Professors Bradley, Munõz, and Philpott offer perspectives on religious liberty

The closing panel of the 2016 Edith Stein Project Conference, “Free Love: The Liberating Power of Charity,” on February 6 was devoted to the topic of religious freedom. Notre Dame professors Gerard Bradley, Vincent Phillip Munõz, and Daniel Philpott provided insights on the state of religious freedom in modern society, higher education, and across the globe, respectively.

Bradley, Professor of Law, explained the causes and consequences of the decline of religious freedom and redefinition of religion. He described society’s lack of moral boundaries and the promotion of the “sexually emancipated self” as foes in the fight to defend religious freedom. At the same time, he held the dramatic change in “our [modern society’s] conception of the meaning and value and nature of religion” chiefly responsible.

He elaborated further on the waning influence of religion, citing as symptoms the increased focus on religion as merely personal inner experience and the desire for spirituality. Bradley noted this erroneous understanding is at odds with the “truth about reality,” namely Jesus, who he identified as “the measure of all our experiences … and even the norm of our experience with Him.”

Bradley also examined the increasing individualism and subjectivity that results from viewing religion as only a partial source of identity. A misunderstanding of conscience rights follows. When religious liberty and conscience are seen as equals, religious liberty is downplayed because “religion adds something to conscience, moral integrity, and personality … because of its divine dimension.”

Munõz, the Tocqueville Associate Professor of Religion and Public Life, provided insights on the role of religious liberty at higher educational institutions such as Notre Dame. He described the challenges and reasons to be concerned for the future of religious liberty, as well as points of hope he has seen.

According to Muñoz, the challenges colleges and universities face falls under three categories:  compliance with laws and mandates, accreditation, and financial threats. Munõz identified the healthcare mandate and non-discrimination ordinances for the housing, employment, and public accommodation of same-sex couples, as well as transgender employees and students, as potential religious liberty battles. He also presented the possibility of associations such as the APA and NCAA withholding accreditation and licensing if students and institutions refuse to abide by their anti-discrimination policies. In the realm of finance, the dangers of losing tax exemptions and federal funds are most pressing.

Munõz remained confident in the power of the First Amendment and its protection of worship. He also cited the possibility for the overturning of the HHS mandate with a change in leadership in Washington. The dissolution of the connection between sex and procreation and the left’s “theocracy of modern notions,” which dubs dissidents as bigots, are discouraging, but he stressed the importance of rediscovering the truth in reclaiming full religious liberty.

“Nature bats last,” Munõz observed, and he called the audience to seek “to recall those truths, understand those truths, articulate those truths, and live those truths the best we can.”

Philpott, Professor of Political Science and Peace Studies, spoke on the importance of global religious freedom. He described the importance of religious liberty not as indifference, but “freedom for good,” which is essential for upholding human dignity.

He detailed how religious freedom has been under attack from oppressive regimes, from communists to religious nationalist to secular governments. Because of these threats, he holds that religious liberty needs to be universally recognized and protected. He noted that most people will agree that “religion is universally fulfilling to the human person.” Challenges arise due to a lack of consensus on a single definition of religion.

Philpott identified several qualities of religion that most people can recognize. Religion revolves around “inward commitment and inward assent of the heart”—not coercion but a decision. The key to maintaining religious freedom as “freedom for the good” instead of indifference lies in the decision and the respect for human dignity that allows the decision to be made freely.

He concluded by offering a timeline for the Church’s increased embrace of religious liberty based on value for “the freedom for the good, which must be the basis for religious freedom, as opposed to a freedom of indifference.”

Mackenzie Kraker is a freshman living in McGlinn Hall. She hopes to major in chemical engineering with a theology minor. She teaches a 1st grade CCD class and connected free will to The Lego Movie in class. If you would like to offer advice on other ways to integrate cinema and catechism contact her at