Religion is an institution, a worldview, a set of personal loyalties and a locus of community, an aspect of identity and a connection to the transcendent. Other parts of human life may serve one or more of these functions, but none other serves them all.
To believers, the right to worship God in accordance with conscience is the most important of our rights. To nonbelievers, it is scarcely less important to be free of governmental imposition of a religion they do not accept.
And as we know from the sad history of early modern Europe, and of Iraq and much of the Middle East today, a guarantee that the government will not wield its sword in favor of particular religious sects is fundamental to civic peace, as well as spiritual liberty.
Editor's note: Michael W. McConnell, a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board, is the Richard & Frances Mallery Professor and Director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School. Previously, McConnell served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Salt Lake City. His influential scholarship on constitutional law has been widely published. This commentary derives from remarks shared at the launch of the American Religious Freedom Program, a new initiative at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
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