In the wake of the shooting in Oregon where a gunman asked his victims about their faith before shooting them, many Americans are examining the issue of religious freedom. What is religious freedom? What is is worth?
In today’s UFI alert, Dawn Frandsen reviews the integral role that Religious Freedom played in America’s heritage and core identity. Dawn also examines the current status of religious freedom in other countries around the world.
Because UFI believes that religious freedom is the bedrock for all human freedom, we urge citizens in every country to do all they can do to promote and defend it. As Dawn reminds us, “if we don’t watch all the little things that are chipping away at the base of our First Rights, we just might lose them.”
Remember, true religious freedom is more than just choosing a church. It is the freedom to act upon one’s religious beliefs in all aspects of life, in public as well as in private.
Most of us will never face a crazed gunman, but we can all promote religious freedom and practice our religious beliefs as much as possible, even if the going gets tough.
United Families International
What We Once Knew and Now Take for Granted
In 1776, a list of grievances was sent to the King of England from the American Colonies. That list was prefaced by the self-evident truth—a fact, to those who signed the treasonous document that had no need of supporting documentation, because it just was a fact—that God (the creator of man) had given to all men the unchallengeable right to life, liberty and the ability to seek to be happy.
The signers further held that the sole vocation of government was to protect those rights that God had established. The document’s charge was that the King had been derelict in his duty to protect these divinely bestowed rights and therefore, “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence,” it had been decided, “That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.” And therefore they, the signers, were informing the King that they would be moving on, independent of his rule, towards a system that would not only provide for those inalienable God given rights, but would protect them as well.
The men and women who made this decision to break with their motherland and create these free and independent states were directly descended from others who were willing to risk their own lives for the ability to worship God as they saw fit, and the opportunity to prosper according to their strength and wit, rather than their birth order.
In subsequent years as the Articles of Confederation became the Constitution and the Bill of Rights was added, the ability to openly practice those God given rights was at the forefront of the Founders’ minds. Americans all know by heart the First Amendment’s mandate that, “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.”
Those moral standards that the Founders believed applied to everyone were imbedded in the First Amendment. First, not second or third, but first. First because they were the most critical and the foundation on which other rights are built. Those “First Rights” are the hallmark of a society where members of religious minorities could not be persecuted, the press could be a vehicle to voice opposition to the government, and the general population could mobilize for change.
Generations of Americans have been blessed from the foresight of those who broke from a King’s control. Perhaps we have been so blessed and for so long that we are beginning to take those liberties for granted — so much so that now we may lose them. Few would argue that we are on the cusp of such a redefinition of those rights.
- In Central Asia’s most populous country, Uzbekistan, if a parent is caught taking their child to prayers in a mosque, the imposed fine would be equivalent to 15 months’ salary.
- In Azerbaijan, five men face up to six years imprisonment for distributing “illegal religious literature”—from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Religion is so restricted there that even meeting in a private home to discuss religion could result in criminal charges, deportation or fines.
- Extremists in Nepal are demanding that all Christians leave their country, as they are believed to be responsible for the country’s “level of corruption.”
- In Turkey, the government tolerates individual religious belief, but there is only one officially state sanctioned religion and students are required to study it in class.
- As we speak, Christians in Iraq and Syria are being driven from their homes, beaten, raped, and beheaded.
This list published by World Watch Monitor ranks the top 50 countries in the world where it is most difficult to practice Christianity. Not surprisingly, the majority of those countries are not and never have been Christian nations, so the fact that they don’t prefer Christianity should not be a surprise. What is not acceptable is the lack of allowance for individual expression of religious belief—regardless of whom one prefers to worship.
Even though the very presence of a Christian majority seems to sanction a greater allowance for religious freedom, it is not just Africa, the Middle East or North Korea where members of specific religions are hunted and destroyed because of what they believe. In El Salvador, Christians are the prime targets of the organized crime underworld because…”criminal groups view Christians who openly oppose their activities as a threat, especially when Christians get involved in social programs or in politics.” And “they fear Christians will influence members of the community or even members of their own organizations to oppose their activities.”
But, we say, that is there, not here. Not in America where religious liberty has been enshrined for centuries.
However, we cannot forget that defending the right of religious expression and exercise has, even in the United States always been something of a slippery slope to defend. It is easy to see the affront to religious freedom of expression in the wake of the same-sex marriage decision (and not just in the U.S.) or the health care law, but what about all the seemingly little things going on behind the major press stories?
Like the fact that now federal grant seekers must leave their religious beliefs at the door. Or that President Obama seems to view religious liberty as a low priority or Universities that limit theological debate in the name of tolerance or that war memorials and statues are to be removed, or that chaplains’ jobs are being challenged, or that now donors—did you get that—financial donors, are not allowed to include Biblical references on their nameplates.
We claim we are concerned about our religious liberties protections, but if we don’t watch all the little things that are chipping away at the base of our First Rights, we just might lose them. Considering what is at stake are we willing to allow this unique blueprint for personal freedom to be watered down, diluted or reduced to the point that this First Freedom becomes meaningless?
Maybe such a discussion, along with the historical background of the origin of religious emancipation in America, needs to be a dinner table conversation a little more often—lest we forget what we once knew and now take for granted.
Dawn Frandsen is: Wife to one; Mother to six; Adamant advocate for large families and small government; On an unremitting quest for the perfect brownie recipe.