Freedom of Religion
“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.”
If you’re an American citizen, this is your First Amendment. It guarantees the freedom of religion. I think it’s beautiful really. No matter what our religious beliefs, we have the right to hold those beliefs. And the right to practice those beliefs.
But that’s the thing, “religion” isn’t just Christianity. Or a particular variety of Christianity. It’s any religion. I hear people talking about getting back to the Christian principles that our nation was built on. There’s one of them in the First Amendment — the freedom of religion! It doesn’t seem to be a dogmatic my-way-or-the-highway Christian principle. Instead I read it as more of a love-our-neighbor sorta Christian principle. Even if our neighbor believes differently than we do, they also deserve the right to their beliefs. And the right to exercise their beliefs.
Fortunately, most folks, Christian or otherwise, understand that. But it would seem that some, by trying to return to our nation’s foundational Christian principles, are actually leaving them.
The gay marriage issue is one example that’s near and dear to me. Religious freedom shouldn’t mean that one church’s definition of marriage can dictate how another church or the public at large defines marriage. That’s not freedom.
Incidentally, I’m not saying that freedom means anything goes. There is still a moral code we need to uphold. It’s just not supposed to be the moral code of one particular religious belief. Sadly, there are those who don’t understand how a moral code can exist outside of religion. My own mom asked me how they were supposed to know that, in addition to my being gay, I wasn’t also a pedophile since I’m not going to church. Yes, my own mom. Very sad. But contrary to what some may think, there are very good people both inside and outside religion. And not following the rules of a particular church regarding sexuality and marriage doesn’t automatically make someone a sexual deviant. Actually, the Bible itself even talks about “gentiles” having a conscience (eg: Rom 2:14-15). While most people wouldn’t go as far as my mom, it’s seems as though there are many who don’t understand the existence of morality outside of religion. For them, I imagine the world could be a very scary place. And the freedom of religion could be a very scary principle. But that is in fact one of the foundational Christian principles of our nation.
Anyway, while gay marriage is one example, I don’t think it matters what the issue is. If someone is attempting to enforce their own Christian principles or Biblical mandates as they understand them on another church or the public at large, they are ignoring the freedom of religion. And vice versa. The religious views of one church shouldn’t be able dictate the practices in the church down the street or anyone else. And likewise, the church down the street or anyone else shouldn’t be able to dictate the practices in that one church. Or synagogue, or mosque, or temple, or cathedral, or private home, etc.
That’s the freedom of religion. It protects your religious beliefs, my religious beliefs, and everyone else’s. That’s the kind of Christian principle our nation was built on. A principle that, in a very Christian sorta way, reflects love and acceptance for each other. It’s a principle we should all be able to embrace, regardless of our religious beliefs.