Which Model, Whose Liberty? Differences Between US and European Approaches to Religious Freedom

October 11, 2012

In the United States and Europe, religious freedom has become a dynamic, controversial, and terribly important issue. In this conference we engage a number of allied questions. Is there a “Western model” of religious liberty? What are the historical and contemporary differences in how religious freedom was conceived and implemented on both sides of the Atlantic? What is so special, if anything, about religion anyway? Does the privileging of religion harm non-religious groups? And who decides?

Through this conference, the Religious Freedom Project—in partnership with the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University's School of Law—provided a forum for a vigorous, thorough, scholarly (but not bookish!) airing of these topics from multiple points of view. 
This report is an edited transcript of that conference.
Our speakers included Robert Audi, professor of philosophy and management at the University of Notre Dame; Kyle Duncan, former general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty; and Melissa Rogers, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Several distinguished senators and scholars from Europe also attended, including Rik Torfs, former senator in Belgium and Silvio Ferrari of the University of Milan. The diverse backgrounds of our guests enabled us to entertain competing claims about religion’s relationship with democracy, legislation, and individual conscience—and explore the extent to which those claims differ in the United States and Europe. 

We hosted four panels in Georgetown’s Copley Hall. The first panel, Religion in the Democratic Public Square, discussed the significance of religion to the public life of the nation. The second, The Future of Religious Autonomy, compared US and European approaches to protecting the religious convictions of individuals and institutions. The third, Institutional and Individual Conscience, focused on the historical claims about the nature of conscience. The fourth, Religious Minorities and Religious Freedom, discussed the plight of Muslim and Mormon communities in the West.

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