Panel Two: Examining the History of Dignitatis Humanae

The second panel kicks off with Phillip Muñoz, whose talk concerns the limits of state power with respect to religion as a historical matter in the text of state constitutions. Phillip’s key point is that there are some features of religious freedom that are categorically outside state power. There are some interests that the state can never pursue. Sherbert and RFRA are mechanisms through which the government can control religion. Phillip focuses on state constitutions because these documents show that the founders had a natural rights view of religious freedom and the unalienability of certain rights, over which the government has no jurisdiction. These rights were categorical limits on government power. But the rights have natural limits–to wit, the natural rights of others.

Brett Scharffs spoke next. Brett offered an interesting account of the different types of restrictions on religious freedom across the world. 39% of the world’s countries have high or very high government restrictions, and these include countries with high populations. Countries on the Asian continent have particularly high representation. There are also statistics for social hostility with respect to religion, which seem to correlate with countries with a high percentage dominant religious group. Catholic majority countries tend to score low as to both measures. His conclusions: religion is a limitation on religious freedom. Second, it is important therefore to look for justifications for religious freedom within those traditions.

Anna Su spoke last. Her presentation was historical whose points were that the US approach was an important, at first, contrast and then, later, a model for the Catholic Church. She also noted that John Courtney Murray’s contributions were prefigured by the Americanist controversy in the 19th century. Religious freedom may be less threatened in secular countries like the US, but that does not mean that religious freedom is less fragile in secular countries than in those with religious bases.

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