the social utility of religious freedom

Reading this post by Rod Dreher, which considers (among other things) the extent to which overt hostility towards tradition-minded Christians is a product of the Trump years or, by contrast, predates the current shitstorm — spoiler alert: it’s the latter — I was reminded of a conversation I had on Twitter some years ago with a friendly, easygoing academic acquaintance. I had posted something in relation to religious freedom, and he replied along these lines: I just want you to know that religious freedom is not something I see any value in.

I said, You know religious freedom is deeply embedded in the Constitution, right? And of course he did. And that it’s a key part of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Yeah, he knew that too. I don’t expect legal commitments to religious freedom to go away any time soon, he said, but I wish I could get rid of them. They have negative social utility.

The conversation has stuck with me primarily because, as I noted above, this is a perfectly friendly and easygoing guy, and someone that I am confident strives to treat all his students fairly, even when they’re Christian fundamentalists. But if he could wave a magic wand and eliminate all legal protections of religious freedom, he would, simply because he thinks religion in general does more harm than good. It occurred to me that there are probably millions of people like him in America, which I find a sobering thought, to say the least.