Why the American Constitution Gives Special Status to Freedom of Religion

April 30 2020

 Arguing that the Supreme Court should reconsider its current jurisprudence regarding religious exemptions from certain laws, William Haun invokes a conception of religion’s role in a free society shared by James Madison and other Founding Fathers. Haun, in making this argument, contends that religious freedom is not simply a variant of the general freedom of expression, but stems from the recognition that religion is necessary for the flourishing of liberal democracy:

As our founders recognized, diluting religious exercise poses a problem for political liberalism; self-government presupposes certain moral virtues that religion cultivates and liberalism does not. In a culture that does not appreciate a distinct contribution from religious exercise, engagement with religion, both personally and in public life, will erode—along with the corresponding cultivation of religious exercise’s personal and public goods.

[R]eligious liberty’s place in American society’s common good . . . is not superseded by liberal values. Rather, religious liberty is a prerequisite to, and sustainer of, self-government. Duties to the “Universal Sovereign,” to use James Madison’s term, are prior to—and take precedence over—duties to the political sovereign. Ensuring space for the fulfilment of religious obligations provides an enduring limit on state power. [With the benefit of religion], a culture is inherently oriented toward the recognition of transcendent, eternal truths, which are the basis for religious duties.

As Alexis de Tocqueville observed, this makes religious exercise (unlike individual autonomy or some other theoretical liberal value) uniquely disposed to turn citizens away from the vice that, as our founders recognized, free political institutions can, at best, mitigate: the ambition, empowered by unrestrained, theorized ideals, to bulldoze any institutions or practices that stand in the way of utopian goals or base desires.

[Madison’s] Memorial and Remonstrance . . . argues that freeing religious exercise from political control will allow religion to “flourish”—not simply be tolerated. Madison would subsequently make this point explicit in an 1819 letter to Robert Walsh. There, he celebrated the enhanced “number, . . . industry, and . . . morality of the priesthood and the devotion of the people” that followed from Virginia’s disestablishing its official church and “putting all sects at full liberty and on a perfect level.”

Read more at National Affairs

More about: Alexis de Tocquevile, American Religion, Freedom of Religion, James Madison, U.S. Constitution

Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria