Brett Scharffs Speaks on “Why Religious Freedom?” in Brussels, Belgium 10 April 2017

From The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – EU Office Report

On Monday 10 April, the European Union Office of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) held another event in its “Food for Thought” Breakfast Series entitled “Why Religious Freedom? Why the Religiously Committed and the Religiously Indifferent Should Care”. The aim of the event was to examine the modern articulation of Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), and address questions and issues including the relationship between religious freedom and human rights, the economic aspect of FoRB, and more. Guest speaker was Professor Brett Scharffs, the new director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at the J. Reuben Clark Law School at BYU, Utah. 

Professor Scharffs addressed the question by proposing three reasons why all people, believers or non believers, should care deeply about FoRB.

First, the deeply connected historical roots that FoRB has with “constitutional, political, civil and human rights.” As one of the oldest institutional rights, it has played a foundational role for the emergence of other human rights and freedoms (of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, etc.). Without the protection of religious freedom, as “the core of human identity and meaning,” we also loose the protection of other “important civil and political rights.”

The second reason pointed towards Dualism vs. Monism, and how, in today’s society, we are “engaged in an epochal struggle […] between statist ideologies that do not recognize any power above and beyond the state, and dualist ideologies that base state legitimacy in large measure on the extent to which the state respects rights that precede and do not depend upon the state for recognition.” The question of where to draw the line between these two spheres has been an important one throughout history. Professor Scharffs argued that without religion we might not “have the intellectual, moral, or philosophical resources to resist the imperial logic of statism.”

The third reason presented was that “without FoRB, there is no reliable basis for protecting and respecting conscience.” Prof. Scharffs discussed the differentiation between “public” and “private” reason. He concluded that, historically, “it was not a general respect for conscience that led to conscientious protections of religious conscience, but the protection of religious conscience that led to a broader recognition of conscience as a fundamental human value.” 

After Professor Scharffs’ presentation there followed a lively discussion with the audience. Questions covered a broad range of topics such as public vs. private reason, current challenges arising in countries with one major religion, the fine line between state power and human rights, between religious limitations and religious exemptions.