FAQ’s

Q:  What is the American Charter of Freedom of Religion and Conscience?

A:   The American Charter is a statement of first principles outlining and affirming America’s long-standing commitment to robust protections for freedom of religion and conscience.  It is grounded in the commitments to fundamental human rights found in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and in Article 18 of the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The American Charter is being drafted in collaboration with scholars, experts, and key representatives of diverse religious and nonreligious constituencies across the political and ideological spectrum.  Their aim is to revive Americans’ understanding of and commitment to freedom of religion and conscience as a universal and inviolable right for people of all faiths and ultimate beliefs.

 

Q:  Does the Charter protect all religions and beliefs, including atheists and agnostics? 

A:   Yes. The American Charter underscores that the principles of freedom of religion and conscience protect people of all religions and ultimate beliefs, including atheists, agnostics, and “Nones.”

 

Q:  What does the Charter stand for?

A:   With a primary focus on freedom of religion and conscience, the American Charter stands for equal opportunity for all to exercise fundamental freedoms guaranteed to us by the Bill of Rights. The Charter aims to reinvigorate the idea that all people deserve protections of conscience, and to ensure this idea is treated as a fundamental human right for all.

To help ensure that these freedoms continue to be valued and to flourish, and with a focus on issues involving freedom of religion and conscience, the Charter encourages Americans to engage with one another with great civility and respect.

The Charter does not advance any particular faith. It does not advance any particular political party or agenda.

Instead, we intend for it to foster the good will we believe many, many Americans still have for one another—and to help us find new ways to work together despite our differing views and beliefs.

 

Q:  What is the American Charter Project?

A:   The American Charter project is a joint initiative of Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) and the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C., to shore up and strengthen freedom of religion and conscience for Americans of all faiths.

 

Q:  Who started the American Charter?

A:   The American Charter project was started a joint initiative of Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) and the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C., but the initiative is becoming a collaboration of scholars, experts, and key representatives of diverse religious and nonreligious constituencies across the political and ideological spectrum.

 

Q:  What are the goals of the American Charter project?

A:   The American Charter project is committed to restoring a better way for people of different religious backgrounds, traditions, and beliefs to engage with one another on a wide range of issues, especially those issues that involve the many societal benefits of freedom of religion and conscience. The project’s goals are to:

  • Restore civility to American public discourse.
  • Help all Americans explore and understand the essential role freedom of religion and conscience has played, and continues to play, as a foundation of our democratic institutions and our continued flourishing as one unified nation.
  • Work with diverse friends and allies to establish a politically and religiously diverse coalition of support that affirms freedom of religion and conscience for people of every faith and ultimate worldview.

 

Q: What do you mean by freedom of conscience?

A:   The freedom of conscience includes the right, as conscience dictates, to speak and act based on one’s ultimate beliefs in private and public life, as well as the right to question or reject any religious faith or ultimate belief.


Q: Is there a difference between “religious freedom” or “religious liberty” and “freedom of religion and conscience”?

A:   Yes. While “religious freedom” and “religious liberty” refer to the right of all people to seek, hold, share, and change a religious faith and religious beliefs, and to express and act based on their religious faith and beliefs, “freedom of religion and conscience” is more expansive. It includes the freedom to exercise such rights with respect to all ultimate beliefs grounded in conscience, including those beliefs that are not religious.

 

Q:  Why is the Charter necessary now? What was the impetus for creating the Charter and the coalition?

A:   We are in a time of polarization in which mounting hostility is directed against various faith traditions. We believe that in a time such as this, the principles of freedom of religion and conscience are more important than ever.

Therefore, we urgently need to work together to restore to public discourse the habits of civility and mutual respect.  These are necessary to strengthen vital protections for religion and conscience and to shore up our understanding that despite great diversity of views, opinions, and beliefs all Americans can live together in peace and with mutual respect.


Q:  What type of activities does the coalition engage in/support/advocate for?

A:   The coalition advocates for and supports leaders who will work across political and religious lines to help bring Americans together and create real-world solutions to continue robust protections for freedom of religion and conscience for this and future generations.

 

Q:  Is the charter meant to be a legal document?

A:   No, the Charter is not a legal document. Rather, it outlines a common understanding of widely shared values and principles of freedom of religion and conscience. It is designed to address a broad range of religious and nonreligious perspectives, and to shore up our nation’s historical foundations for people of many differing views to engage in civil and respectful conversation about such issues. At the core of this foundation are protections for fundamental First Amendment and human rights.

 

Q:  Does the Charter or coalition support and advocate for polices, or take a position on issues?

A:   No.  Neither the American Charter Project nor the coalition seek to advance any particular faith or position. Our goal is to advance the discussion and understanding of the meaning and value of freedom of religion and conscience and its historical role in helping Americans maintain unity and civility in the midst of great diversity.

 

Q:  Freedom of religion is protected in our Bill of Rights, so why do we need the Charter?

A:   While the Bill of Rights protects freedom of religion, current polarizing controversies and confusions threaten to undermine Americans’ long-standing consensus about this fundamental right. To ensure that this right remains fully protected, we need to come together to heal the incivility of the last half century of culture-warring. The American Charter seeks to revive our nation’s vision of a truly civil society with equal protection for the First Amendment rights of all people.