BYU Law Review


Legal scholars often see religion as a mere private preference, choice, value, or identity with no more meaning or positive social impact than any other preference, choice, value, or identity. If anything, religion’s negative impacts are often highlighted. For example, a focus on the harms of religion often underlies contemporary legal debates about religious exemptions and tensions between religious rights and LGBTQ rights or reproductive rights. Conversely, scholars in other fields have documented religion’s distinctive pro-social features, proposing mechanisms by which religion has unique positive impacts on individuals, families, and society. While recognizing that, for its practitioners, religion has its own internal logic and rationales, this Article seeks to brings together broad empirical research and sociological and political theory on the social goods and pro-social values that religious belief, practice, and communities foster as well as to examine approaches to address the harms religion causes. The Article proposes religious freedom as a key mechanism to ensure maximal social benefit of religion. Religious freedom also underscores the value of the choice and experience of belief and unbelief.


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