Freedom Without Religion

In my comments after Mitt Romney’s speech yesterday one portion I objected to was Romney’s claim that, “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” The Washington Post devoted their editorial on Romney’s speech to this line, concluding:

Where Mr. Romney most fell short, though, was in his failure to recognize that America is composed of citizens not only of different faiths but of no faith at all and that the genius of America is to treat them all with equal dignity. “Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom,” Mr. Romney said. But societies can be both secular and free. The magnificent cathedrals of Europe may be empty, as Mr. Romney said, but the democracies of Europe are thriving.

“Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government,” Mr. Romney said. But not all Americans acknowledge that, and those who do not may be no less committed to the liberty that is the American ideal.

Post columnist E.J. Dionne was also critical of this portion of Romney’s speech:

Religion can certainly be conducive to freedom. But does freedom require religion? Is religion always conducive to freedom? Does freedom not also thrive in far more secular societies than our own? Isn’t the better course for our nation to seek solidarity among lovers of liberty, secular as well as religious? After all, as the Princeton scholar Jeffrey Stout has noted, it was a coalition of believers and secularists that sent a communist dictatorship tumbling down in Pope John Paul II’s native Poland.

And Romney’s knock on the “religion of secularism” was pure pandering to the religious right.

This is certainly pandering, and reinforces the view that the only choices are those offered by the religious right or an absence of religion from society. Supporters of a secular state desire to remove the influence of religion from government but may or may not personally be religious. As I noted yesterday, many of the founding fathers were both religious and supported a secular government with separation of church and state. Many religious leaders have also recognized that separation of church and state is essential to guarantee freedom of religion. Under a secular state each individual has the right to believe, or not believe, as they choose. While religion is not necessary for freedom, separation of church and state is necessary to prevent the denial of liberty to those who disagree with the predominant religion.

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