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Religious Freedom or Religious Liberty?

October 21, 2016

They’re not the same thing, according to Stephanie Russell-Kraft at Religion Dispatches. And conservatives are tilting more and more toward liberty.

Political theorist Hanna Fenichel Pitkin, in her 1988 essay “Are Freedom and Liberty Twins?”, wrote that freedom “is more likely to be holistic, to mean a total condition or state of being,” whereas liberty “is more likely to be plural and piecemeal.” Another way of putting it: freedom is the capacity to do things in the world, while liberty is the absence of external institutional constraints.

In the era of the American Revolution, liberty reigned supreme. For the founders, liberty was the “fundamental American value,” and liberty remained the dominant word in the country’s political lexicon until the 20th century, according to Geoffrey D. Nunberg, a linguist who teaches at the UC Berkeley School of Information. Even today, liberty still has 18th century connotations. “It’s a word that wears a three-corner hat,” said Nunberg.

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