Religious Freedom: Of, For or From
In a recent speech, Senator Deborah O’Neill highlighted the distinctions between Freedom of Religion; Freedom for Religion; and Freedom from Religion. Citing the work of Margaret Sommerville, Senator O’Neill noted while the phrases focused our attention on religion, actually, the discussion is about the State and the public sphere.
Freedom OF religion means the state or government does not have an official religion and does not impose one on its citizens – there is openness to a religious perspective and worldview.
Freedom FOR religion means the state permits religious practise freely by its citizens and enables religions to have a place in the public sphere – it is appropriate there is a space for religious perspectives.
Freedom FROM religion means the state acts to exclude religious practises and religious voices from participation in the public arena, the shaping and passing of legislation or the implementation of policy.
The first two are recognition of the distinctions between Church and State that are enshrined in Catholic social teaching; the third would be an example of a despotic State seeking to eliminate religion from human endeavour.
In a number of public policy areas, it is common for religious perspectives to be denigrated along the lines of “it is a matter of personal choice, religious people should keep their views to themselves.” Or further, “there is no place for religion in discussion of law or policy.” These views are tending toward freedom FROM and are contrary to Catholic social teaching and any form of democratic government.