In the Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain resides a centuries-old tradition of religious coexistence that might help fast-track a new paradigm of respect for the “other” in a deeply troubled region.
By in large, the decision was hailed as a victory for religious liberty by proponents of accomodationist views of the religion clauses, and criticized as a further crumbling of the wall between church and state by those of the separationist school.
Thus, the elephant in the room remains – whether these state law provisions are a legitimate basis for denying religious schools the right to participate in state educational voucher programs.
Chief Justice Roberts was on pretty solid ground when he observed, in his opinion for the Court in the recent Trinity Lutheran case, that “[y]oungsters . . . often fall on the playground or tumble from the equipment. And when they do, the gravel can be unforgiving.” And, the foundation is no less firm for the Court’s conclusion that the First Amendment does not permit governments to discriminate against religious believers and organizations when distributing public benefits.
How would religious freedom decrease transnational terrorism, thereby decreasing the need for counterterrorism coordination? The answer, I believe, lies in a nation’s level of authoritarianism. Put another way, with more democracy will come more open theological debates on sensitive public policy issues and less resort to violence to address grievances. In turn, terrorist groups will find it more difficult to manipulate religious doctrine to persuade recruits their cause is just and sanctioned by God.
A free marketplace of religious ideology will provide the political space needed for religious scholars to openly challenge on the merits Al Qaeda, ISIS, or their progeny’s twisted interpretations of Islam.
The scourge of violent extremism proliferates in an atmosphere of discursive suffocation. Islamist radicals and extremists enjoy a monopoly over religious discourse. We will not really succeed in confronting this menace until we break up this monopoly. The key to doing so involves protecting free speech.