… so says ethicist James Mumford. What he means is that, when we look across history, we see that religious groups that are in the minority, or fear they soon will be, tend to favor liberty. It is they who lose from persecution. Majority religions tend not to favor liberty, because they win without it. Many Americans will be familiar with how Baptists, a persecuted minority in 17th-century New England, pioneered freedom of conscience. Mumford shows that the story of how European Catholicism came to be the world’s leading proponent of religious freedom is similar:
What is most powerful in this account, I think, is that Félicité de Lamennais in the 19th century, and Luigi Sturzo and others in the 20th, pressed for religious freedom even in countries where Catholics formed a majority of the population. Like other religious people, they learned from suffering and elevated religious freedom to a principle.
Note, too, Mumford’s conclusions for the United States and other countries where religious skeptics are enjoying more cultural power than ever and are starting to use it on some university campuses to exclude some religious groups.