Two essential aspects of the concept of religion and religious freedom seem to be missing in recent public discourse and debate. Nor is the true meaning of “religion” widely understood.
“Religion,” a Latin derivative, describes a natural law relationship between man and God. Cicero, whose Latin can hardly be questioned, used the term to describe reverence for God; holiness, or the Sacred, in other words. “Religion” immediately suggests Transcendence; fundamentally it assumes that the Deity exists, rewards and judges. From the perspective of humankind, moreover, it assumes that humankind is indebted to God, from whom all life takes its beginnings. This indebtedness entails adoration in the sense of latria. (The Greeks had a precise word for this, since they literally wrestled with mystery; our magnificent English tongue has had no alternative but to borrow the Greek noun, which simply means that kind and degree of adoration reserved exclusively to the Deity.)
However, religion is not confined to adoration per se, nor to any other dimension of adoration; e.g., thanksgiving, expiation, contrition.
Surely it’s necessary today to emphasize that religion is not synonymous with worship. There are those who would equate the two concepts in an effort to insist that the First Amendment pertains only to services within a church or other religious building; we are aware, for example, of debaters on TV who describe religious freedom exclusively in terms of “liturgical” as part of an anti-religious agenda.
Too often ignored in our world is the truth that religion also embraces morality – ethics as read in Sacred Scripture or in reason illumined by Scripture. Thus, religion also means observing the Ten Commandments, which are discovered not only in Revelation (in the Tablets of the Law presented to Israel by Moses; see Deut. 4:13) but also in the natural moral law, which St. Paul affirmed is mysteriously written upon everyone’s heart. To affirm religion, therefore, is to accept and observe the Decalogue. (2 Cor. 3)
There is an ungodly trend today to separate morality or ethics from religion. In a sense it all began with Immanuel Kant. But it has been kept alive – indeed, intensified – by hedonistic self-absorption, cultivated with the absurdities of a thoroughly materialistic secular world. Abortion is an obvious example. Thoroughly evil, because it contradicts the natural law principle and Biblical norm that no one may directly take innocent human life, it can only find acceptance in a climate wherein neither reason nor Revelation can exist.
Again, we should beware of any discussion about religion that ignores or rejects what the natural moral law or the Bible teaches us. Morality and ethics cannot be divorced from true religion.
Finally, current “religious” discussions tend to neglect or deny principles relating to participation, technically known as cooperation or collaboration. For one who holds fast to reason and Revelation, sharing somehow in anothe's evil action is also contraindicated. Surely this is why respect for religion and freedom of religion must always be reverenced in laws or cultural mores. Isn’t this precisely what Mohandas Gandhi meant when he wrote: “The business of every God-fearing man is to dissociate himself from evil in total disregard for the consequences. He must have faith in a good deed producing only a good result….”