Why Law Should Accommodate Religion

Kevin Hasson of Becket Fund Warns of State “Neutrality”

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FRONT ROYAL, Virginia, MARCH 21, 2003 (Zenit.org).- A legal expert criticizes the exclusion of religious values from law and politics, saying, “Freedom of religion really tends to be taken as freedom from religion.”

Kevin Hasson, the founder and president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, stated in a speech at Christendom College that the institutional separation of church and state becomes the unworkable separation of anything religious from anything political — and religious values must not inform any public moral debate.

He said that although the state may not specifically target religion for suppression, the state remains free to act in callous disregard of it. The “neutrality” of the state may be called into question if the state accommodates religious expression.

“The problem with this approach is anthropological,” Hasson said. “Neutrality is understood to require the state to ignore the religious nature of humanity, to pretend it does not exist, rather than to acknowledge, accommodate and promote it.

“But the human desire to seek the truth, and especially religious truth, cannot be overlooked, much less eliminated.”

Hasson began his March 3 lecture by explaining that every culture has a certain philosophy, a “public philosophy.” There are certain common assumptions and principles that everyone holds true, for example, the fact that “everything is relative” or “all men are created equal.”

He said that part of that public philosophy is the assumption that politics and religion should be separate; as a result, there tends to be a culture war over religion and its place in public life.

In its 10 years, the Becket Fund has successfully defended clients from a variety of faiths.

“And why do we defend the religious freedom of people from all religious faiths?” asked Hasson, a graduate of Notre Dame Law School who holds a master’s in theology from the same university.

“Because no matter how profoundly disparate their beliefs,” he explained, “each and every person shares the same common humanity, an essential part of which is a yearning for truth, a thirst for the transcendent; and that aspect of human nature is so valuable that it deserves the strongest possible protection in law.”

Hasson contended that “free cultivation of human religious potential is also essential to social harmony.”

“Not only does religious repression give rise to civil strife seemingly as durable as the religious impulse itself, but social cohesion depends on the transmission of those virtues typically fostered by religious participation,” he said.

From this belief, Hasson holds that governments at all levels should acknowledge human religious potential, avoid interference with its full expression, and actively promote its voluntary cultivation.

For much of its history, Catholic thought included the notion that error has no rights, said Hasson. Today, as John Paul II puts it, the Church recognizes “religious freedom as an inviolable right of the human person.”

“What happened? Has the Pope become a relativist?” asked Hasson. “No, the Pope has been reading Vatican II. The council’s declaration on religious freedom, ‘Dignitatis Humanae,’ refused to divorce truth and freedom.

“Instead it grounded freedom in a great truth: that we humans come with a built-in thirst for transcendence, an innate desire to seek and embrace an ultimate truth that lies far beyond the horizon of ourselves.”

“Truth is knowable but it can only be embraced authentically when it is embraced freely,” said Hasson.

The truth about man is that man is born to seek freely the truth about God. It is this truth that bestows on us the dignity that guarantees our freedom, he added. “While error may have no rights, erring people truly do.”

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