On this and other uniquely-American holidays, we celebrate the many freedoms we enjoy in this country. As a US Navy veteran, I am proud of the country’s heritage and of my very small part in supporting these freedoms. I work hard not to become complacent about them, or take them for granted. One particular freedom that I am thinking on today, this 238th year of America’s existence as a free nation, is the freedom of religion.
In some corners of this nation, this freedom is interpreted as a license to incorporate one particular religious perspective as the law of the land. As someone who makes a living, knee-deep in data and statistics, it is often very easy for me to dismiss these blustery intentions with a wave of the hand and a reference to the latest Gallup or Pew research polls that indicate the hard core adherents to these perspectives are dwindling in number and influence. While the intention of THIS blog is not to delve into politics as I do in other blogs, it is instructive to keep at least a casual ear on the happenings in the judicial and legislative seats of power because this allegedly small and dwindling number continues to exert significant political power.
Religious freedom is a right, under the Constitution as laid out by the Bill of Rights in the 1st Amendment, which states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Like other rights, however; religious freedom is also a responsibility. We hear a lot of noise around demands for freedom and the right to certain protections based on a particular religion, but I have not heard as much about the responsibilities that accompany those rights.
If we enjoy the freedom to practice or believe as we choose in this country without fear of reprisal, discrimination or worse, we have a responsibility to promote religious tolerance. All religious beliefs – including the non-religious – deserve our deference and respect. We can demonstrate this respect by supporting local initiatives to incorporate religious accommodations in schools and other public places; by working to encourage a more universal perspective in things like commencement day invocations or other events, and to keep our speech and communications in the higher planes of love when these issues become heated.
By “religious accommodations” I am referring to the desire by some religious groups for certain clothing articles, or private practices. In one university that I worked for, there were rooms in different buildings that Muslim students were permitted to use for prayer throughout the day, as their religious practices dictate. This is an accommodation, not an endorsement, as is the allowance for Jewish students to wear kippot (yarmulkes) and/or tzitzit; or for Christian students to hold a Bible study during lunch or after school – AND – for the Atheist student groups to post announcements about their group activities through the same venues other groups utilize. How wonderful it will be when all of our public schools and institutions fall away from the political wranglings of expedience and encourage true tolerance!
As we ponder this wonderful holiday and consider all the many freedoms we enjoy in the USA, let us remember that true freedom requires advocacy in support of freedom for ALL – not just for those to whom we relate and agree with on principles, practices and politics.
The phrase “Freedom isn’t Free” is often used to depict the blood and treasure sacrifices made over the years to protect our freedom, militarily. I believe it also means that we all have a responsibility for maintaining this freedom in our thoughts, words and deeds.
And so It is.