Reaffirming Human Dignity and Its Relationship to Religious Freedom

November 26, 2019

Father Deacon Andrew Bennett, Director of RFI’s North America Action Team and the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute, recently co-authored an article, Who Are You? Reaffirming Human Dignity, recently published by Cardus.

Through his work to secure religious freedom for everyone, Bennett realized that this fundamental human right cannot be properly understood if we do not grasp who we are as humans and recognize the basis of our dignity. Thus, this article seeks to address the core of what it means to be human, and the meaning of human dignity, which, in turn, provides the source of our fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom.

Although the Judeo-Christian tradition understands human dignity to be grounded in the conviction that all people are created in the image and likeness of God, “even people who doubt God’s existence believe human beings have inherent value: some attribute or indiscernible quality that gives him or her ultimate worth.”

Human persons have the “natural capacity of self-transcendence,” the ability and necessity to reach beyond themselves to pursue meaning and truth. One’s dignity, the article continues, is not diminished by one’s traits or circumstances: “Regardless of our ethnic background, our sex, our religion, our wealth, or our poverty, we are all human and bear a dignity that is internal. Our dignity is within us.”

Only from this vantage point can we come to understand religious freedom properly as a fundamental human freedom.

Religious freedom is bound together with other inherent freedoms, yet it has a unique character given its acknowledgment of the human person’s unique and profound search for meaning, truth, and God. Indeed, our ability to contemplate the transcendent is elemental to our humanity…

Part 2 of the article addresses the emergence of a contrary understanding of human dignity in western culture and law today, one that “makes personal choice the highest good at the expense of other goods.” The consequences of this “dignity-as-autonomy view” are dire, causing great confusion over the true meaning of freedom and its relationship to the dignity that all human persons equally possess.

Read the full article: Who Are You? Reaffirming Human Dignity.