Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Hadley Arkes, a member of the First Things advisory council, spots a problem in our current discussions of the right to religious freedom. On Right Reason he points out :

We cannot insist on the one hand that our judgments on law and public policy are formed of moral reasoning and the Natural Law [rather than revelation accepted only by believers], and yet claim on the other that when the law runs counter to our moral judgments we have suffered a denial of our “religious freedom.”

Arkes later connects the omission of the Catholic understanding of reason and revelation to (the oddly inconsistent) recent American jurisprudence on matters of religious freedom. Despite this apparent omission over the past several decades, he believes Chief Justice John Roberts “may have backed into a truth that has not broken through yet to the lawyers” in  Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC :
The canons of reason do indeed come into play in gauging just who is a plausible “minister,” just as they come into play in barring certain claims drawn from revelation, whether it is the claim to burn widows on funeral pyres, or withhold blood transfusions from children. The canons of reason will indeed be woven into the law on religion because, as Michael Novak has pointed out so powerfully, they have been bound up, from the beginning of the American law, with the Creator who endowed us with rights.

For more on natural law, conscientious objections, ministerial exceptions, and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, read the rest of the article here .

Dear Reader,

We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.

Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on

Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.

Will you give today?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles