November 16, 2016 – Recognizing religious liberty as a centerpiece of the American political experiment and upholding its value domestically is imperative to the country’s long-term promotion of religious freedom abroad, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) said yesterday at Georgetown.
The senator’s remarks came during his keynote address at Religious Freedom and the Common Good, a daylong symposium sponsored by the Religious Freedom Project at the university’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.
The conference brought together prominent international scholars, business owners, politicians and human rights advocates to explore the contribution of religious liberty to human flourishing and examine the role of religious freedom in combating violent religious extremism.
No Clarion Voice
“The U.S. government is not nearly the clarion voice on the issue of international religious freedom that it has been in moments past and that we need to become again in the future,” Sasse said.
He characterized the dearth of passionate, persuasive promotion of international religious freedom in American political discourse as a crisis of national self-understanding.
“America,” he said, “has not been passing on the meaning of this glorious experiment in self-government to the next generation for almost half a century.”
The junior senator contended that religious liberty has been met with a mix of suspicion and apathy in today’s polarized political environment.
“The term religious liberty is being perceived as if it is a placeholder for some sort of bigotry,” he observed. “We shouldn’t be talking right versus left when we’re talking about religious liberty. This is the first freedom of the American experiment, the first freedom listed in the Bill of Rights.”
He urged America to “revive, recover and reteach” the invaluable principles articulated in the country’s founding documents, especially the “grand claim” that all “people are created with dignity.”
He also said he supports James Madison’s conviction that a difference of opinion is not a regrettable circumstance to be extinguished but rather the outflow of freedom and a reminder of the grandeur of human uniqueness.
Efforts to protect the rights of one’s own group seldom are interpreted as anything more than maneuvers to gain power, he said.
He called on proponents of religious freedom to broaden their advocacy and speak out on behalf of “creedal minority communities” to which they do not personally belong.
As America renews its commitment to religious freedom at home, Sasse predicted the country would once again enjoy the ability to exhibit a vibrant civil society to the world.
The senator also spoke directly to America’s foreign policy community, urging it to keep religious freedom at the forefront of its agenda.
“We make a mistake when we allow the word ‘democracy’ or ‘elections’ to become a proxy for religious liberty,” he said. “Religious freedom is actually much more important than either of those things.”