The First Chapters Project – The Religious Freedom Perspective

The second perspective of the First Chapters Project is Religious Freedom. Religious Freedom is the cultural and political-institutional guarantee that people can live their faith and organize their lives freely, according to their religious convictions. Religious freedom implies an organization of society in which the autonomy of each sphere of society (family, church, schools, business, health care, associations, science, and government) is respected.

For this reason, one of the most important tenets of Christian Politics is Religious Freedom. Promoting Religious Freedom is basically putting an institutional framework in place in which each person can freely seek the Truth and discover the Creator.

In fact, religious freedom, as a principle, was already present in the Garden of Eden, as Adam and Eve where given the option to choose between obeying God and not obeying Him, to restrain from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and from eating it (Genesis 2). But freedom also implies responsibility. When Eve, followed by Adam, deceived by the serpent, ate from the tree, they were banished from the Garden of Eden.

Religious Freedom is both a policy field and a theme. It’s a policy field because ensuring religious freedom a central aspect of the Christian political agenda. On any scale, Christians are the world’s largest persecuted group. In many countries of the world, the free expression of the Christian faith, in all spheres of life, is restricted. As a religious minority, Christians are demonstrably more vulnerable than other groups to hostilities. Christian Politics should always remind the state of it’s the responsibility to respect, protect and promote religious freedom for all religions, both at the national and the international levels.

Religious freedom is also a theme, because religious freedom is the justification of the active participation of Christians in society and in politics. Freedom of religion or belief involves dimensions such as the freedom to have, choose, change or leave a religion or belief, the freedom to manifest a religion or belief, freedom from coercion, freedom from discrimination, parent’s rights and children’s rights, the right to conscientious objection and employers and employees (click here for more information).

The principle of separation of Church and State is an essential element of religious freedom. The State should not interfere in Church autonomy and religious institutions should not interfere in the government sphere. However, the principle of the separation of Church and State is often misinterpreted and misunderstood to justify the exclusion of any form of religious expression from the public square. This Radical Secularist interpretation of religious freedom is absolutely wrong: whilst Church and State ought to be separated, faith and government should not. True religious freedom and true democratic pluralism imply that everyone should be entitled to publicly express their political preferences, based on their religious or ideological convictions, and endeavor for their inclusion in public policy, through peaceful means.

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Dennis P. Petri
Dennis P. Petri is Director of Plataforma C, Platform for Christian Politics. A political scientist by training, he specializes in comparative politics with a specific interest in Latin America. He is currently working on a dissertation about religious freedom at VU University Amsterdam.


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