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Changing Minds: Proselytism, Religious Freedom, and the First Amendment


Richard W. Garnett


Notre Dame Law School


University of St. Thomas Law Journal, 2005

Abstract:     
Proselytism is, as Paul Griffiths has observed, a topic enjoying renewed attention in recent years. What's more, the practice, aims, and effects of proselytism are increasingly framed not merely in terms of piety and zeal; they are seen as matters of geopolitical, cultural, and national-security significance as well. Indeed, it is fair to say that one of today's more pressing challenges is the conceptual and practical tangle of religious liberty, free expression, cultural integrity, and political stability. This essay is an effort to unravel that tangle by drawing on the religious-freedom-related work and teaching of the late Pope John Paul II and on a salient theme in the law interpreting the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

Running through and shaping our First Amendment doctrines, precedents, and values is a solicitude for changing minds - our own, as well as others'. Put differently, the Amendment is understood as protecting and celebrating not just expression but persuasion - or, if you like, proselytism. There are, therefore, reasons grounded in our Constitution and traditions for regarding proselytism and its legal protection not as threats to the common good and the freedom of conscience, but instead as integral to the flourishing and good exercise of that freedom. This same solicitude for persuasion and freedom pervades the writing of Pope John Paul II, who regularly insisted that the Church's evangelical mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes - thereby inviting the exercise of human freedom - she imposes nothing. The claim here, then, is that proposing, persuading, proselytizing, and evangelizing are at the heart of, and need not undermine, not only the freedoms protected by the Constitution, but also those that are inherent in our dignity as human persons.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 23

Keywords: free speech, proselytism, First Amendment, human rights, Pope John Paul II

JEL Classification: K10

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Date posted: May 4, 2005  

Suggested Citation

Garnett, Richard W., Changing Minds: Proselytism, Religious Freedom, and the First Amendment. University of St. Thomas Law Journal, 2005. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=715542

Contact Information

Richard W. Garnett (Contact Author)
Notre Dame Law School ( email )
Room 327
P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States
574-631-6981 (Phone)
574-631-4197 (Fax)
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