Why the American Constitution Gives Special Status to Freedom of Religion

 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 is not superseded by liberal values.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.”

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Read more at National Affairs

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

The New Iran Deal Will Reward Terrorism, Help Russia, and Get Nothing in Return

After many months of negotiations, Washington and Tehran—thanks to Russian mediation—appear close to renewing the 2015 agreement concerning the Iranian nuclear program. Richard Goldberg comments:

Under a new deal, Iran would receive $275 billion of sanctions relief in the first year and $1 trillion by 2030. [Moreover], Tehran would face no changes in the old deal’s sunset clauses—that is, expiration dates on key restrictions—and would be allowed to keep its newly deployed arsenal of advanced uranium centrifuges in storage, guaranteeing the regime the ability to cross the nuclear threshold at any time of its choosing. . . . And worst of all, Iran would win all these concessions while actively plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and [his] adviser Brian Hook, and trying to kidnap and kill the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on U.S. soil.

Moscow, meanwhile, would receive billions of dollars to construct additional nuclear power plants in Iran, and potentially more for storage of nuclear material. . . . Following a visit by the Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran last month, Iran reportedly started transferring armed drones for Russian use against Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin launched an Iranian satellite into orbit reportedly on the condition that Moscow can task it to support Russian operations in Ukraine.

With American and European sanctions on Russia escalating, particularly with respect to Russian energy sales, Putin may finally see net value in the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial and commercial sectors. While the return of Iranian crude to the global market could lead to a modest reduction in oil prices, thereby reducing Putin’s revenue, Russia may be able to head off U.S. secondary sanctions by routing key transactions through Tehran. After all, what would the Biden administration do if Iran allowed Russia to use its major banks and companies to bypass Western sanctions?

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy