October 7, 2011


Glendon: Is religious freedom a second class right?

Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon raised a broad concern about religious freedom in America in her Sept. 20 lecture at Emory. Contrary to those who fear that the religious right is taking over and we are on the verge of a "faith-based" America, says Glendon, religion and religious freedom are actually the values in danger.

Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard and former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, outlined her argument in a lecture presented by Emory's Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR) and co-sponsored by the Aquinas Center of Theology.

Glendon cited three troubling trends:

Increasing religious persecution around the world. Nearly 70 percent of the world's people live in countries where there are "high restrictions" on religious freedom, according to a recent Pew Forum international survey "Worldwide, 75 percent of victims of violent religious persecution are Christian," Glendon adds.

Eroding conscience protection for religious individuals and institutions. In the United States and Western Europe, Glendon says religious freedom is at risk from more subtle threats such as "restrictions on the autonomy of religious institutions and inroads on the rights of parents regarding the education of their children."

Waning influence of religion in society. Glendon cites widespread disillusionment with organized religion and a growing "individualization of faith" in the United States and elsewhere, with more than 15 percent of Americans "declining to affiliate with any organized religion," and 24 to 33 percent describing themselves as "spiritual but not religious."

The political influence of religion often fosters democracy, reconciliation, peace and human rights, while religious values tend to encourage respect and concern for others, discourage consumerism and hedonism, and provide a legacy of justice and love. Religious groups offer tangible societal benefits as well, such as education, health care, child care and employment.

She encourages religious believers and leaders to practice respect and tolerance, to promote the responsible exercise of religious freedom and to resist "divide-and conquer" strategies that, if successful, "could install secularism as the established religion of the United States."

Glendon's lecture was the second of five in CSLR's When Law and Religion Meet lecture series, which focuses on critical questions creating battles in courtrooms, legislatures and places of worship.

Watch the full lecture below:

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