by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
[T]he power of government, necessary as it is to maintaining a shared moral order, is the creature and not the creator of men’s rights, and the servant, not the master of our private relations in our families and religious communities. It has no jurisdiction over belief; it cannot properly legislate or adjudicate questions of religious duty or the validity of requirements of conscience. This is not to say that the government may never inquire into whether a claim of religious conviction is sincere. Nor must the state yield entirely to every sincerely presented claim. In the words of Dignitatis, the “objective moral order” that calls for “good order and . . . true justice” will trump claims that threaten the public peace or the rights of others.
But … short of such cases, the state should respect, honor, and even foster the role of religious communities and institutions as essential contributors to civil society. In crucial respects they are expressions of something still more basic to the flourishing of the human personality than is the political order itself.
The modern secular state errs in viewing religious communities as subordinate—whether as handmaidens of government, rivals for people’s allegiance, or as mere interest groups in elections and public policy debates. Subordination of the religious to the political tends to sever, in the minds of policymakers and judges, the link between individuals and the various expressions of religious community that enrich their understanding of the truth, animate their peaceful encounters with their fellow citizens who have different understandings, and inform the reasonable basis of our objective moral order.