How to Recover and Defend Religious Freedom

Tomorrow, I am attending a philosophy conference at Houston Baptist University. The funny thing is, the theme is Agency and Action in Philosophy and Theology, but I am presenting a paper on religious freedom. Hopefully, someone will want to come to my paper presentation, even though I’m not dealing with middle knowledge, quantum physics, or the neuro-biological challenge to free will.

In this paper entitled “Trends in the Justification of Religious Freedom, 1600-Present,” I will try to do four things: 1) present a brief historical overview to show that the principle of religious freedom has been argued on a theological basis since the first century, 2) show that in the twentieth century, the theological underpinnings for religious freedom have been taken away, leaving ambiguity and incoherence in its wake, 3) look at the Manhattan Declaration as an attempt to recover a theological justification for religious freedom, and 4) show that the Manhattan Declaration is not an inconsistent statement, but is a good start toward recovering the lost theological foundation for religious freedom.

In short, my argument is that theology has served as the basis for religious freedom for centuries until recently, and if those theological underpinnings are not restored, religious freedom will be a thing of the past.

Here is the paper if you’d like to read it.

14 responses to “How to Recover and Defend Religious Freedom

  1. Thank you for sharing that, Dr. Wilsey. It seems like it was written for me. You cited Acts 4:19-20 in your third footnote. I started a website called acts420 a couple years ago as a veiled reference to religious freedom with regards to kanehbos, also known as "420" in our modern culture. I may end up using some of your paper when I sue the federal goverment in an attempt to stay out of prison. You see , where I live, Christianity became illegal about 100 years ago. I guess I should define "Christianity" though. Christ is more of a Greek word than an English one. In English it means "Anointed." We say "Christ" for historical reasons, much like we (orthodox Christians at least) say "Theotokos." What we mean is "the Anointed" and "the Mother of God." To be a "Christian" is to follow Jesus the Anointed One of Nazareth, the Son of God, born of Mary in the line of David. Jesus the Anointed One's salvation is a very personal Way of which He said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – even his own life – such a person cannot be my disciple." Christianity, or the Anointing as it is translated in English, is unique to each follower, to certain a degree. It can be almost lonely at times. All this to say, my own personal conscience before God loudly demands that I practice the Anointing, my "Christianity," in a way that is illegal in my country and on pretty much my entire planet.I'm sorry I'm typing so much, but this is important to me. I will continue my comment below because of the character count limit for each comment.

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  3. (continued from above)You see, I believe that what some Bibles translate variously as calamus or fragrant cane in Exodus chapter 30 and Jeremiah chapter 6 is actually cannabis. The Hebrew word is kanehbos. See more info at http://www.unc.edu/home/jasondm/kanehbosm.html . Even though my personal hero George Washington and my nation’s founding fathers grew fields of cannabis, it was made illegal about 100 years ago. This happened first in my country. Then the prohibition spread to the rest of the world as my government used enormous amounts of wealth to pressure all other nations on earth to follow them and outlaw kanehbos. I believe part of the actual reason kanehbosm was made illegal is because it drains profits from Big Pharmaceutical companies, one of the biggest lobbies of our government. For instance (and this is just one small example), I had a disease on my foot that doctors and medical corporations charged me a lot of money to treat for years. They could not heal me though. Once I used cannabis oil on my foot the disease went away, permanently. Many thousands of people have similar stories and many have even pressured their States to allow medical freedom with regards to kanehbos. For instance, see this story about a Father whose child was about to die under all that U.S. medical care had to offer. When he finally decided to leave the laws this world behind and give the child cannabis, in an attempt to save his life, the child was healed. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1383240/Boy-brain-cancer-cured-secretly-fed-medical-marijuana-father.html . Or, see also see these men who treat their Parkinson's Disease with cannabis. You can see the medical relief of their disease almost *immediately*: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEOoa6Q4Bds and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvtD1zizLng and also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUSbJWpafnU . There are hundreds of other diseases and thousands of other personal examples.Cannabis is still extremely illegal at the federal level though. The federal government has repeatedly lied to and deceived the population in order to achieve this. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7PlWcnIens . Despite the obvious evidence, the owners of the U.S. government have convinced our representatives to classify Cannabis as having "no medical value." The DEA has placed it in the most illegal classification ("schedule 1," "no known medical value"). This is despite the fact that Administrative Law Judge Francis Young ruled in 1988, ""Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man." Unfortunately, many in the “evangelical Christian community” in America fully support this situation. They pay little to no attention to their neighbors diseases, or at least they vote for the politicans that pay their neighbors's diseases no mind.But the topic of this post is religious freedom. I listed all the medical benefits of cannabis above in order to say this: Cannabis not only healed my body, it helped to heal my soul and my mind 10,000 times more than my body. Before God I will not lie to you. If you'd like to read about how, you can read http://www.unc.edu/home/jasondm/ortho-experience.htmlI enjoyed your paper, but I respectfully disagree with you about the potential problem with the Manhattan Declaration. They've shot themselves in the foot with regards to homosexuality. See my thoughts on the issue at http://www.unc.edu/home/jasondm/here.html . I believe the civil authority should stay out of marriage completely, and if it does enter into it then it should discriminate neither on the basis of religion nor sexual preference. If straight people get tax breaks for taking care of one another for the rest of their lives, then so also should gay, intersexed, and transgendered people. In the Anointed One, the Christ,jason@acts420.com

  4. Hello Dr. Wilsey,I am a first time visitor to your blog. I have read your paper, as well as the Manhattan Declaration. Your arguments regarding religious freedom from a theological justification are internally coherent. They are well reasoned within the logical constructs you have defined.There is one small problem with the argument, which I know you are aware of, as you touch upon it in your writings… it hinges on the keystone of belief in God. Believers treat God as factual, and thus may build arguments upon it, as you have done. However, faith is not factual (by it's very definition) and thus the unbelievers can (and will) completely disregard much of this paper's validity. The freedom of religion must also encompasses the freedom _from_ religion.It is not the goal of the US government to repress religious freedom… quite the opposite. Everyone should be free to believe whatever they wish. However, as I'm sure you're quite aware, religion is not a purely spiritual thing. Faith affects the temporal world by compelling people to action. Even denying faith compels action. And we, as a society, turn to our government to settle matters of the temporal world.The US government is a secular body. It does not offer a favored status to any faith… but, as a result, it still offers a favored status to some: to the faithless. That is the heart of all religiously motivated moral matters debated in US politics. It is the central issue of the Manhattan Declaration, as well as your paper.So, since the debate is now distilled to it's essence: Can a secular government be truly neutral in matters of faith?No. I don't think so.But if the alternative is to have the tenets of one faith over another, I will fight for the secular option every time.Legislation of temporal matters can (and for the most part, is) based on temporal reasoning. As soon as faith enters into the reasoning, it becomes a matter of opinion. Legislate based on opinion and inevitably some portion of the populace will feel oppressed.Further distilling your paper and the Manhattan Declaration: currently, Christians feel oppressed by the secular government's preferred status for non-belief. You'd like to see that balance of power shifted in favor of faith in God.

  5. Forgive me if my commentary comes across as insulting. Definitely not my intent. I merely wish to express that while I recognize your views, I disagree with them. I feel it's important to have a dialog with opposing viewpoints lest we accidentally oppress others.I recognize that currently my viewpoints (as backed by the secular government) are oppressing yours, and for that I'm truly sorry. I wish nothing but freedom for everyone in as many ways possible.

  6. Dr. Wilsey,The main focus of what I wrote above was kanehbos. Regarding homosexuality, I responded to the scriptural arguments that many Christians make, but I didn't respond to your more "secular" arguments. I'll do so here.You wrote, "The good of the common welfare falls squarely within the state’s jurisdiction." Yes, it does. But consider this hypothetically. If I were to show that children raised in U.S. Southern Baptist churches tend to end up less educated than children raised in U.S. Roman Catholic churches, then would you still demand that the government allow you to practice your faith and educate your children according to your conscience? I suspect that, yes, you very much would.You wrote, "Robin Fretwell Wilson, Associate Professor in the University of Maryland School of Law, cited two studies which affirm the benefits of traditional marriage as a societal good. The first study, by Wendy D. Manning and Kathleen A. Lamb, found that children living with their married parents were statistically less likely to be delinquent or to underachieve academically." Those studies define marriage by the purchase of a license from the government. However, who actually creates marriage? Orthodox Christianity says two people create it mystically. Not the government. Not even the church. A couple commits to one another before their God. If they have more community than that, then they often commit before the rest of their community also. However, the government does not create marriage. It recognizes marriage. Therefore, I would like to see Manning and Lamb do their study comparing *actual* marriage to non-marriage. Instead, they only use the subset of marriages licensed by a secular government. That certainly skews the results. There are many couples that consider themselves married but have not purchased the license.You wrote, "Homosexual unions are unable to replenish a nation’s population, and are in this way, not beneficial to the continuance and thriving of a nation." What counts more, child-bearing or child-rearing? What if many straight couples hate the children that result from their sex, ripping them apart in the womb or dumping them in the trash after birth? What if one such couple had a reckless night, and nine months later she dumped the baby in a dumpster. What if a homosexual couple came by and found the child, the light of their eyes, the child of their dreams. What if they happily rescued it, nourished it, educated it, and sent it on its way to be a productive citizen. What counts more in that case, the bearing or the rearing?Married homosexuals have raised very productive and well-adjusted children. I say "married" there in reference to their commitment before God to take care of one another forever, not the purchase of a government license. For instance see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMLZO-sObzQ (Zach Wahls Speaks About Family). When governments starts selling marriage licenses to homosexuals (and they will in greater and greater numbers in many States), imagine if a study was done showing that committed homosexual couples raise more educated, less delinquent children that straight couples. Would the you then follow the "common good" logic to its end and say the government should refuse heterosexuals marriage licenses "for the common good?" I suspect not. Therefore, I suspect the true reason many conservative Christians want their government to discriminate against the homosexual and intersexed are purely theological. The "common good" argument is a veil. Actually, if I'm honest, I'd say even the theological argument is a veil (see again http://www.unc.edu/home/jasondm/here.html )

  7. P.S.I'm actually not so sure those studies define marriage by the purchase of a license from the government. So I should take that back. I haven't read the studies. But a certainly the proper understanding of their conclusions would seem to depend a lot on that definition. Also, let me make sure to say by "conservative Christians" I include myself. Back when I supported discrimination against homosexuals in the civil arena, I don't think my motives were truly as good as I told myself they were at the time. I only judge myself in such regards. Nonetheless, I certainly suspect that many conservative Christians like myself have similar struggles.

  8. Alan, I really appreciate your comments–and thank you so much for reading my blog post as well as taking the time to read my paper. Good feedback is so valuable, and you have given me some salient ideas to think about. And no need to seek forgiveness! I in now way take anything you've said here as offensive at all. I hope you don't mind, but I stalked you a little bit on your Google+ page. I see you are an atheist, and I gather from your comments that freedom is at the heart of your concern. (I was also intrigued by your mint brownies. Sounds delicious!!)My initial response to your post, specifically this statement–"So, since the debate is now distilled to it's essence: Can a secular government be truly neutral in matters of faith? No. I don't think so. But if the alternative is to have the tenets of one faith over another, I will fight for the secular option every time."I agree that the US government is secular, and by that I would understand that the government is to prefer any religion over another. Your statements seem to be consistent with that. But if the government faces the choice of favoring the tenets of one faith over another–or to be secular–then isn't the government at that point taking sides? It seems that the government, in choosing to favor the secular in matters that concern religion, would be taking a side, that is, against religion and in favor of secular concerns. That is what I mean when I say that the government is never really neutral, and can never be.

  9. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that you prefer the government to come down on the side of secular concerns over religious ones. But that would mean that the government is choosing sides on religious matters. In that case, the government would be making a faith commitment of sorts. Your bottom line seems to be that you want the government to favor atheism, and I want the government to favor theism. Both of our positions support the choosing of a faith commitment, and neither of us are neutral! Is that accurate?One of the points I make in the paper is that religious faith and practice is given special favor in the Constitution. Why does religion deserve special favor? Because it is the only human endeavor that is spiritual. I agree with you that there are temporal aspects to religion, but spirituality makes religion religious. If religion loses its special status, then we are talking about a radical change in American society as it has existed since the founding, indeed, since the colonies were founded. Still, I recognize atheism as a form of religious belief. Atheism, at least it seems to me, is a faith commitment, albeit a negative one (there is no god.) Many atheists have been quite evangelical about their belief in a godless reality, what with billboards, TV advertisements, campus groups, etc. In that regard, religious freedom protects your right as an atheist to hold to your view and exercise the practical elements that follow in the public square. As a Christian, I have the same freedoms to do the same things.

  10. It is in both of our interests for religious belief (rights of conscience), including the belief that no god exists, to be maintained and given a special status. When freedom of conscience loses its special place, then the government has formally taken a hard line and the best anyone can hope for their religious beliefs is some form of toleration.Furthermore, for the government to protect religious freedom as defined in the 1st and 14th amendments, it does not need to claim some false mantle of neutrality. It doesn't mean it has to take sides. That is the whole point of religious freedom. The government takes NO sides in religious concerns. It protects the rights of every man, woman, and child to exercise their religious beliefs, as long as those beliefs do not infringe on the lives and property of others. (Being offended by some form of expression, by the way, does not count as an infringement of rights.)I realize that there will be debates about how the government does this, but that is another matter. HOW the government protects religious freedom is not nearly as important as THAT the government does so.So, I deny that I am in favor of the government siding with theism. I am in favor of the government protecting your right and my right to believe and practice our faith commitments–no matter what they are. It is a false dilemma to suggest that the only two options the government has are to favor atheism or theism.

  11. Hi Jason, thanks so much for your comments!Since you have not read the studies I cited, I will not comment on your conclusions. And yes, you have some unfair assumptions, and I appreciated your retractions.I will respond to your question, "What counts more, child-bearing or child-rearing?" I see where you are going. Any dog can beget offspring. Still, child-rearing cannot take place without child-bearing. My point is that child-bearing, which is necessary to child-rearing, is not possible in a homosexual relationship.I understand that homosexuals can adopt, and I agree with you, many homosexuals love their children a lot more than a lot of heterosexual couples. But your scenario is hypothetical and not at all normative. The same could be said about a hypothetical wolf raising two orphans to become the founders of a great civilization. Wait–that sounds familiar.More importantly, the point of my paper was not to compare homosexual marriages with heterosexual marriages. I realize that I did make some statements that inherently did so, but I have reasons for doing so. In my research, I read over a dozen studies that did compare homosexual with heterosexual marriages. In terms of the health and upbringing of children, the studies show that marriage traditionally defined is far more conducive to bringing up children. I am certain that there are exceptions to this rule, but there are good extant studies that show otherwise.I can imagine a lot of different studies being done to show that homosexual couples raise awesome children. That does not mean that they are forthcoming. I suppose that if there were some studies that showed this, I would be in a position to consider them.Empirical studies on either side, however, do not change the theological basis for the institution of marriage. As Christians, we are not given the option to define marriage in the terms of our choosing. I had reasons for not discussing the theological basis for marriage in my paper, but that's because it was not my purpose to do so. I do not appreciate your statement that I am using the common good argument as a veil. I also do not appreciate your suggestion that the theological argument is a veil for just wanting to be unfair and discriminatory. Such a suggestion does not appreciate the depth of conviction evangelicals have about the nature of marriage and is also really nothing more than an ad hominem appeal. Finally, I am loathe to even have our discussion center around marriage. I brought marriage up in my paper only to deal with it as it relates to religious freedom. Religious freedom was the point of my paper.

  12. Dr. Wilsey, Christ is among us.You said, "I do not appreciate your statement that I am using the common good argument as a veil." You misunderstood me. It is my fault, and I apologize that it came across that way. What I meant to clarify in the Post Script was that *I* had used the common good argument as a veil, and I think many like me have also done so. I didn't intend to direct that assumption toward you personally. When I re-read the comment I saw that I was not clear. Therefore, I added the P.S. Forgive me, please. You said, "I also do not appreciate your suggestion that the theological argument is a veil for just wanting to be unfair and discriminatory." Same response as above. These are just trends I have noticed in myself. Forgive me for not being clear about that. Thank you, Dr. Wilsey, for your hospitality in allowing this exchange here.You said, "As Christians, we are not given the option to define marriage in the terms of our choosing." Amen.You said, "My point is that child-bearing, which is necessary to child-rearing, is not possible in a homosexual relationship." Actually, it is entirely possible. I believe that the Virgin became pregnant with God. Do you? Modern technology also makes this possible. I try very hard not to put God in a box. You said, "But your scenario is hypothetical and not at all normative." I'm not claiming my hypothetical is normative. However, I don't agree either that it is not normative. I'm admitting that I'm not certain. I'm not the brightest bulb.You said, "In terms of the health and upbringing of children, the studies show that marriage traditionally defined is far more conducive to bringing up children. I am certain that there are exceptions to this rule, but there are good extant studies that show otherwise." I don't doubt what you're saying. However, judging from my own studies of statistical evidence and sociology, I know how easily studies can become inaccurate, even many studies. For instance, how could any study sufficiently control for an entire culture being actively anti-gay toward the child's parents? Certainly they try to control for everything (well, if they're honest). But with how much success?"I can imagine a lot of different studies being done to show that homosexual couples raise awesome children. That does not mean that they are forthcoming. I suppose that if there were some studies that showed this, I would be in a position to consider them." There are many such studies out there that show children fair just as well in homosexual homes. I have seen them, and I consider them in the same light I consider the types of studies you're generally pointing toward. I consider them all as very easily error prone. For me, this really comes down to the same reasoning I express at http://www.unc.edu/~jasondm/here.html . Just like, as far as I can tell, there are some things that are very obviously taught in the New Testament and in Holy Tradition, so also there are some things that are very obviously "for the common good" in civil law (for instance, stopping a burglary ring, solving a murder, or even enforcing a contract). I value liberty and humility very highly as means of Christ's salvation. There are times when the "common good" argument is beyond obvious, and we must infringe on one another's liberty. However, I believe there should be many more times where we find it best to humble ourselves before all mankind out of reverence for God and all He created. There should be many times when we admit we could be wrong, we don't know everything, and we aren't the Ultimate Judge.As you've so kindly said to me before… I'll give you the last word.Thank you again, Dr. Wilsey. In Christ,Jason@acts420.com

  13. Thank you for your gracious post. Forgive me for misunderstanding you, my friend.I think it is very difficult to make the argument that a homosexual couple can beget a child. The Virgin Birth is in a category of its own. It happened once, and will not happen again. And I deny that there is any medical technology that can make it possible to two men or two women to beget children through sexual intercourse, and thereby to fulfill God's command to fill the earth in Gen 2. Gen 2 also clearly defines marriage for us as between a man and a woman. Jesus quoted Gen 2 in Matt 19 in defining marriage as between a man and a woman. We're done here. Your comments about the range of conclusions in the study demonstrate my point about the limitations of empirical data. Ultimately, we rely on the Bible for a definition of marriage. We simply cannot call a homosexual relationship a marriage when the Bible does not give us that liberty. I still think–and we will have to agree to disagree here–that the assertion that redefining marriage is bad for society and the state is duty bound not to allow such a thing. There are plenty of studies that bear this out–not all, but enough to give any rational person pause.I'm not the Ultimate Judge. Don't claim to be. Nor do I insist with absolute certainty that I cannot be wrong. But the Bible judges the hearts of men, and the Bible seems incredibly clear on this issue. Just because I cite the Bible to assert my convictions as an evangelical does not make me judgmental. I know you are not saying that I am doing that, but in this culture, evangelicals get charged with being judgmental all the time. Sometimes they are–but sometimes they are appealing to the one authority in matters of faith and practice. I can hold my convictions with great strength, and communicate them strenuously, without being judgmental. That's what I try to do.Thanks, Jason, for the wonderful dialogue.

  14. I see no false dilemma, as I disagree that Atheism is a religious belief. By it's very definition, Atheism is the lack of religious belief. Atheism and Secularism are the same, pragmatically speaking. The moment a government takes a theistic stance it is no longer secular.Calling atheism a religious belief is like calling "not-eating" a meal.Sam Harris touches upon this a bit here — http://youtu.be/dKNNCfyXaps

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