The Critical Importance of Religious Liberty: Seven Quotes From Sonne

A leading scholar and legal advocate for religious liberty addressed the Benedictine College community on Feb. 14. Prof. James A. Sonne is a professor at Stanford Law School and the founding director of its Religious Liberty Clinic. Professor Sonne delivered an address on the cultural imperative of treating religious liberty as a universal human right. The talk was sponsored by the Center for Constitutional Liberty. Excerpts of his talk follow.

Why Religious Freedom Is a Right …

“Our First Amendment tradition honors and cherishes religious exercise as a universal right that belongs to all people and frankly, by our human nature. It’s not just an exception to the rule that is state regulation; in fact, religious exercise is the rule to which state regulation is the exception.”

… A Key Right

“Religious liberty is the door through which we are able to preach, teach and spread what we truly believe to be the truth about the human person and about God.”

… And a Duty

In Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae “The council fathers declared both a right and a duty. … [A]ll people have a ‘moral obligation to seek the truth’ and to be bound to the truth. Our Lord wants us to have a freely chosen relationship with him. He wants us to choose to love him, to be in relationship with him, not have the law force us into that.”

Why Religious Freedom Is Unique

“Equality in liberty should be the rule rather than simply equality for its own sake, because if we treat religious beliefs the same as any other preference and regulate them accordingly, it really misses the unique, historic, and human dimension of religious belief. “

… Why It’s Human

“Religious accommodation might seem like a special rule, but actually in our view it’s treating people and their full humanity.”

What Society Needs to Learn

“If a society does not appreciate the role of religion in society, you know, religious liberty is just a paper barrier. It’s words on a page, the First Amendment. ‘Who are those guys 200 years ago that put that down? I don’t even know what they meant’ —that’s a lot of young people today. It doesn’t resonate in their lives.”

How to Teach the Culture

“One of the keys is in getting past this culture war barrier … to the robust protection of religious liberty so that you then can preach and teach what it is you believe is really to stress and illustrate in the lives of real people the universality of religious liberty as a natural right, to really remind people that it’s not some narrow political tool that’s used just to the advantage of one political party or another, or a policy agenda at any given time.”

A Solution, Not a Problem.

“It is about again, a shared dignity as human persons, no matter how we choose to exercise it, which again is fundamentally rooted in a Christian concept as so beautifully articulated in Dignitatis Humanae. I think we see what many might see in religious liberty as a problem that actually is a solution; it can be a bridge to mutual understanding. It can be disarming. “

Paul Burghart

Paul Burghart is Chief of Staff and Director of Extension Programs at Benedictine College. He assists in carrying out strategic initiatives of the College, including many of the centers formed as part of the vision to Transform Culture in America. Burghart has a licentiate in philosophy from the Catholic University of America and resides in Atchison with his wife, Elizabeth, and three children.