In Defense of Religious Bioethics

American Journal of Bioethics, December, Vol. 12, No. 12, 2012

Judah Goldberg, Alan Jotkowitz

In the first year of a celebrated graduate program in bioethics, one of us wrote a short essay about physician-assisted suicide that claimed that murder is not only a breach of rights, but also a “grave affront to all human existence as well as to He who grants life.”  Well, that last part earned me a predictable scribble on the margins of my returned paper, something to the effect of, “What if someone does not believe in a Giver of life?”
Full Text

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]

New book questions preferential treatment of religious liberty

Book Review

Why Tolerate Religion?
Brian Leiter
Princeton University Press, 2012, 192 pp. ISBN: 9780691153612

University of Chicago News Office

The Western democratic practice of singling out religious liberty for special treatment under the law is not in sync with the world we live in today, argues University of Chicago Law School professor Brian Leiter in his new book,Why Tolerate Religion?

All people, both religious and non-religious, maintain core beliefs about what they feel they absolutely must do— a category Leiter calls “claims of conscience.” In the book, Leiter, the Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence, explores whether there are good reasons for the tendency to grant legal exemptions to religious claims of conscience while largely rejecting non-religious claims.

“The current status quo is predicated on a fundamental inequality,” Leiter said. For example, he says a boy might be permitted to carry a dagger to school as part of his Sikh religion, but the same dagger would not be allowed if it were part of a family tradition.

“Namely, your claim of conscience counts if it is based in religion,” Leiter said. “My claim of conscience doesn’t count if it is not based in religion. That, it seems to me, is a pernicious and indefensible inequality in the existing legal regime.”  Read more . . .


American Cardinals speak forcefully on freedom of conscience and religion

Timothy Cardinal Dolan,  Archbishop of New York and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) addressed the John Carroll Society in Washington, D.C. on the theme of “Let Religious Freedom Ring.”  Cardinal Dolan stated that “freedom of religion has been the driving force of almost every enlightened, un-shackling, noble cause in American history,” and that defence of religious freedom is “the quintessential American cause, the first line in the defense of and protection of human rights.”[Zenit] [My Catholic Standard]  During thekeynote address at the Catholic Perspectives on Religious Liberty symposium at Georgetown University, Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C. argued that to relegate religion to the private sphere and silence moral teaching in public is dangerous because religious belief is “the conscience of society.” [CNS]

Project Submission to the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom

Re: Personal beliefs and medical practice: A draft for consultation

  • Background | The General Medical Council is the state agency that regulates the medical profession in Britain.  A draft guideline on personal beliefs and medical practice generated concern that, if adopted, it would produce an “atmosphere of fear” among physicians who are religious believers. Project Submission

Concern expressed in United Kingdom over proposed physician guidelines

Bishop Tom Williams, chairman of the Healthcare Reference Group of Britain’s Catholic bishops’ conference, is encouraging Catholic physicians and others to respond to the General Medical Council’s draft guideline on personal beliefs and medical practice.  Bishop Williams warned that the document is likely to produce an “atmosphere of fear” among physicians who are religious believers.  The General Medical Council is the state agency that regulates the medical profession. [Catholic Herald]

Canadian Catholic bishops issue letter on freedom of conscience and religion

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a 12 page Pastoral Letter on Freedom of Conscience and Religion. While addressed to all people of good will, the bishops particularly addressed themselves to “those members of the faithful who find themselves in difficult situations where they may be pressured to act against their religious faith or their conscience.”  The document emphasizes that freedom of conscience may be acknowledged by state authority, but state authority does not create it.  Among the examples of violations of freedom of conscience, the document cites rules requiring referral for abortion by objecting physicians and the demand that objecting pharmacists dispense contraceptives or the ‘morning after pill.’  It recommends four strategies: affirmation of the role of religion in the public square, upholding a healthy relationship between Church and stated, forming conscience according to truth, and protecting the right to conscientious objection

New Guinea bishops object to compulsory condom distribution

Catholic Bishops in Papua New Guinea state that their schools will not comply with a government policy requiring the distribution of condoms to students.  The Episcopal Conference is prepared to defend its decision in court should the government try to  enforce the policy.  [Zenit]

Seventh Day Adventist president stresses importance of freedom of conscience

Seventh-day Adventist world church President Ted N. C. Wilson, speaking at the 7th World Congress for Religious Freedom in the Dominican Republic, distinguished between “radical” or anti-religious secularism—that would exclude religion from public life—and “secular governance,” which accommodates religious belief, protects the religious freedom rights of minorities but does not favour a particular religious tradition. Radical secularism, he said, must be opposed.  At the same time, religious believers must not attempt to establish a “religious state” as an alternative to secular regimes. [Adventist News Network]