religious liberty encourage or curb faith-based terrorism? Like the wider
literature on liberty and domestic violence, a theoretical case can be made to
support either position. On the one hand, some authoritarian leaders contend
that effectively averting terrorism may require their governments to limit or
suspend freedoms like religious liberty in the name of national security. This
logic rests on the assumption that liberalism shackles governments from using
all of the weapons in their arsenal to optimize their counterterrorism
strategies. In countries where this thinking prevails, the result is a
perceived zero-sum game: Religious restrictions, as morally problematic as they
might be, are seen as necessary to curtail religious violence.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This piece originally appeared in the American Conservative. It is re-posted here with the publisher's permission.
“Redemption and second chances, a fitting topic for Lent.” With those words, Donna Brazile introduced the second morning panel of last week’s Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform. They were emblematic of a recurring theme throughout the day: the invocation of religion. This was not a specifically religious event, rather a gathering of congressmen, governors, and nonprofits working for criminal justice reform. Nevertheless, the summit commenced with a prayer delivered to a packed auditorium of bowed heads, and none of the speakers shied away from mentioning their faith’s influence on their political opinions. Several even quoted from such sources as the Torah and the Bible in their remarks on the legislative fight for improved criminal justice processes. The summit proved to be a refreshing change of pace from the usual political interactions within the Beltway, not only because of its bipartisan nature, but also because it was such a clear demonstration of how religion and the state were designed to interact in the public square at the time of America’s founding.
Many nations have the freedom
of religious belief inscribed in their constitutions and statutes, yet this right
often exists more on paper than it does in actual practice. As has been meticulously documented, the last few years have seen an increase in
restrictions on religion around the world. In many cases, the wording of law
and policy is explicit, but has little to no effect on the actual actions of
governments and citizens with regard to respecting the faith and practice of
minority religious groups.
communities in Iraq, especially religious minorities, have suffered
enormously over the past year. The rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) has
placed the very existence of Iraqi minorities in peril, including
Christians whose communities have lived there for two millennia. ISIS
also threatens majority Shiites and minority Sunnis, although ISIS has
succeeded in garnering some support from the Sunni community.
Longstanding sectarian tensions between Shiites and Sunnis deepen the
crisis in Iraq, which is disrupting the entire Middle East. This week contributors are asked to evaluate
this situation as a crisis of religious freedom. They address the following questions: What explains the
success of ISIS in Iraq? Why do sectarian tensions exist? What can be
done to resolve this conflict and prevent similar ones in the future?
What role might US or international religious freedom diplomacy play?
The relationship between religious proselytism and development is sharply contested. International covenants recognize that religious freedom includes rights to personal religious conversion and public religious witness. But critics claim that proselytism can violate the rights of affected communities to maintain their traditions and can sow division in fragile societies. This week, Cornerstone asks writers to discuss the social, political, and economic consequences of proselytism.
In honor of President’s
Day, this Cornerstone series asks contributors to explore the various approaches that
presidents employed in their promotion of religious liberty throughout the
centuries. Writers comment on presidential leadership (or lack thereof) on the issue of advancing religious freedom at home and abroad.
President Obama offered an antidote to violent extremism last week. He acknowledged that a military component is needed to end the savage cruelties of ISIS and their ilk. Indeed, we remain at war. But Obama’s antidote, offered at the closing a of US-led summit on countering violent extremism, is especially relevant in religiously freer societies. In short, the President’s antidote is to marshal all that is good and true to discredit extremist ideologies and address the social, economic and political grievances that terrorists deviously exploit. And what we do at home is critical because thousands of ISIS volunteers grew up in Western societies, including some from the United States.
Pope Francis has made headlines for his statements on issues like capitalism (in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium), free speech vs. offensive speech (after the terrorist attacks in Paris), the environment (which he will formally address in an upcoming Encyclical), and same-sex marriage (which he discussed during his trip to the Philippines). This week we explore the nature and scope of religious freedom within the Catholic Church, including the Pope's authority in statements on matters that may or may not address core doctrine in matters of faith and morals. We also ask whether the Pope's interventions on political issues represent a legitimate and healthy exercise of religious freedom, or a breach of the norms of church-state separation necessary for democracy to function.
In the past few weeks, Cornerstone contributors have assessed
the state of religious freedom in various parts of the world, including China,
Israel-Palestine, and India. Each country has a unique history and modern
political dynamic that forms a nuanced environment toward religious freedom—an environment that is often best understood when experienced firsthand. That's why this week on Cornerstone, research assistants
at the Religious Freedom Project share their experiences during their time abroad and offer distinct perspectives that highlight issues concerning religious freedom in various regions of
Recent government actions, such as Austria's new law that allows only one authorized German-language translation of the Qur'an and bans foreign funding of Muslim organizations, along with a circumcision ban in Germany, an ongoing headscarf ban in France, and a minaret ban
in Switzerland, are just a few examples of how Muslims' religious
freedom is being restricted in western Europe. Please join us on Cornerstone as diverse commentators, including many of the speakers at the Religious Freedom Project's upcoming event on Muslim minorities, explore
the obstacles that European Muslim communities face and what these
challenges mean for the future of religious freedom.