The Enemies of Religious Liberty in America, and How to Refute Them

To Peter Berkowitz, emergent trends on both the American left and the American right are hostile to the Founders’ version of freedom of religion:

Scorn for religion drives the threat to religious liberty from the left. The progressive threat is less openly articulated but more ensconced in elite institutions. Many on the left regard religion as an oppressive and dehumanizing superstition. Christianity, they believe, suffuses and corrupts the great literary and philosophical works of Western civilization and sustains what they regard as the West’s surpassing sins toward minorities, women, other civilizations, and the environment. The progressive disposition aspires to purge religious expression from the public sphere while using state authority, especially through public education, to emancipate individuals still under religion’s spell.

Religious enthusiasm propels the threat to religious liberty from the right. The conservative threat is primarily the work of elite right-wing intellectuals who have yet to persuade the people or the powerful. While religious liberty’s most ardent defenders in contemporary America tend to be conservatives, members of the new right who are outraged by secularism’s inroads in America want to scale back substantially, if not tear down, the wall of separation between church and state. Some national conservatives rightly argue that Christianity is central to American traditions. Some common-good constitutionalists respectably regard religion as the highest good. Both leap from these reasonable stances to espousing the use of state power to promulgate religion, particularly Christianity.

The threats to religious liberty from left and right betray a common ambition—if inspired by diametrically opposed anxieties and aims—to employ government to regulate faith. Whether intended to circumscribe religion or expand its reach, however, assigning the state responsibility for overseeing the wellbeing of citizens’ souls flies in the face of the principles of individual liberty, human equality, and limited government that are inscribed in America’s founding documents and deeply rooted in the nation’s political traditions.

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Read more at RealClear Politics

More about: American founding, Freedom of Religion, Religion and politics, U.S. Politics

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy