Friday, January 16, 2009

"A Positive Concept of Secularism"

Rich Leonardi links to this Zenit article about a conference convened to discuss Pope Benedict's 2008 U.S. visit and his praise for the American model of church-state relations, which, as the Holy Father noted a the time of his visit, is imbued with "a positive concept of secularism".

One of the participants in the conference was Notre Dame law professor Rick Garnett, who discussed the various models of religious freedom in the U.S. that provide a bit of tension in shaping competing American views of "positive secularism":
... Dr. Richard Garnett of Notre Dame Law School addressed the modern threats to positive secularism with a candid portrait of the state of religious liberty today.

He outlined three models of religious freedom at play in the United States. The first is a freedom from religion that tries to exclude religion from public life as if it were "just another hobby." The domestication of religion creates a boundary that prevents people from living their religion in every aspect of their lives.

The second is freedom of religion that recognizes religion cannot be simply put aside, but treats it with a "benevolent evenhandedness." This model refuses to acknowledge the specialness of religion.

The third model is the ideal, freedom for religion, in which man's "search for truth is recognized as an important human activity." This model, which reflects the spirit of the founding fathers, does not impose religion but understands that man needs to look for truth.

Professor Garnett also shed light on the tremendous amount of litigation over religion that steers and drives these models. The stakes are very high between these models; questions of education, the liberty of religious institutions to govern themselves, bioethical issues all have an interest in which model will prevail.

While presenting a sobering picture of a very real battlefield, Garnett saw hope for the model of freedom for religion in that "our laws still think religion is good thing."


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