The Right to Be Wrong
by Ryan T. Anderson
Public Discourse | The online journal of The Witherspoon Institute
One of the hallmarks of religious liberty protections is that they protect people of all faiths, even if their beliefs seem unfounded, flawed, implausible, or downright silly. Recognition of a right to religious freedom does not, however, depend on religious skepticism, relativism, or indifferentism. Rather, it rests on the intelligible value of the religious quest—the activities of seeking to understand the truth about ultimate questions and conforming one’s life accordingly with authenticity and integrity.
The Catholic Church committed itself to precisely this understanding of religious freedom in the Declaration on Religious Liberty of the Second Vatican Council, Dignitatis Humanae. In doing so, it did not embrace the idea that “error has rights.” Rather, it recognized that people have rights—including the right to pursue religious truth and, within the limits of justice and the common good, to act on their judgments of what truth demands. All people possess these fundamental rights, even when they are, in some respects, in error. …
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) reflects the same vision. Passed two decades ago with a unanimous voice vote in the House and by a 97-3 vote in the Senate, RFRA was signed into law by President Clinton. RFRA provides a reasonable balance between religious liberty and the requirements of public order. It says that government can substantially burden a sincere religious belief only when it is pursuing a compelling government interest in the least restrictive means available.
This longish article looks at the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was the statutory basis for the Hobby Lobby decision (and RFRA basically instructs the courts in how the First Amendment “Free Exercise” clause should be applied).