Aware of the historic significance of the right of freedom of religion and conscience in the story of liberty in our Republic and its promise as a key to human dignity and flourishing and to making our world more peaceful and secure, we publish this Charter to affirm this foundational right and its centrality to the American experiment. We seek to rebuild a national consensus around these foundational principles of liberty.
As human beings, we seek insight into the source of our being and the ultimate order of reality. On the basis of our beliefs about these ultimate matters, we form judgments about the right and the good, judgments that guide our lives and give them meaning, purpose, and order. By protecting freedom of religion and conscience, governments ensure that neither they nor any human power subject this essential human quest to undue coercion or manipulation. Freedom of religion and conscience is a foundational right for all human beings without exception, a right to be enjoyed by people of all faiths and worldviews, whether religious or secularist, transcendent or naturalistic. It is therefore a responsibility and duty for all people to respect—and for government and other institutions to protect—this right for all people.
Like all human rights, freedom of religion and conscience is not absolute. It is, however, a robust freedom. It is the fundamental right to pursue the truth about ultimate reality and to order one’s life accordingly, whether alone or in community with others. It recognizes and affirms the deep need of all human beings to be free. It encompasses the right, as conscience dictates, to speak and act on the basis of ultimate beliefs in private and public life, as well as the right to question religious truths or not to believe in them at all. Freedom of religion and conscience carries with it the additional obligation to recognize that, just as all must be free to follow the dictates of conscience, all are bound by the duty to respect the consciences of others.