By Amanda Knief
Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “The State of Religious Liberty in the United States.”
The United States is the most religiously diverse country in the world. In no other nation can you find as many varied religious groups, beliefs and practices as there are here. The Founders’ recognized in their own times the great theological differences among not only different religions but also among the many Protestant sects. They saw the tyranny that government-sponsored religion wrought. That is why our nation has a secular constitution – and Bill of Rights—that provide strict protections for religious practice and safeguards against government-endorsed religion. Our secular government and protections of religion are what allow religion to flourish and grow here.
However, there has been a constant stream of legislation and executive action to impose religious ideas into law with the mistaken belief that what is good for one group of religious people should be good for everyone.
Whether it is slavery, a woman’s right to be a citizen, LGBT human rights and legal issues, advances in science and medicine, ideas about sex and reproduction, or how to live and die, there is always a religious viewpoint that insists everyone must accede according to its demands. This kind of religious bullying is exactly why Puritans, Calvinists, the Pilgrims and many others left England to find a place to practice their own religious views.
True religious freedom means that an individual has the choice to practice a faith of his or her choosing, or to choose not to practice any at all. Any kind of government mandate that allows an entity to force a religious edict on individuals becomes an establishment of religion because when the government allows such an edict, it is an implicit endorsement of that religious perspective and practice. This includes allowing religious organizations to discriminate in hiring practices against those who are not of the same faith after the organization has accepted federal tax dollars to sponsor its charitable efforts.
True religious freedom means that every citizen believes he or she is equally represented and favored by the government and elected officials. A national motto, pledge of allegiance, oaths of citizenship and oaths of office with the words “In God We Trust,” “under God,” and “so help me God” force many citizens to either profess a false belief, or speak out and risk alienation and public ridicule for not being in the majority.
True religious freedom means that elected leaders would cease passing countless bills at the state and federal levels criminalizing, overturning and outlawing social behaviors, medical procedures, educational standards and scientific research based on religious viewpoints instead of fact-based evidence and global standards for human rights.
The United States is the most welcoming country in the world to religion and faith. However, that welcome must be tempered by the rights of the individual who expresses opposing religious beliefs or no religious belief at all. The truest test of religious freedom is not the ability of every religious group to do as it pleases, but for every individual to be able to freely choose his or her own religious or nonreligious path without recrimination or consequence.