religious Freedom, a nonprofit organization concerned with defending religious liberty in the United States. This is his third appearance on this podcast. NCRF (thencrf.org) ChasedAway — NCRF (thencrf.org) ‘Religious cleansing’ threatens Armenian Christians’ existence, human rights leaders warn – Catholic World Report Should Muslims Really Welcome Denmark’s Proposed Anti-Blasphemy Law? | Cato at Liberty Blog Zelensky backs Expulsion of Christian Monks after Seizing the Historic Kiev Pechersk Lavra Monastery – THE INTEL DROP Should Muslims Really Welcome Denmark’s Proposed Anti-Blasphemy Law? | Cato at Liberty Blog Zelensky backs Expulsion of Christian Monks after Seizing the Historic Kiev Pechersk Lavra Monastery – THE INTEL DROP
With Western society becoming morally polyglot and secular, religious freedom is becoming a major political clash point, and in the United States, a central front in what is sometimes called the culture war. Proponents of robust religious freedom protections see the “free exercise” of religion guaranteed in the Constitution as the “First Liberty.” But others view the same issue as an excuse to justify discrimination against the LGBT community and to thwart the free exercise of unfettered reproductive freedom. This controversy is so important to both our rights and duties as human beings that Wesley invited Sam Brownback—one of the world’s most engaged defenders of religious freedom–back for a return visit to Humanize to discuss the current scene. In the premier episode of this Podcast, Brownback discussed religious freedom internationally. Ambassador Sam Brownback on Human Rights and Religious Freedom | Humanize In this episode, he and Wesley take a deep dive into domestic religious freedom controversies. Sam Brownback served as the United States Ambassador at Large for international Religious Freedom from February, 2018 until January, 2021. Prior to that, he was elected governor of Kansas, an office he held from 2011 to 2018. He has also represented Kansas in the United States Senate and in the House of Representatives. While a member of the Senate, he worked actively on religious freedom issues in multiple countries and was a key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Brownback is also a founder and Chairman of the newly formed National Committee for Religious Freedom. NCRF (thencrf.org) ChasedAway — NCRF (thencrf.org) Opinion | Extreme Religious Liberty Is Undermining Public Health – The New York Times (nytimes.com) State Abortion Bans Face Religious-Liberty Lawsuits From the Left – WSJ NCRF Eight Guiding Principles on Religious Freedom: Religious freedom was guaranteed by our Founders in the First Amendment because they believed religion important for America – for the flourishing of citizens and the flourishing of our Republic. Religion is the universal human search for a greater-than-human source of being, reality, and ultimate meaning. To deny the right to engage in this search, or to live in accord with the truths discovered, is to deny the core of what it means to be human. In America, religious freedom encompasses the right to believe, or not to believe, in religious truths. For those who believe, the First Amendment guarantees them the right of religious free exercise, that is, the freedom to live according to their religious beliefs. All Americans are equally entitled to this right. The fundamental purpose of the ban on the establishment of religion is to encourage free exercise by limiting government power over religion. Religious free exercise entails the rights of conscience. No man or woman may be coerced by the state or any other human agent to believe or to act in ways contrary to his or her religious conscience. All American religious communities are equally entitled to the right of free exercise. Historically, the right of free exercise has entailed exemptions from laws in order to avoid undue burdens on religious conscience and practice. Protecting these exemptions is vitally important and must continue. But exemptions alone do not capture the full meaning of free exercise. Religious free exercise entails private rights, such as worship and internal governance. It also entails public rights, including: The rights of parents to raise their children consistent with the moral values taught by their religious traditions and to participate actively in the education of their children; The rights of students to express their religious and moral beliefs in public schools on a basis equal to the rights of expression by all students; The rights of business owners to operate their businesses in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs and the rights of employees to manifest their religious beliefs in their places of work on a basis equal to the rights of expression of other employees; The rights of medical professionals, clinics and hospitals, to apply religiously-informed standards in their care for patients, including in their professional judgments on how to protect human life, heal the body, strengthen mental health, and avoid harm to human dignity and flourishing; The rights of religion-based charitable and non-profit institutions to operate in a manner consistent with their religious convictions, including the right to hire those who accept those convictions and fire those who reject them.
Wesley J. Smith talks with Senator Sam Brownback, who served as Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and as governor of Kansas from 2011 to 2018. Religious freedom is a crucial aspect of human exceptionalism because it is a fundamental human rights issue. Smith and Brownback discuss COVID, free exercise versus the freedom to worship, issues in China, India, and Turkey, and much else.Read More ›