Freedom is both a religious and secular idea

In light of the continuing political uprising throughout the Middle East, American leaders are reported to be recalculating their approach … Continued

In light of the continuing political uprising throughout the Middle East, American leaders are reported to be recalculating their approach to Muslim world.

Politico’s Ben Smith wrote this week that the Obama administration “clearly sees an opportunity,” signaling “that they’re hoping the changes in Tunisia and Egypt spread, and that they’re going to align themselves far more clearly with the young, relatively secular masses” in countries like Iran, Algeria and Lebanon.

Is this a new moment for American relations with Muslim countries? Is freedom a religious or secular idea?

Religious freedom is both a religious and secular idea.

In touting genuine religious freedom — and its constitutional corollary, the separation of church and state — we Baptists often hold up 17th century preacher Roger Williams’ “hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world,” and point to Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 Letter to the Danbury Connecticut Baptist Association where he talked about his “sovereign reverence” for the “wall of separation.” The founder of the First Baptist Church in America, and the third president spoke of freedom in their own ways.

Even Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famed 19th-century “Democracy in America,” recognized the important way religion and freedom flourished in America.

“In France, I had seen the spirits of religion and freedom almost always marching in opposite directions. In America I found them intimately linked together in joint reign over the same land … [A]ll thought that the main reason for the quiet sway of religion over their country was the complete separation of church and state. I have no hesitation in stating that throughout my stay in America I met nobody, lay or cleric, who did not agree about that.”

Implicit in this freedom of religion is freedom from religion. Freedom from religion and freedom of religion parallel the two religion clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: no establishment (freedom from religion), and free exercise (freedom of religion). It also parallels the coming together in history of Enlightenment thought and religious piety conspiring in colonial times to ensconce protections for religious liberty in the Constitution. The church historian Forrest Church writes:

“The revolution was powered by two very different engines: one driven by eighteenth-century Enlightenment values, the other guided by Christian imperatives that grew out of the Great Awakening. … The former movement, emphasizing freedom of conscience … stressed freedom from the dictates of organized religion. The latter, stemming from a devout reading of the Gospels … demanded freedom for religion. … Together, these seemingly opposite world-views collaborated brilliantly and effectively to establish the separation of church and state in America.

Organizations that battle everyday for religious freedom come at it from both religious and secular angles often recognizing that a secular government can provide the best protection for religious and non-religions citizens.

  • cecilg

    Brent Walker:An EXCELLENT commentary. I am a skeptic and certainly not a Christian in any traditional sense. As such I almost always disagree with the opinons of my local Baptist friends. Your comments, however, are both informative and rational.There are several posts to other panelists on this topic that attack religion as the worst kind of enemy of freedom, and some of those posts make excellent points. Religious belief does limit one’s freedom in many ways.Also, as I listen to Huckaby (spelling) and other Baptists I get a strong sense that the Baptist, like the Catholics, would like very much to have their beliefs dominate this country, to the detriment of religious freedom and separation of Church and state.YOUR COMMENTS however, if representative of Baptists in general, make me take a second thought about the goals of Baptists.

  • RMcGuire1

    I’ve recently been reading Fisher’s They had a very different concept of freedom.1) Everybody needs rules and orders that dictate how they must behave.2) The natural or initial state of Man is slavery which contains no freedom.3) The natural state of society is a strong hierarchy.4) Individual or group freedom is a lack of ruling from above and the right to rule those below.5) Group freedom, not individual freedom, is a main concern and consists of dictating how the group members must behave.6) Group religious freedom is the freedom of a group (without constraint from above other than by God) to rule how Thus that conception of religious freedom includes the right to

  • tamu75

    For those who want to know more about the history of Baptists and religious freedom, google John Leland and Isaac Backus. If it were not for the agitation of Baptists, the first ammendment almost certainly would not include that congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …. Interestingly, Leland and Backus were very different in their views, but both wanted freedom of religion and pressed for it with the constitutional congress–Jefferson, Adams, Madison, etc.

  • mini2

    Freedom is a matter of human dignity, one associated with the Rights of Man (French Revolution). The only connection it has to religion is that the various denominations, some more authoritarian than others, have attempted to co-opt it as a banner; this, of course, includes Marxism and “free market” capitalism, both of which claim to set humans “free” in order to more deeply enslave them, substituting commissars and admen for sermonizers.

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