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Ryan T. Anderson on Liberty in One’s Religious Quest

One of the hallmarks of religious liberty protections is that they protect people of all faiths, even if their beliefs seem unfounded, flawed, implausible, or downright silly. Recognition of a right to religious freedom does not, however, depend on religious skepticism, relativism, or indifferentism. Rather, it rests on the intelligible value of the religious quest — the activities of seeking to understand the truth about ultimate questions and conforming one’s life accordingly with authenticity and integrity. … [It is not] the idea that “error has rights.” Rather, it recognize[s] that people have rights — including the right to pursue religious truth and, within the limits of justice and the common good, to act on their judgments of what truth demands. All people possess these fundamental rights, even when they are, in some respects, in error.

… The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) reflects the same vision. Passed two decades ago with a unanimous voice vote in the House and by a 97-3 vote in the Senate, RFRA was signed into law by President Clinton. RFRA provides a reasonable balance between religious liberty and the requirements of public order. It says that government can substantially burden a sincere religious belief only when it is pursuing a compelling government interest in the least restrictive means available.


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