A strand of liberal thought called liberal egalitarianism wants to accommodate religious commitments on an equal basis with nonreligious or secular commitments. However, in accommodating religion, liberal egalitarians do not want to recognize religious commitments or activities qua religious as uniquely deserving of protection or accommodation. This dissertation disputes the central contention of liberal egalitarians that religion is not a unique activity. Drawing on Thomas Aquinas and the New Natural Law Theory, this dissertation argues that religion is an aspect of human flourishing that reason can grasp, and that such an understanding provides the most reasonable grounds for religious freedom.
Chapter one is an introduction and overview of the project. Chapter two shows how liberal egalitarian theories are insufficiently protective of religious freedom because of internal inconsistencies or shortcomings. Chapter three examines Aquinas’s understanding of religion as a natural virtue and his failure to argue for a robust sphere of religious freedom. Chapter four lays out the principles of the New Natural Law Theory. Chapter five examines the New Natural Law Theory’s understanding of religion as a basic good in depth and derives principles of action thereof. Chapter six discusses the nature and extent of religious exemptions and the relationship of the state to religious truth from the perspective of both the New Natural Law Theory and liberal egalitarian theories. Chapter seven concludes the dissertation by pointing out how the New Natural Law Theory’s understanding of religion can be developed and likely challenges liberal democratic states will face in the future as religious diversity increases.