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Is Religious Freedom Desirable?

By Matt Sharp posted on:
October 17, 2017

Is religious freedom desirable? Many Americans will quickly answer without thinking through the implications of their response. Respecting any type of freedom often comes with undesirable consequences.

By favoring freedom of speech, you are protecting the right of people to express themselves in many ways that you consider completely wrong. By favoring the right to keep and bear arms, you run the risk that, somewhere, someone will abuse that right and use a legally purchased handgun in a horrific crime.

But we as Americans have weighed the costs of free speech and the right to bear arms and determined that the desirability of those rights outweighs the negatives that accompany them.

So, is religious freedom desirable? When some people realize that this will protect the cake artist or floral artist who does not want to use their talents to help a same-sex couple celebrate their nuptials, they decide that religious freedom isn’t worth it.

Do the benefits of religious freedom outweigh what some argue is the harm caused by religious freedom to same-sex couples?

Perhaps the answer to that question is best found through other questions: Do you enjoy art? Have you stared at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, amazed that Michelangelo could produce such an unparalleled work of beauty in a single lifetime? Have you marveled at the deft touch of Leonardo da Vinci as he captured Jesus and his disciples enjoying their final meal together in The Last Supper?

How about music? Have you felt the uncontrollable urge to stand to your feet in reverence when the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah is played? Have you been brought to silence by the sound of a lone voice singing Schubert’s “Ave Maria”?

Did you stay up late too many nights as a child wanting to know what would happen to the Pevensie children as they travelled to the land of Narnia in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia? Did you dress up as Gandalf or an Elven Lord as you waited in line for a midnight screen of The Lord of the Rings?

Maybe you have more of a scientific mind. Have you studied Isaac Newton’s laws of motion in your physics class—laws that, according to Newton, “could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being”? Do you remember President Kennedy (a Catholic living in a predominantly Protestant nation) vowing to put a man on the moon while invoking “God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which many has ever embarked”?

And we surely cannot overlook Dr. Martin Luther King, whose unwavering belief in the Holy Scriptures inspired his nonviolent protest against a society that sought to silence him because of the color of his skin. As he wrote from his jail cell in Birmingham: “One day the South will recognize its real heroes.… They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake.”

These individuals, and their bold ideas (whether in art, literature, music, science, or civil rights), were made possible because they lived in societies where religion thrived. Their religious beliefs were allowed to inform and guide their actions. Their faith inspired their contributions in their given fields—contributions that left indelible marks on Western Civilization.

When religious freedom is extinguished, when individuals are told to separate their faith from their work—to confine it to their home or church—our society loses something of great worth. We lose beauty, inspiration, and innovation born out of service to a higher calling.

Is religious freedom desirable? Yes. And those who would abandon it out of animosity towards the cake artist, floral artist, or others who willing face fines and the loss of their business “for conscience’ sake,” have truly lost sight of the importance that religious freedom has played in the flourishing of our civilization.

Matt Sharp

Matt Sharp

Senior Counsel

Matt Sharp serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he directs the Center for Legislative Advocacy.


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