Don't "Allow Foreign Religions and Foreign Beliefs and Other Philosophies

to defile the very soil of this land." That's the message of a New Zealand church leader who is urging rejection of a New Zealand Human Rights Commission's draft statement that New Zealand "had no 'established religion,'" and who is supporting a declaration "that New Zealand was a Christian nation."

There are lots of different ways that a free nation can handle its religious history; I don't want to suggest that the approach of the American Constitutions -- an express prohibition on establishment of religion both in the federal constitution and in nearly all state constitutions -- or the approach of the U.S. Supreme Court's Establishment Clause precedent is the only right way. England is a free country, in which to my knowledge citizens enjoy a great deal of religious freedom and religious equality (at least with respect to the government) even though the Anglican Church is the established church. The same is true, to my knowledge, of many Western European countries.

My personal preference is for a system in which the government may not discriminate among religious people and institutions; generally may not discriminate in favor of or against religious people and institutions (subject to some possible narrow exceptions that I won't go into here); generally may not fund religious observances in their capacity as religious observances (as opposed to giving religious people and institutions equal access to broadly available funding programs); but may engage in certain kinds of religious speech, especially those that can't be extirpated without denying a great deal of the nation's history. But there's a lot of room for different approaches here, it seems to me.

Yet no country, it seems to me, can sensibly be called free if it balks at "allow[ing] foreign religions and foreign beliefs and other philosophies to proliferate into [the] country," and officially treats religious conversion as a form of "defile[ment] of the very soil of this land." Freedom means the freedom of citizens to change their own minds, and to change the minds of others, through persuasion. And that's true on religious topics as well as political topics. One can debate on the borderline about which ideas might be so dangerous and so extreme to be off limits. (I prefer, however, the American approach, in which all ideas can be advocated, and in which the narrow content-based restrictions are designed so that they don't stop the debate about any ideas.) But any definition of "so dangerous and so extreme to be off limits" that covers all non-Christian -- or non-Muslim or whatever else -- ideas is a definition that's inconsistent with freedom.

Now it doesn't sound like the church leader (Bishop Brian Tamaki) and the other participants are expressly calling now for a prohibition on other religions. But listen to Tamaki's statement: "This nation must have the right to be able to discuss and to talk about whether we are going to establish and affirm and accept our religious identity as a country, or whether we are going to walk away and let that be lost, perhaps forever, and to allow foreign religions and foreign beliefs and other philosophies to proliferate into our country and begin to defile the very soil of this land." He certainly sounds like he doesn't want to "allow foreign religions and foreign beliefs," and like he thinks his audience agrees. He sees foreign religions as not just error but as a "defile[ment]." He sees the two alternatives are either "allow[ing] foreign religions and foreign beliefs" or "establish[ing] and affirm[ing] and accept[ing] our religious identity as a country."

The concern of those who support strong anti-establishment measures -- including ones stronger than I would support -- is precisely that modest tolerance for government endorsement of a religion will lead to broad intolerance (including governmental intolerance) for other religions. Justice Scalia and others who would take a narrower view of the Establishment Clause stress that one can have some degree of endorsement of broad religious traditions but still have religious freedom and religious equality in tangible rights and benefits. I take it that others in other countries take a similar view.

But Bishop Tamaki's rhetoric points in the opposite direction: a stark choice between anti-establishment rules on the one hand and "[dis]allow[ing] foreign religions and foreign beliefs." If that's the choice, I'll gladly choose the former, despite the bowdlerizing of government speech this may cause (and that I would not prefer). I hope that others in free countries (or countries aspiring to freedom) would do the same. And those who want a middle path, and who want to urge a Scaliaesque preservation of national religious traditions while still supporting -- and assuring the public that they support -- religious freedom and equal treatment of citizens without regard to religion, should distance themselves from views such as Bishop Tamaki's.

Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.