Despite Their Many Disagreements, the Founding Fathers Agreed on the Basic Principle of Religious Freedom

Reviewing Religious Liberty and the American Founding, by Vincent Phillip Muñoz, Thomas Kidd writes:

People involved in American political life in the late 1700s disagreed vehemently about the proper approach to church-state separation. But Muñoz shows that there was near-universal agreement among people of widely differing faiths and ideologies on religious liberty as an inalienable natural right. A “natural” right was one not granted by government or by any human authority. Such rights were part of the natural order; they resulted from principles derived from “the laws of nature and nature’s God,” as the Declaration of Independence put it. These rights were “inherent” in the sense that they inhered in human nature, and all people rightfully enjoyed them. . . .

In one of his more controversial conclusions, Muñoz insists that there is little evidence that the Founders would have believed that “free exercise” must allow conscience exemptions from otherwise constitutional laws. He puts a great deal of emphasis on the fact that debates over exemptions (or replacements, to be more precise) from militia service for Quakers and other pacifists almost never cited the requirement of protecting free exercise of religion.

This is a worthwhile observation. But I wish that Muñoz had given more space to the Constitution’s own religious “exemption”: that of allowing people to “affirm” rather than swear to support the Constitution. This was an accommodation of Quakers’ scruples and those of anyone who literally applied the Bible’s injunction against swearing oaths. The existence of this alternative for conscience, within the Constitution itself, suggests that the Founders believed the government should not unduly burden or violate people’s religious conscience in crafting civil laws or even in framing the Constitution. Exemptions or alternatives were a familiar option among the Founders as paths to avoid this classic dilemma.

Read more at Acton Institute

More about: American founding, First Amendment, Religious Freedom


Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy