Individual, Community and State: Thoughts on Jane Norton, Freedom of Religious Organizations
10 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2017
Date Written: July 17, 2017
There are two ways in which one can address the freedom of religious organizations. The first is to propose that freedom of religion is a right possessed by individuals and that the rights of groups, collectives or corporate entities derive from the rights of the individuals that constitute such groups. The second is to propose that groups, collectives and corporate entities are themselves entitled to religious freedom as such, without any need to show how it derives from the rights of individuals. Jane Calderwood Norton’s book, Freedom of Religious Organizations, adopts the first approach, and presses it just about as far in the direction of protecting the organizational dimensions of religious freedom as can be conceived. As an exercise in thinking through the implications of such a starting point, it is an exemplary work. However, approaching freedom of religion in this way is to impose a view that few religious adherents would themselves recognise. Many religions are deliberately communal in their practices and beliefs, and they do not regard membership of a religion as an exercise of personal autonomy. Norton also frames the question as if it is the state that has final authority to determine the content and limits of religious freedom. However, this is to frame the question in a manner that places the state and its institutions in a superior position that is not justified by the historical record of states in their treatment of religious minorities. It would be better if the future of religious freedom were negotiated between religion and state, rather than determined by the state unilaterally.
Keywords: Religious Freedom, Religious Organizations, Joseph Raz
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