What Is Religious Freedom?

Originally appeared in Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, NJ

Reproduced with permission

Robert P. George*

In its fullest and most robust sense, religion is the human person’s being in right relation to the divine. All of us have a duty, in conscience, to seek the truth and to honor the freedom of all men and women everywhere to do the same.

When the US Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, it recognized that religious liberty and the freedom of conscience are in the front rank of the essential human rights whose protection, in every country, merits the solicitude of the United States in its foreign policy. Therefore, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, of which I became chair yesterday, was created by the act to monitor the state of these precious rights around the world.

But why is religious freedom so essential? Why does it merit such heightened concern by citizens and policymakers alike? In order to answer those questions, we should begin with a still more basic question. What is religion? [Full text]

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