It’s difficult to make the case for freedom in our modern world. We’ve traded convenience for privacy so often, and so easily, without realizing privacy is intimately tied to freedom— that we’ve lost the any sense of the importance of freedom in our everyday lives. We have somehow come to the conclusion that freedom is about being able to buy what we want, or consume whatever entertainment we want, but it’s not about thinking what we want, or believing what we want.
And it’s here religious freedom interfaces with the importance of freedom as freedom. Religious freedom was the call of those who came to these shores to start a new nation. Religious freedom is the call of those who are fighting atheistic oppression in China, Islamic oppression in Iran, the subtle persecution of Creationists and “Fundamental Christianity,” in America, and a thousand other places around the world.
Religious freedom underlies the concept of individual freedom —that the individual, as an individual, deserves respect and protection from those who would force them to assent to things they believe to be false, or to deny things they believe to be true. It is here, in the private conscience protected by religious freedom, that you can find respite from our modern avalanche of science-as-the-only-truth. It is here, in the private conscience protected by religious freedom, that new ideas come to life, take hold, and change the world.
But religious freedom is more than just a stomping ground for dissent and new thinking. It is also a bulwark against the combined power of state and religion. Once the state and religion combine into one grand unifying system of power, as we see in the modern Atheistic and Islamic states, there is no hiding from the all knowing, all powerful, all reaching arm of the state.
For those who are communitarians, the communists and socialists and fascists among us, the state forcing you to believe the correct things, so that we can build a better community, is a noble vision. They will tell you they value people enough care no matter what their skin color, they will tell you they value people enough to make certain they have all their material needs met. They will argue they value those who disagree with them, but then treat them as less-than-human, as “the other,” to be conquered, rather than a person with a mind that can be changed.
But here we return to the Pilgrims and Dissenters came to the shores of America, fleeing with their bodies because the state would not allow them to flee with their minds.
Religious freedom is founded on the notion of the individual as a person being respected simply because they are. Religious freedom says, “this person is important, even though I don’t agree with them, even though I think they are destined to an eternity separated from God.” Religious freedom values the person in spite of disagreement, something the communal mindset can’t even imagine, much less act on.
Take away religious freedom, and all that’s left is a lump of cells, a very high percentage of which is just water, a tool to be used by the state in whatever way the state desires.
Take away religious freedom, and you’re no longer a person at all.
That’s why religious freedom is important.