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Government Properly Protects Freedom of Religion and Freedom from Religion

Theocrat Rick Santorum is the CEO of the Christian film production company EchoLight, as the Heritage Institute reports. Unsurprisingly, judging from its trailer, one of the company’s forthcoming films, One Generation Away: The Erosion of Religious Liberty, substantially distorts the meaning and significance of the First Amendment’s language about religion. To review, the First Amendment begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

In the trailer, one commentator claims the First Amendment protects “free exercise of religion, not freedom from religion.” Mike Huckabee says, “It’s the government’s job only to protect that there is a freedom to have religious expression.” However, properly government protects both freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

The right to freedom of religion means that religious people have a moral right to express their views as long as is in doing so they do not violate the right of others, to operate their private businesses as they see fit, and to associate with others (or decline to so associate) in accordance with their religious beliefs. As examples, the owners of Hobby Lobby have a moral right not to offer health insurance that’s at odds with their religious beliefs, and cake bakers have a moral right not to bake cakes for gay weddings.

The right to freedom from religion means that nonreligious people and people of minority religions have a moral right not to finance the propagation of religious beliefs and not to be subjected to faith-based, rights-violating laws. As examples, atheists and non-Christians have a moral right not to finance Christian instruction in schools, not to support Christian indoctrination by government institutions, and not to be subjected to antiabortion laws. The right to freedom from religion does not mean that atheists may silence religious speech or throttle (non-rights-violating) religious actions.

The future of American liberty depends substantially on more Americans coming to understand the proper meaning of the right to religious liberty, a concept that properly entails both freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Let’s hope that more Americans, whatever their beliefs about religion, soon reach such an understanding. Santorum, Huckabee, and company certainly are not helping.

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