If the state is to be neutral toward all religious groups, it must not require religious faith of the atheist. A government pledged to religious freedom must therefore protect the atheist’s personal right to disbelieve and preserve his place as an individual in the community.
The nation expects atheist and theist alike to pay taxes and to perform military service; if the atheist insists on postponing his religious experience until he goes bankrupt, or occupies a foxhole—or even until the future judgment—that is his decision.
But does the right to disbelieve qualify an unbelieving minority to have equal influence with the majority in determining community standards and the cultural setting? Must those who put faith in God yield to every plea of the atheist for an “open society”? Must they yield to atheistic determination to remake social institutions in keeping with atheistic prejudices? Has the atheist a right to veto the majority’s right to engage in cultic acts if the majority wishes such acts? Does the atheist’s right to freedom of belief imply also his absolute freedom of action? Are there forms of unbelief (as well as of belief) that endanger public safety and morality? If so, what is to be the state’s attitude?
It is true that government tends to allow religious commitment to command more freedom of action than other levels of commitment (as seen in its approval of conscientious objection for religious reasons). Yet in view of conflicting religious beliefs the state cannot grant absolute religious freedom (as in respect to Mormon polygamy). The community must feel that the commitment to religious liberty in no way compromises its objection to positions that are for the public woe or its support for those that work for ...1
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