Published Humanitas, Volume XXI, No. 1, 1999
National Humanities Institute
The American Myth of Religious Freedom, by Kenneth R. Craycraft, Jr. Dallas, Texas: Spence Publishing Co., 1999. 226 pp. $27.95.
This book provides a good example of the distortion of reality, not to mention mind-torturing confusion, that occurs when political documents—in this instance, the religious clauses of the First Amendment and the writings of Locke, Jefferson, and Madison—are viewed through sectarian glasses and without regard to the multi-layered historical context in which they were created.
The author does occasionally stumble onto a valid point, as when he notes the impossibility of implementing a term like “freedom of speech” or “freedom of religion” in an abstract, or merely procedural, way. Rather, such terms, as put into actual practice, derive their concrete meanings from the ultimate purpose or worldview of those employing them. Hence, “religious freedom,” as defined and put into practice by postmodernist liberals, will not—because it cannot—affect everybody neutrally. It is no more possible for secular liberals, who recognize no ultimate criterion of truth or goodness beyond the radically free individual “conscience,” to enforce a notion of “religious freedom” that affects equally both those who share their secularist worldview and those moved by very different ethical and epistemological visions, e.g., traditional Christians, than would be the case if the roles were reversed. According to Craycraft, “religious freedom,” as enforced by the liberal state in conformity with recent Supreme Court decisions, anathematizes orthodox religious believers.
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