The War on Religious Liberty

III. Why are Progressives Attacking Religious Liberty?

The United States has enjoyed religious liberty for so long that many  take  religious  tolerance  for  granted  and  expect  it  from others. Religious tolerance is embedded in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights in the Free Exercise Clause, the Establishment Clause,  and  the  No  Test  Act  Clause.  It  is  also  embedded  in federal  law  in  the  Religious  Freedom  Restoration  Act  of  1993. Nevertheless, the “Progressive” movement (40) that dominates our universities, our media, and many in the Democratic Party(41) rejects religious tolerance. As explained below, religious liberty cases are now the front line in a conflict between incompatible conceptions of God, man, and government.

Progressives  have  enjoyed  significant  success  in  eroding the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights to establish the modern administrative    state.    Religious    liberty,    however,    exempts individuals  from  the  laws  that  Progressives  pass  in  order  to transform  American  government  and  culture.  Religious  liberty therefore presents the most tenacious obstacle to the Progressive agenda, and Progressives are waging a war to remove it.

Progressives   reject   America’s   founding   principles.   The Founders and Progressives are irreconcilably opposed on seven views  regarding  God,  man,  and  government.(42)   Understanding these  differences  is  essential  to  understanding  the  war  on religious liberty.

First,  regarding  natural  rights  and  freedom,  the  Founders believed that all men are created equal and possess inalienable rights. Freedom is a gift of God.  Progressives reject these claims. Human beings are not born free, and freedom is the gift of the state.

Second, regarding the formation of society,  the  Founders  held  that  men form   society   by   consensual   social contract.  The  only  legitimate  source of  political  power  is  the  consent  of the governed. Progressives, however, reject consent and the social contract as  the  basis  of  society.  The  origin  of society  is  not  important,  so  long  as government has all the power needed to  remake  man  in  a  way  that  fulfills human potential.

Third, regarding the purpose of government, the Founders believed the purpose of government was to protect God’s gift of  freedom.  Progressives,  however,  redefine  freedom  as  the fulfillment of human capacities. The purpose of government is to fulfill human capacities by solving every economic, social, and political problem.

Fourth,  regarding  who  should  rule,  the  Founders  thought that the laws should be made by a body of elected officials with roots in local communities. Progressives, however, want power placed in the hands of a strong central government, operating through administrative agencies, and run by trained experts.

Fifth,  regarding  limits  on  government,  the  Founders  saw government as bound up with all the strengths and weaknesses of human nature. Men are not angels, and men are not governed by angels.  Government  power must  therefore  be  restricted  to prevent  tyranny.(43)   Government  should  focus  on  securing  the persons and properties of its people.

Progressives,   however,   view   the   state   as   almost   divine. Government  must  have  the  power  to  accomplish  two  tasks. First,  government  must  protect  the  poor  and  other  victims  of capitalism  through  the  redistribution  of  wealth,  antitrust  laws, and  government  control  over  the  details  of  commerce  and production. Second, government must become involved in the “spiritual” development of its citizens. This is not done through promotion of religion, but rather by protecting the environment, by  promoting  personal  creativity  through  education,  and  by providing spiritual uplift through subsidy and promotion of the arts and culture.

Sixth, regarding God and religion, the Founders saw religious liberty  as  an  inalienable  right.  Every  man  is  free  to  follow  the dictates of his own conscience. Progressives, however, redefine God  as  human  freedom  achieved  through  the  right  political organization, or else they simply reject God as a myth.

Seventh,    regarding    religious    tolerance,    the    Founders considered  religious  liberty  to  be  an  inalienable  right.  Every man should be free to follow the religious dictates of his own conscience. The Founders therefore ensured religious tolerance through the Free Exercise Clause, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and the No Religious Test Clause.

Progressives,  however,  hold  that  neither  religious  belief  nor the  free  exercise  of  religion  deserve  tolerance.  Progressives find   their   philosophical   justification   for   religious   intolerance in “naturalism,” a philosophy that claims that there is no reality beyond  the  physical  world.  Naturalism  developed  in  the  first half of the twentieth century with American philosophers such as  John  Dewey  (1859-1952),  Roy  Wood  Sellers  (1880-1973), Ernest Nagel (1901-1985), and Sidney Hook (1902-1989).  These philosophers  sought  to  ally  philosophy  more  closely  with  the natural sciences.(44)

Naturalism equates reality with the natural order. Nothing exists except those things that are accessible through our five senses, and nothing is knowable except through the methodology of the natural sciences. Naturalism justifies these claims by the success of science in explaining the world. For naturalists, the self-evident superiority   of   science   makes   religious   belief   unnecessary, undesirable, and unworthy of constitutional protection.

Naturalism applies the methodology of the natural sciences to all types of human knowledge and belief, including religious belief.  In  the  words  of  philosopher  Sidney  Hook,  the  scientific method  “is  the  only  reliable  way  of  reaching  truths  about  the world of nature, society, and man.” Naturalism tests the truth of religious beliefs by examining and evaluating the evidence for religious  belief  “by  the  same  general  canons  which  have  led to the great triumphs of knowledge in the past.”  The naturalist “must follow the preponderance of scientific evidence,” and can accept no other evidence for religious belief.(45)

Naturalism  claims  that  if  God  and  moral  values  exist  at  all, they  must  exist  solely  within  the  natural  world. Science  alone is competent to analyze and describe religious beliefs.(46)    Since the methodology of the natural sciences cannot prove that God exists,  naturalists  claim  they  have  disproved  God’s  existence. According to Sidney Hook, naturalists must deny the existence of God “for the same generic reasons that they deny the existence of fairies, elves, and leprechauns.”(47)

Naturalism   motivates   many   philosophical   projects,   and “naturalization” programs abound in the theory of knowledge, in ethics, and most importantly, in the philosophy of law. One leading  legal  naturalist  is  Brian  Leiter,  a  philosopher  and  law professor at the University of Chicago. Leiter’s goal in his book Naturalizing Jurisprudence (2007)  is  to  explain  “where we  can locate  law  and  morality  within  a  naturalistic  picture  of  the world.” (48)

Leiter turned his attention to religious belief in a book entitled Why Tolerate Religion? (2013).(49)  Leiter’s views on religion illustrate the views  of many in  the  Progressive  movement.  Leiter states in  the  preface  that  he  was  motivated  to  write  the  book  after teaching at the University of Texas from 2001 to 2008, where he witnessed “the pernicious influence of reactionary Christians on both politics and education in the state.”(50)

Leiter  argues  that  there  is  no  moral  justification  for  giving constitutional  protection  to  religious  liberty.  Leiter makes  his argument in two steps.   First, Leiter defines religion as “beliefs unhinged   from   reasons   and   evidence,”(51)  and   “categorical demands   that   are   insulated   from   evidence.”(52) Religion   is characterized by insulation “from ordinary standards of reasons and  evidence  in  common  sense  and  the  sciences.”  Religion, therefore, is a “culpable form of unwarranted belief” unworthy of toleration or special protection.(53)

Second,    Leiter    examines    well-known    justifications    for toleration provided by the philosophers John Rawls (1921-2002), John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), and Frederick Schauer (born 1946). Leiter  concludes  that  nothing  in  their  justifications  warrants tolerating religion. “There is no apparent moral reason why states should carve out special protections that encourage individuals to  structure  their  lives  around  categorical  demands  that  are insulated  from  the  standards  of  evidence  and  reasoning  we everywhere else expect to constitute constraints on judgment and action.”(54)

Leiter  thus  states  three  reasons  for  denying  constitutional protection  to  religious  liberty.  First,  religion  consists  of “beliefs unhinged from reasons and evidence.”(55)  Religion is a “culpable form  of  unwarranted  belief”  characterized  by  insulation  “from ordinary standards of reasons and evidence in common sense and  the  sciences.”(56)    Second,  moral  beliefs  based  in  religion make “categorical [mandatory] demands that are insulated from evidence.”(57) Third,   religious   people,   particularly   “reactionary Christians,”  exert  a  “pernicious  influence  on  both  politics  and education.”(58)

Endnotes

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