Interview | Fr. Dcn. Andrew Bennett, Director of RFI North America Action Team, interviews Dr. Daniel Mark, Villanova University

May 7, 2020

On April 28, 2020, Fr. Dcn. Andrew Bennett, Director of RFI’s North America Action Team, interviewed Dr. Daniel Mark, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Villanova University, and welcomed him as a new RFI Senior Fellow.

Expressing his understanding of religious freedom, Dr. Mark writes:

In the United States, we rightly refer to religious freedom as the first freedom. In a very literal sense, religious freedom is the first freedom in our Bill of Rights. And, for Americans in particular, religious freedom matters critically because it is part of the story of our nation. Every schoolchild knows of the early settlers who came here in search of religious freedom. But there is a deeper sense in which religious freedom is the first freedom.

Religious freedom is the first freedom because it is the first place we learn the idea, conceptually and perhaps historically as well, that our whole lives do not belong to the state, that there is a realm of life beyond the reach of the state. In the pagan world, before the separation of political and religious power that we see in both Judaism and Christianity, the gods were the gods of the city, and sometimes the ruler was a god himself. The state claimed the whole individual for itself, not just the power of life and death but also the entirety of a person’s allegiance—the entirety of a person’s being. But then the transcendent state was replaced by a transcendent God, Who declared that there was an authority outside and above the state, and that man’s ultimate fulfillment was not in the city but in the City of God. This is why we render unto Caesar the thing’s that are Caesar’s but to render unto God the things that are God’s. The coins, the taxes in question, belong to Caesar because, with his face imprinted on the metal, the coins bear Caesar’s image and belong to him, but the human person bears God’s image and belong to Him.

 From there, everything else follows. Once we establish in principle religious freedom and, therefore, the limited state, we open the door to the whole family of freedoms that we now know as human rights. In this way, religious freedom is the surest bulwark against totalitarianism, and it explains why all dictators, religious and secular, are always so keen on stamping it out.

Full bio: Dr. Daniel Mark is an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University, where he has taught since 2013. Appointed by successive speakers of the US House of Representatives, he served for four years on the nine-member, bipartisan US Commission on International Religious Freedom, most recently as chairman. At Villanova, Dr. Mark is a faculty associate of the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, and he holds the rank of battalion professor in Villanova’s Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps unit. He has held visiting fellowships at Princeton University and the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Mark is a fellow of the Witherspoon Institute and works with the Tikvah Fund. He is an affiliated scholar of the James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights and the American Founding and of the American Bible Society’s Faith and Discovery Learning Center. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty; of the advisory council of CanaVox; and of the board of advisors of the Blackstone and Burke Center for Law and Liberty at Faulker University’s Thomas Goode Jones School of Law. Dr. Mark holds a BA (magna cum laude), MA, and PhD from the Department of Politics at Princeton University. Before graduate school, Dr. Mark spent four years as a high school teacher in New York City, and he received the New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner’s Distinguished Teacher Candidate Award while earning his teaching certification.

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