It’s hard to imagine a better example of the tortured relationship between religion and public life. Fortunately, however, there’s a new book that offers a possible way out of the mess we have created.
In The Right to be Wrong, attorney Kevin Hasson calls those who insist on excluding religion from the public square “park rangers,” named after those rangers who drove people worshipping parking barriers out of their park. The insistence of the rangers is rooted in the belief that “freedom is simply incompatible with public claims of religious truth . . . ” no matter “how harmless” those claims may be.
But “park rangers” aren’t the only people out to restrict the free exercise of religion. The other side of this restrictionist coin is those whom Hasson calls “pilgrims.” The “pilgrim” response to religious diversity is to restrict or “outlaw others’ religious freedom in the name of their own truth.” Some good Christians fall into this trap.
Hasson’s alternative to these extremes begins by acknowledging that “religious diversity is a fact of life” that can’t be “outlawed,” and “needn’t be glorified.” Instead, our goal should be to live “authentically” in the midst of this diversity and allow others to do the same.
How you do this is what sets Hasson apart from other commentators. He doesn’t ground religious freedom in the kind of relativism that says all religions are equally valid and, thus, all deserving of respect. Hasson knows that believers in different religions can and do vehemently disagree about a lot.