Community//

Freedom of Religion or Freedom From Religion?

A Return to the Touchstone of Freedoms of Faith as Outlined by our Forefathers

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Our forefathers keenly understood that without a foundation including faith and a higher vision of living within which to govern ourselves, we could not have a nation. Without an unwavering framework, including moral and ethical principles to guide us, a nation will degenerate. Yet many of our nation’s founding principles have been under attack by a secular viewpoint that dismisses religious values as primitive, outdated, and without need of protection for the people, culture, and communities that hold their faith so dear.

In late November the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked New York from enforcing attendance limits at places of worship in areas hit hard by coronavirus. The 5-4 decision signifies that the highest court of our nation is moving away from viewing religion as a negative, and towards the importance of faith and its principles which are at the very foundation of the United States.

Especially during times of uncertainty and crisis, we should return to the original mission statement of this nation and the unwavering beliefs or inalienable rights imbued to us. Our very constitution includes a concept of God and a sense of divine values and subsequent standards of ethics for each of us to embrace. Our citizens — including our leaders — should focus on these unifying principles rather than tearing each other down, especially during this time of crisis. Yet we remain divided on the role of faith in public life.

The secular assault on our foundational religious values has been growing for years, part of a larger, more global decline in protections of religious freedoms. More than 30 years ago, four Supreme Court justices wrote of “an unjustified hostility toward religion” in a minority decision opposing the removal of two religious symbols, a Christian nativity scene and a Chanukah menorah, from public property in Pittsburgh

Yet today we see government leaders continuing to overstep their authority and seemingly going out of their way to treat religious speech and gatherings differently from secular and commercial ones.

Fortunately, such double standards are a step too far for our current Supreme Court. In the 5-4 decision last month, the court struck down an order by New York’s Governor that restricted the size of religious gatherings in certain areas. This ruling is a victory against the insidious view that religion and religious people are somehow a less important component of our nation. The justices made it clear that government cannot place limitations on religious groups more stringent than it places on secular groups.

We know that we need to be responsible and follow health guidelines. Many rabbis and clergy have voluntarily restricted the size of gatherings to protect public health. The problem arises when government imposes rules about any religious gathering. This is absolutely unacceptable and the Supreme Court was right to correct it. Let us honor and celebrate this significant upholding.

Most at risk with a freedom from religion and the absence of a guiding vision it presents are our families, our children, and the education of our next generation. We are becoming a people and a nation devoid of mission, meaning, and morality. What are families, children, and communities being taught right now? They look out and see a pandemic, lots and lots of fighting, a divided country. Where can we find the values and standards that parents and educators should be teaching?

We don’t have to look far. Our founding fathers included the freedom to pursue a life of faith, free thought, and freedom as part of our free exercise of life and liberty. 

When we look at the personal freedoms guaranteed to United States citizens in the Constitution, the question we should ask is: “Do we have freedom of religion, or freedom from religion?” The answer lies in the words used within the foundation of our nation in the First Amendment to the Constitution: “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.”

The Founding Fathers emphasized these words to ensure the freedom of every person to worship God according to his or her own conscience. There can be no doubt that their intention was to preserve religious freedom, allowing each culture and community in America the freedom to gather together in a shared faith, higher and brighter visions for ourselves, and hope for a thriving future that honors our innate goodness, as well as our divine nature.

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