Freedom of religion-an interfaith perspective

Freedom of religion – an interfaith perspective

July 4 marks our declaration of independence. Our founding fathers then formulated the United States Constitution and its first ten amendments to bring the ideals of that declaration into reality.

The First Amendment guarantees the right of both freedom from religion and freedom of religion. The establishment clause states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or a national religion. Thus, if Congress declared that the U.S. is a Christian country, it would be a violation of the establishment clause because no religion can have special status in relation to the government. The free exercise clause makes clear that Congress cannot prohibit the free exercise of religious practice.

Freedom of religion is a value of long-standing in the Mid-Ohio Valley. Chief Tecumseh, a prominent Shawnee (1768 – 1813), advised, “Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours.” The Reverend Manasseh Cutler, in his sermon delivered at Campus Martius on Aug. 24, 1788, assured the new settlers that the Christian religion does not need the patronage of civil power to survive (quoted in The Pioneers, David McCullough, p. 60).

Mid Ohio Valley Interfaith honors our heritage of religious freedom and seeks to cultivate a welcoming and inclusive community whose members are knowledgeable and appreciative of diverse faith traditions and their cultural contexts. Some members of the group were asked what freedom of religion means to them. Following are their responses:

Doug Kreinik (Jewish tradition)

Freedom of religion, a question?

It should be accepted, not questioned.

It should be respected, not questioned.

Freedom of religion is an individual’s right.

The freedom to believe or not.

A freedom keeping this country strong.

M.J. Ebenhack (Christian tradition)

Because of our country’s commitment to freedom of religion, the United States is the most religiously diverse nation in the world. This diversity presents challenges, but it also affords great opportunities to learn from those who practice different faiths. It suggests that diversity – even in matters of faith – is God’s intention. Life, in all its diversity, is a whole, and all parts are of inestimable value.

Upholding freedom of religion challenges Christians to walk humbly. We need to examine our liturgy and teaching in order to root out those ideas and pronouncements that promote triumphalism and domination. When we consider that Christians may not always be the majority in our land, we realize that freedom of religion is, indeed, a very precious right to honor and protect.

Ziad Akir (Muslim tradition)

My understanding of tolerance is based on the teachings of the Quran and the Hadeeth (sayings/actions) of the Prophet Muhammed. Freedom of religion is laid down in the Quran itself: “There is no compulsion (or coercion) in the religion (Islam). The right direction is distinctly clear from error.” (Qur’an 2:256) The Quran speaks also of human equality and how all peoples are equal in the sight of God: “O mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God’s sight is the greatest of you in piety. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” (Qur’an 49:13)

It is a function of Islamic law to protect the privileged status of minorities, and this is why non-Muslim places of worship have flourished all over the Islamic world. Since Islam gives such great attention and respect to the rights of non-Muslims to practice their faith in a Muslim society, I mutually expect the same rights and respect to practice Islam in a non-Muslim society. That freedom means to perform my prayers, to observe other Muslim duties (such as fasting), to eat/drink selectively according to Islamic law, and to be engaged within a Muslim community without being harassed or undermined.

Carol Sedgwick (Baha’i tradition).

Right now, in places like Iran and Yemen, Baha’is are being denied freedom, education, and employment. I am thankful for the freedom I have here.

Freedom of religion means that I have the freedom to worship in whatever way is important to me. It means I can celebrate special days, visit shrines, and wear symbols of my religion without harassment or persecution. It means freedom from discrimination; I cannot be denied housing, employment or education because of my beliefs and religious practice. It means that I can enjoy worshipping and celebrating holidays with those of different faiths. And it also means that I have no right to harass others for doing the same, as long as their religious practice does not harm others.

I and other m embers of Mid Ohio Valley Interfaith believe that America is strongest when it asserts the rights of minority religious groups and actively supports their constitutional right to worship as they please. Let us celebrate freedom of religion with every burst of fireworks on July 4.

Find the group on Facebook at Mid Ohio Valley Interfaith.

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