The afterglow of 4th of July fireworks is a good moment to reflect on religious freedom. It used to be that Americans saw this principle as part of their common heritage, a constitutional principle that we teach to children in schools and that all take pride in. Now we are starting to see religious freedom become one side in a culture war, even placed in scare quotes in the contemporary media.
Americans have also believed that their experiment in religious freedom was worth exporting. President Roosevelt declared religious freedom as one of the “four freedoms” that made up U.S. aims in World War II. After the war, the U.S. was instrumental in including religious freedom in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Then, after the Cold War, in 1998, the U.S. Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act , institutionalizing the promotion of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy.
A recent group of critics is calling into question this global promotion. We’ve engaged them in debate previously here at ArcU (see here, here, and here). In the past year, the two leading voices, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd and Saba Mahmood, have published books with Princeton University Press that look critically at religious freedom. I review these two books in a piece that Lawfare published last week. I take issue with their critique and seek to defend religious freedom.