Religious Freedom

“The constitutional freedom of religion is the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights”

THOMAS JEFFERSON, an American founding father, revolutionary, author of the Declaration of Independence (with a little help from John Locke), and third president of the United States

“Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think and act for myself — and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty.”

CHIEF JOSEPH, a leader of the wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) band of Nez Perce, a Native American tribe of the interior Pacific Northwest region of the United States

“The fact that you are here tonight gathered together with us testifies to the fact you understand the need for this organization and the need for redoubling our efforts in this organization to try to assure that democracy as represented by the United States must depend upon a total freedom of religion, which is written into our Constitution, of course, and the mere suggestion that anyone could maintain that one’s patriotism, one’s devotion to one’s country can be judged by one’s religion is so vile, so vile that we have to take to the streets indeed and to put it aside.”

WALTER CRONKITE, an American broadcast journalist when journalism was an honorable profession

“I do understand what love is, and that is one of the reasons I can never again be a Christian. Love is not self-denial. Love is not blood and suffering. Love is not murdering your son to appease your own vanity. Love is not hatred or wrath, consigning billions of people to eternal torture because they have offended your ego or disobeyed your rules. Love is not obedience, conformity, or submission. It is a counterfeit love that is contingent upon authority, punishment, or reward. True love is respect and admiration, compassion and kindness, freely given by a healthy, unafraid human being.”

DAN BARKER, an American atheist activist, and musician who served as an evangelical Christian preacher and composer for 19 years but left Christianity in 1984

“People cited violation of the First Amendment when a New Jersey schoolteacher asserted that evolution and the Big Bang are not scientific and that Noah’s ark carried dinosaurs. This case is not about the need to separate church and state; it’s about the need to separate ignorant, scientifically illiterate people from the ranks of teachers.”

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, an American cosmologist and astronomer, and public advocate in favor of science

Introduction to Religious Freedom

Religious Freedom

Religious freedom must be frightening for the true believer. After all, mystical experiences and magical miracles along with the belief in the supernatural nature of an all-powerful God bent on punishing the non-believer in everlasting flames must make some sense to them. What a wonderous children’s story told as truth rather than Bronze Age mythology. When one believes such stories, one feels doomed to a life of fear. Facing death outside of one’s true belief as frightening as standing in a pit of vipers with no escape possible.

The founding fathers of the United States, the revolutionaries for whom ties to the British Empire had little to offer the new world, many of whom were deists, people with a belief in a God, but were also atheists as they eschewed theism itself. Aware that in the foundational mythology of the United States, Pilgrims fled Europe to freely practice their view of Christianity. A myth that gave root to the idea that free practice of religion is a worthy goal. The trouble was however that the Pilgrims were a Puritan group who closely followed the teachings of John Calvin. If you weren’t one of them then it was their mission to save you from the eternal fires of hell. Not a group that accepted the other with open arms.

Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, created a colonial state where the free practice of religion and all that went with it was the founding motivation for the colony.

In this brief essay, I suggest that the current tide of religious intolerance is close to the bigotry of the Calvinist preacher Cotton Mather. Rather than the open arms of Roger Williams and the Rhode Island experiment with the free practice of one’s personal beliefs.

Religious Freedom is the Cornerstone of American Values?

The recent challenges to religious freedom demand a steadfast commitment to reinforcing the protection of both the Establishment and Free Practice of Religion Clauses. Together they form the cornerstone of the First Amendment. This constitutional safeguard is not just a legal obligation. It represents a moral imperative to preserve the integrity of public spaces, particularly those integral to education and justice.

It is Not a License to Bully Others

The endeavor to introduce creationism into science classes. A clear example serves as a reminder of the importance of upholding academic integrity in our educational institutions. Public schools, designed as bastions of knowledge where diverse perspectives foster critical thinking and open-mindedness. The imposition of any specific religious ideology compromises the principles of a secular education system. Frankly, it undermines the foundation of intellectual growth.

Similarly, the display of religious symbols in courthouses, such as the prominent showcasing of the Ten Commandments, raises serious questions about the impartiality of our judicial system. These commandments may hold significant religious value for some. Yet their overt presence in government spaces can create an environment that feels exclusionary to those with different beliefs. Observant Jews, for example, are obligated to follow 613 biblical commandments. It is crucial to maintain an atmosphere that is free from the influence of religious doctrines.

Religious Freedom or Your Morals Forced on the Rest of Us?

At the heart of this matter is the need to foster a society that genuinely values diversity. Respect for individual freedoms is without compromise. The First Amendment, with its emphasis on religious freedom, calls us to refrain from imposing personal morals on a collective scale. It invites us to appreciate the beauty of a diverse tapestry of beliefs and perspectives. In doing so, recognize that the strength of our nation lies in its ability to embrace differences.

Moving forward, let us champion the principles embedded in the First Amendment, reaffirming the vital separation of church and state. By doing so, we honor the constitutional values that define our nation. We also actively contribute to the creation of a society where everyone can coexist harmoniously. It allows the celebration of the richness that diverse perspectives bring to our collective identity. Upholding these constitutional values is not just a legal duty. It is a shared responsibility to shape an inclusive and tolerant society for generations to come.

Diverse Religious Beliefs for a Diverse Society

The evangelical calling to save others from eternal damnation introduces a unique dynamic to the religious landscape, particularly within Christianity. While this sincere belief is a cornerstone for many evangelicals, it is important to recognize that not all religious traditions share the same emphasis. The evangelical approach, rooted in a deep sense of responsibility to bring salvation to others, can sometimes lead to a disregard for the diverse beliefs held by individuals of different faiths or those who identify as atheists. Pluralistic Society Demands Coexistence

The assertion that only one path leads to salvation may conflict with the pluralistic nature of our society, where various religious traditions coexist alongside secular perspectives. It is crucial to uphold the First Amendment not only to protect the right to religious freedom but also to ensure that public spaces remain neutral grounds where diverse beliefs are respected. Individuals must have the autonomy to determine their spiritual journey, free from unwarranted proselytization.

By Politics-as-Usual

Roger is a retired Professor of language and literacy. Over the past 15 years since his retirement, Roger has kept busy with reading, writing, and creating landscape photographs. In this time of National crisis, as Fascist ideas and policies are being introduced to the American people and ignored by the Mainstream Press, he decided to stand up and be counted as a Progressive American with some ideas that should be shared with as many people who care to read and/or participate in discusssions of these issues. He doesn't ask anyone to agree with his point of view, but if entering the conversation he demands civility. No conspiracy theories, no wild accusations, no threats, no disrespect will be tolerated. Roger monitors all comments and email communication. That is the only rule for entering the conversation. One may persuade, argue for a different point of view, or toss out something that has not been discussed so long as the tone remains part of a civil discussion. Only then can we find common ground and meaningful democratic change.

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