INTL 1205 Freedom within Religion

Religious literacy educators emphasize religions' internal diversity. Human rights educators stress the importance of having freedom within religion––the liberty for dissenters, women, and children to practice self-determination within their traditions. Why is this so important? What's a stake for whom? What role should human rights play, if any, with the reform or preservation of religious laws within religious communities?

Rutgers University · February 17, 2021

We will explore four lines of legal inquiry associated with the topic, freedom within religion.

Lesson 1. Freedom within Religion: The Rights of Religious Dissenters. How does the religious literacy framework of “internal diversity” within religions relate to religious dissenters’ legal protections? In what scenarios do the individual’s right of conscience conflict with groups’ rights to maintain traditions and culture? What do human rights groups mean when they advocate for freedom within religion, and what’s at stake?

Lesson 2. Freedom within Religion: The Rights of Women. Examine gender roles and religious places, specifically women who have sought to pray at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. A case study on witchcraft accusations and murders of mostly women in India will again reveal the law’s role in protecting vulnerable adults.

Lesson 3. Freedom within Religion: The Rights of Children – Child Marriages. What are the religious and political barriers to protecting children’s rights in the United States and worldwide? What are the legal and religious justifications for and against child marriages? What are the most effective strategies for protecting the rights of the child?

Lesson 4. Freedom within Religion: The Rights of Children – Ritual Circumcision. Before beginning this lesson, we require all learners to reaffirm the commitment to end all forms of anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia. We will use the academic study of religion to prevent discrimination, promote mutual understanding, and challenge stereotypes and misinformation. We will study the sociological and legal trends regarding human rights and religion and ask, how do children’s rights relate to parents’ rights? Can an individual’s right be balanced with a group’s right to maintain its culture? When do children’s rights become an issue of freedom “within” religion? Whose freedom are we talking about? Specifically, we will explore these questions by examining the 32 types of genital-altering religious rites performed in a dozen different religious traditions and cultures. We will not single-out or target any one religion or culture. We will study these 32 types of rites in the context of eight legal and ethical principles affirmed by a variety of religious communities and human rights groups: (1) child welfare; (2) no harm to others; (3) substantial harm; (4) direct consent and informed consent; (5) self-determination; (6) no government preference of one religion over another or non-religion over religion; (7) peace and safety of society; and (8) equal protection for people of all religions and none.


Dr. Nathan C. Walker

President, 1791 Delegates

Civic Education for a Common Good

We apply the U.S. Department of Education’s Consensus Statements about Constitutional Approaches for Teaching about Religion

▸ Our approach to religion is academic, not devotional;
▸ We strive for student awareness of religions, but do not press for student acceptance of any religion;
▸ We sponsor the study about religion, not the practice of religion;
▸ We expose students to a diversity of religious views, but may not impose any particular view;
▸ We educate about all religions, we do not promote or denigrate any religion;
▸ We inform students about religious beliefs and practices, it does not seek to conform students to any particular belief or practice.

We apply the American Academy of Religion’s “Religious Literacy Guidelines”

▸ “Religious Literacy Guidelines for College Students.” American Academy of Religion, 2019.
▸ “Teaching About Religion: AAR Guidelines for K-12 Public Schools.” American Academy of Religion, April 2010.

We apply the National Council for the Social Studies C3 Frameworks for Religious Studies

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards, “Religious Studies Companion Document for the C3 Framework.” Silver Spring, MD: National Council for the Social Studies, 2017.