Talk on religious liberty highlights Constitution Day on campus
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
It was coincidence that Dr. Owen Anderson’s Constitution Day lecture at Grand Canyon University Tuesday fell a day after the Arizona Supreme Court decided a First Amendment case on religious freedom.
The key, he said, is answering the questions: What is a religion and who is religious?
“It’s why we need the First Amendment. There are divisions about these things,” said Anderson, a philosophy and religion professor at Arizona State University and author of seven books, including editing an upcoming volume, “The First Amendment and Religious Liberty.”
In the Arizona case, the court ruled that a company that supplies art for weddings, Brush & Nibs Studios, did not discriminate based on sexual orientation by refusing to produce art that advances ideas they find objectionable, including those that are opposed to the owner’s religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.
By demanding they produce art that goes against their religion is a form of compelled speech.
Freedom, Anderson said, “has to do with not being coerced. And that is true in the area of religion.”
To define religion, the ways that people seek to find meaning in life can vary vastly, from Christians to atheists to transcendentalists and many other beliefs. The test is if they are sincere and outside the context of religion as opinion, he told an audience of GCU students and faculty observing the campus-wide commemoration of the Constitution’s Sept. 17, 1787 ratification.
“They can’t all be true. Some of them are false,” said Owen, who added three questions to ask when discussing the natural religion that the U.S. was founded upon: “How do I know? What is real? What is good?”
“The First Amendment gives you the protection to think about that and act on it,” he said. “The opportunity is provided by the First Amendment to use reason and discuss it together.”
Anderson, who is also working on the book “Reason and Argument” with Dr. Matthew Nolen, instructor of communications at GCU, said we become more aware of our beliefs as we become more conscious and consistent.
“Do we need religion to believe? As belief-forming humans this is our first freedom,” Anderson said. “This is why speech, publishing and religion are all in that first one.
“Our beliefs come to us through evidence, and are Christians able to defend that? Are we able to show that God is real and provides us with the highest good? The First Amendment provides us with that opportunity.
“Imagine if you have that freedom and didn’t take that opportunity?”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 602-639-6764.