Maybe we are asking too much of Americans (and others) when we use the term "religious liberty." While most people might not be motivated to deny it to others, there is certainly a growing portion of the population that think religion unnecessary or even a threat in a post 9-11 world: they might not care for the term.
The first amendment lays out a model for disestablishment and free exercise: but how many citizens really know their amendments? When the Constitution was read aloud by Congress we discovered their general unfamiliarity with it. The citizenry? A distressingly large percentage, according to pols cannot even name whoever the current President is.
The other day I read a book on civics by a very public figure who is developing presidential aspirations: he spoke well enough of religious liberty, but said we must get away from "accommodating" religious practice and move toward “toleration.” His world is a little topsy-turvy historically. Proponents of true religious liberty see toleration as the half cousin to persecution. And the other day I heard a leader of a major U.S. Church denomination give a speech on religious liberty which decried the growing emphasis on individual conscience. He wants the enumerated practices of formal denominations to be better respected. But maybe he has missed the boat on something the enlightenment thinkers recognized as an "inalienable right: conscience fits that pretty well.
Words mean a lot. We form thoughts and actions from them. It's vital we know what we mean by “religious liberty.”
Author: Lincoln E. Steed
Lincoln E. Steed is the editor of Liberty magazine, a 200,000 circulation religious liberty journal which is distributed to political leaders, judiciary, lawyers and other thought leaders in North America. He is additionally the host of the weekly 3ABN television show "The Liberty Insider," and the radio program "Lifequest Liberty."