First Freedom First: A Citizen's Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State

By C. Welton Gaddy; Barry W. Lynn | Go to book overview

Religious Freedom and the
Success or Failure of Democracy

Recently, during breakfast with a highly respected public relations executive, the conversation turned to the subject of religious freedom. Almost immediately, through body language first and then in words, the woman expressed her disinterest in that topic. She explained that she was not “up” on religious issues because she cared little about religion. Needless to say, my breakfast partner was unmoved by my enthusiastic interest in the subject of religious freedom and its institutional requirement for separation between religion and government—at least initially.

As our conversation continued, our attention shifted to matters that were obviously of great interest to her. The woman spoke of her incredulity over opposition to embryonic stem cell research, her fear of the growing power of the Religious Right, and her dismay that mostly male religious leaders were seeking to deny reproductive rights to women. The longer she spoke, the more animated she became and the more forcefully words crossed her lips. At a proper moment, when she had paused to eat a spoonful of oatmeal, I pointed out that the two of us were still talking about religious freedom. Staring at me with a quizzical look on her face, she said, “I thought religious freedom just meant that we all have the freedom to decide where we will go to church or if we will attend church at all.” “No,” I responded, “religious freedom guarantees that no institution of government—at either the federal, state, or local level— can foist upon anybody the moral or doctrinal teachings of any one religion, or require by civil law personal conformity to a sectarian

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