Wednesday, February 15, 2012

An Introduction to Religious Freedom

Excerpts of Religious Freedom Series, Part 1: An Introduction to Religious Freedom,  LDS Newsroom
This article is a broad introduction for a forthcoming series of articles on religious freedom.

Contrary to what some may assume, religious freedom is not simply the freedom to worship or to believe the way one chooses. Neither is it just for religious people.

At the most fundamental level, religious freedom is the human right to think, act upon and express what one deeply believes, according to the dictates of his or her moral conscience. [R]eligious freedom extends well beyond that, incorporating the freedom to act — to speak freely in public, to live according to one's moral principles and to advocate one's own moral vision for society. 

Honoring religious freedom does not mean discarding other freedoms and social interests or subverting the law; religious freedom coexists with other legitimate interests in society. Religious freedom does not exclude other interests, but as the "first freedom," it ought to be given due respect.

Social and legal shifts are squeezing this liberty in new and deeply problematic ways. Americans who have long taken it for granted are being reminded of its value.

Challenges to religious freedom are emerging from many sources. Emerging advocacy for gay rights threatens to abridge religious freedom in a number of ways. Changes in health care threaten the rights of those who hold certain moral convictions about human life. They are threatening, for instance, to restrict how religious organizations can manage their employment and their property. They are bringing about the coercion of religiously-affiliated universities, schools and social-service entities. They are also resulting in reprimands to individuals who act in line with their principles — from health practitioners and other professionals to parents. In these and in many other circumstances, we see how religious freedom and freedom of conscience are being subtly but steadily eroded. And of equal concern, the legal provisions emerging to safeguard these freedoms are often shallow — protecting these liberties only in the narrowest sense. In many aspects of public life, religious freedom and freedom of conscience are being drawn into conflicts that may suppress them.

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