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The role of religious freedom today

Throughout history religion has played a stabilizing role in society. When practiced freely, religion establishes a moral compass for people to follow, which in turn leads to tolerance of differing views and comity in civil society.

Free expression of religion allows pluralistic religious organizations to exist within modern secular states, and can ease ideological conflicts by transforming volatile societies into models of peaceful coexistence.

St. Augustine realized that free expression of religion leads to a stable and just society when he wrote, in The City of God, that without the justice and morality induced by religion, people would become no more than a “band of robbers.”

Centuries later, Pope Benedict XVI referred to this metaphor and told the German Bundestag that religion in civic life is an essential precondition for peace and justice, because “the conviction that there is a God gives rise to the idea of human rights, equality before the law, recognition of the inviolability of human dignity in every single person and the awareness of people’s responsibility for their actions,” i.e. conscience.

The free expression of religion is a precondition for a functional role of religion in society. The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom of 1786, written by Thomas Jefferson and supported by James Madison, was the first ever law protecting religious freedom.

The Statute provided the blueprint for the establishment clause in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which has allowed a pluralistic religious society to develop in the United States which coexists with the modern secular state.

A modern-day study of religion in the United States, American Grace, by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, argues strongly that religious beliefs and practice correlate positively with numerous forms of good and productive behaviors, like increased volunteerism, charitable giving and civic activism in American society.

American leaders from George Washington to George W. Bush have promoted religious freedom as a stabilizing influence on individuals’ behavior.

Read more at Crux. 

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