Debating Religious Freedom TodayRobert P. George, Cécile Laborde, and David Little Thursday, April 27, 2017 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. St. Olaf College, Tomson Hall 280
This panel discussion will feature renowned normative political theorists Robert P. George, Cécile Laborde, and David Little. They will address issues revolving around the meaning, justification, and practice of religious freedom.
The event is co-sponsored by the Institute for Freedom & Community and the Martin E. Marty Chair in Religion and the Academy.
The human right to religious freedom is rooted not in a social contract (or modus vivendi, or a mutual nonaggression pact); nor is it what Mill labeled an “abstract right” — a right unconnected to the well-being or flourishing of human persons. Rather, the right to religious freedom (which is correlative to the duties to respect and protect religious freedom), like other basic human rights, is a specification of the human good integrally conceived. Among the fundamental, irreducible aspects of human well-being and fulfillment is the good of 1) contemplating fundamental existential questions (i.e., questions of meaning, value, and transcendence); 2) seeking to answer those questions honestly; and 3) endeavoring, even in the face of psychological and other pressures to do otherwise, to lead a life of authenticity and integrity in line with one’s best judgments as to the answers, including by bringing oneself into harmony with the more than merely human source or sources of meaning and value, if there be such. Whether or not one labels this aspect of human well-being “religion,” as Robert P. George does (following John Finnis, Germain Grisez, and others), it is centrally (though not exclusively) the human good that the right to religious freedom protects.
The notion of integrity gives an account of why certain commitments and practices deserve special concern, in the form of special rights to exemption from general laws. Integrity has different implications in individual and collective cases. Cécile Laborde says only what she calls identificatory groups have the relevant integrity-related interests. She will discuss the implication of this for cases such as Hobby Lobby.
Having tried to show that religious freedom, properly understood, is a fundamental human right, and one that is strongly defensible under American law, David Little will briefly review the current controversies in American society surrounding the subject, and in that light examine sympathetically the ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.