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13 - Religious liberty, church autonomy, and the structure of freedom

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Richard W. Garnett
Affiliation:
Emory University
John Witte, Jr
Affiliation:
Emory University, Atlanta
Frank S. Alexander
Affiliation:
Emory University, Atlanta
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Summary

We are used to thinking of religion – of religious belief and practice, ritual and worship, expression and profession – as an object of human rights laws; that is, as something that these laws protect, or at least aspire to protect. The leading human rights instruments confirm us in this entirely reasonable, if not quite complete, way of thinking. For example: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) proclaims, and political communities should “strive … to promote respect for [this right]” and “to secure [its] universal and effective recognition and observance.” Similarly, the European Convention on Human Rights (1950) declares that its signatories resolve to “secure [this right] to everyone within their jurisdiction.” The Constitution of the United States, in typical fashion, frames the issue in terms of constraints on government, rather than charges to or aspirations for government, but it, too, puts religious liberty – the “free exercise” of religion – on the receiving end of the First Amendment's protection.

Provisions like these reflect a commitment – one that seems broadly shared today even if unevenly honored and imperfectly understood – to protecting the freedom of religion. It is one thing, though, to profess – even to entrench in law – such a commitment; it is another thing to operationalize or make good on that commitment. This latter, “walk the walk” task involves at least two related, but distinct, challenges.

Type
Chapter
Information
Christianity and Human Rights
An Introduction
, pp. 267 - 282
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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