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The Sunday edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer features an op-ed arguing for the importance of religious freedom, not just in the United States, but abroad as well.

The authors, Christian Sahner and Bennett Graham observe that religious freedom plays a fundamental role in the development of a healthy civil society. They write:

Promoting religious liberty has long been sidelined by policymakers as a niche concern, but its importance cannot be understated. The possibility to believe and disbelieve empowers people to think critically for themselves, arriving at a conviction as a matter of choice, as opposed to coercion. A society that respects religious liberty also allows diverse claims of truth to compete beside one another, creating an atmosphere of civil debate, transparency, and respect.

In view of the central role of religion in culture, it makes sense to think that how a society treats religious conviction says a great deal about its view of human freedoms more broadly. On the one hand, it makes no sense to drive religious convictions out of the public square, for to do so impoverishes the political realm, and functions as a secular tyranny of its own sort. On the other hand, as Sahner and Bennett point out, religious freedom—the limitations on the power of government to make theological doctrine obligatory—helps prevent the passion of religious conviction from conscripting the power of government to coerce convictions, thus violating the dignity of the human person.

Both Christianity and Islam are animated by the conviction that their truths are universal. Both want to realize this universality in and through evangelization, which involves the transformation of culture. Both face the temptation to conscript the power of the modern state to achieve this goal. A commitment to religious freedom blocks this temptation. It redirects the ambitions of the evangelist toward their proper object: the heart and mind of the human person, and fittingly so, for it is the place where culture percolates.

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