Asma Uddin: A new politicization in religious liberty

RNS asked Asma Uddin, a lawyer and scholar specializing in religious liberty, to consider what 2018 will mean for religion.

Asma Uddin. Photo by Emily Hardman

RNS asked some of the country’s top faith leaders, scholars and activists to consider what changes the religion landscape will see in 2018. Find all their predictions here.

(RNS) — Religious liberty at its core is about live and let live. Flourish in your own religious expression and protect others’ right to do so, too — regardless of whether you agree with or even understand their religious practices.

From my vantage point as a decade-long religious liberty activist, this idea of live and let live was easy enough for some time. Yet, that is quickly changing. Even in the course of my still-young career, my religious liberty casework has gone from covering largely uncontroversial topics such as land use and prisoners’ rights to cases at the core of culture wars.

This shift reflects the state of religious liberty today — something no longer uncontroversial and largely unchallenged, but suddenly highly politicized. And in 2018, I expect this trajectory toward increased politicization to continue.

There are two strands of this phenomenon. One the one hand, the politicization is based on deep disagreements on questions of sexual morality. As Professor Doug Laycock explains, “On abortion, contraception, gay rights, and same-sex marriage, conservative religious leaders condemn as grave evils what many other Americans view as fundamental human rights.”

On the other hand, the divergence on religious liberty centers on Muslims and Islam. Specifically, many outspoken advocates of religious liberty find it perfectly consistent to simultaneously deny such protection to Muslims. Their reasoning is that Islam is not a religion (it’s apparently something else — such as a “political ideology”) and therefore doesn’t even qualify for religious liberty protections. The argument is bogus and alarming, but its increasingly salience in public discourse suggests that it may gain ground in 2018.

(Asma T. Uddin is a fellow with the Initiative on Security and Religious Freedom at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations. She is also a fellow with Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, and founded the online magazine The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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