Until recently, Americans were used to hearing about threats to religious freedom in other countries. “From the end of World War II, for about 50 years, our understanding of religious liberty was relatively stable,” Notre Dame professor Gerard Bradley said in a Georgetown University seminar on October 24, 2012. “Our understanding was that the greatest threat to religious liberty was public authority. But somewhere around the turn of the millennium, that changed.”
“At around this time, what has previously been thought of as a canonical definition of religious freedom turned into a relativistic one,” Bradley said. “There are two kinds of pressure on religious freedom: a muscular religious pressure, for example, radical Islam; and a muscular secular pressure.”
Bradley spoke at a conference put on by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs. Funded by the Templeton Foundation, the Berkley Center is kind of at but not of Georgetown University. In fact, this meeting took place at their office off-campus in downtown Georgetown.
Small wonder— Bradley offered the sort of insights not likely to be found much on-campus:
• “International law is now affecting the domestic law of many countries.”
• “Secularism is the middle ground between belief and unbelief.”
• “The globalization of religious liberty is something that could only emerge as a question in the last 10-15 years.”
Bradley signed onto a letter from hundreds of Catholic scholars protesting the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that forces Catholic institutions, such as Georgetown University, to provide not just contraceptives but sterilization and abortifacients on demand. Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard, who is an advisor to the Romney campaign, was another signatory.
“We in the religious freedom project [a program at the Berkley Center] believe that religious freedom is threatened everywhere in the world but religious freedom is also advancing everywhere in the world,” Georgetown University sociologist Jose Casanova said at the Berkley Center conclave.
Even in the United States, although not without difficulty. Washington and Lee University law school professor Robin Wilson, not a Catholic, finds the claim that “98 percent of Catholic women use contraceptives” questionable. Nevertheless, she argues that “The bishops would have their own claim to religious freedom even if nobody followed them.”
Wilson fears a “ghettoization of religion” or a “Balkanization.” To Balkanize, according to Webster’s, is “to break up (as a region or group) into smaller and often hostile units.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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