Setting the terms of the argument on religious freedon in the public sector

Hadley Arkes is the Ney professor of jurisprudence at Amherst College. He has written an article in the journal, “First Things” entitled, “Recasting Religious Freedom”.

Arkes has made some important legal observations about the current arguments involving the religious who have certain scruples about “Obamacare” and the court system.

Arkes cites a few cases that have shaped the arguments about religion in the public sector. He wrote: “It was not until 1925 that the provision on free speech in the fist amendment would be applied by the Supreme Court to the states”. He continued, “And it wasn’t until 1940 in Cantwell v. Connecticut, that the court would apply to the states the provision on the ‘free exercise’ of religion”.

Importantly, Akkes reminded us that in the Everson case, Justice Hugo Black took the 1st amendment as his lever for inverting the establishment clause, which instead of barring the federal government from interfering with religion in the states, would work to drive religion effectively from the public square.

The trend has been, in Arkes’ words, “one of reducing ‘religion’ to a ‘body of beliefs’.”

The upshot has ben that people claiming to be on the side of religious freedom are appealing for a release from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act on the strength of what they claim to sincerely to believe. They have backed into what Arkes cites as John Courtney Murray’s “take” on identifying religion with opinions rather than “truths”. They are claiming their beliefs as that which gives them exemptions from the law.

Whatever your opinion of the Affordable Care act AKA “Obamacare”, the nature of the argument of religious people is troubling. Instead of defining religion on the basis of perceived truth, they have allowed the secular world to define them and they have used secular arguments to set the terms of the argument.

If the religious are to have any relevance in the public sector, the public square, we cannot allow the public sector to define us or our doctrine or we truly run the risk of being second rate ethical and moral teachers rather than stewards of the mysteries of G_d.

But, what do you think?


About tpurchasesnj

I am a Presbyterian minister. I am also a former military chaplain. It has always been important to me to examine the impact that religion has on the public sector. That is the purpose of this blog; to explore the ways that religion intersects the market place.
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One Response to Setting the terms of the argument on religious freedon in the public sector

  1. Ed says:

    I agree on the need to distinguish between “truths” vs “opinion”. But except for some more or less universal truths such as there being only one God, God created heaven and earth and a few more, how do we separate the truths from interpreted opinions for most of the biblical passages. For example, is the Catholic argument for exemption wrt to birth control provisions (supposedly biblically based) their truth and opinion for most others? Many of the biblical “truths” are accepted on faith vs a truth based on scientific proof/verification. How do we sort out truths of the differing stories about Jesus’ birth or Paul’s attendance at the Jerusalem conference etc? Or do we not worry the truth vs opinion argument and focus, as Gandhi said “we are simply traveling up the same mountain by different paths”.

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