Christian Living

Our Society Should Not Stifle Religious Dissent

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 07/23/2016

Andrew Walker warns of our society’s need for allowing religious dissent and the danger of denying religious liberty:

Protecting religious dissent is at the foundation of America’s history and constitutional legacy. As Madison and Adams argued, religion is prior to the claims of the state. It provides the grounding for democracy necessary for ordered liberty. And if religion is prior to the state, its importance looms larger than the state’s reach. This understanding wasn’t a secondary feature to America: it was, arguably, its distinguishing feature. Seen in this light, the Constitution didn’t bequeath religious liberty. Rather, religious liberty helped bequeath a penumbra of other rights that are enshrined in our Constitution.

Two of the reasons why undermining religious liberty undermines our society: 1) Constricting debate by disallowing dissenting voices “is the enemy of reason itself.” 2) Removing the religious foundation of our society’s concept of human dignity and rights endangers everything that was built on that foundation:

Denying true religious liberty communicates that participation in civil society is conditioned exclusively by accepting contested categories for participation in communal life. This reality paves over the conscience by declaring some issues untouchable and beyond debate. Untouchable orthodoxies that are given official government sanction will treat any dissenting voice as an enemy to be vanquished. Secular progressivism isn’t only the enemy of religious liberty and civil society; it is the enemy of reason itself.

Religious liberty contributes to the diversity of civil society. By its very nature, civil society will be contested territory. Contested debate helps give rise to democratic order, and democratic governance relies on spirited debate. Societies, of which governments are but a reflection, consist of various voices, movements, and ideologies vying for acceptance. In the interest of advancing justice, prophetic difference and prophetic dissent are necessary ingredients if progress is to occur. Allowing citizens the freedom and space to appeal to transcendent duties forces reason to determine what is true or false. From our deepest understanding of truth, we order our lives accordingly, and our lives bear witness to whether our values benefit society. Signaling that Christians aren’t welcome in the public square undermines the public square by robbing it of the religious-ethical system responsible for fostering norms and values that protect individual rights and a humane public morality.

Read the rest of Walker’s article.