ReligiousFreedom

How different religious groups feel about religious freedom.

January 16 is Religious Freedom Day, a day when we celebrate the right to practice religion freely, while for at least a while setting aside the controversy and debate that surrounds the ideal of religious freedom. It commemorates the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom adopted on January 16, 1786, which, according to President Barack Obama in his presidential proclamation on Religious Freedom Day last year, “formed a blueprint for what would become the basis for the protection of religious liberty enshrined in our constitution.” Thomas Jefferson wrote the statute, which proclaims “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” Americans are called upon to observe the day appropriately in their homes, schools and places of worship.

In the spirit of Religious Freedom Day, World Religion News has compiled what various major religious denominations say about religious freedom.

What ideas do different faiths have about religious freedom?

According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), religious freedom does not only mean freedom to believe, but to act and speak on one’s beliefs as well.

“Religious freedom is more than just the freedom to believe what you want. It’s also the freedom to talk about and act on your core beliefs without interference from government or others, except when necessary to protect health and safety. It also allows people with similar beliefs to form religious organizations that govern their own affairs.”

William Penn, an early member of the Quakers and founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, the  colony which would become the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, gave his Charter of Privileges which became the earliest prototype for the United States Bill of Rights. The Charter reflected the 50 years of persecution the Quakers suffered in Britain and proclaimed:

“…no persons who shall confess and acknowledge the One Almighty God…; and profess…themselves, obliged to live quietly under the civil government, shall be in any case molested or prejudiced…because of…conscientious persuasion or practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious worship or ministry contrary to …their mind, or to do or suffer any other act or thing contrary to their religious persuasion.”

Pope Francis spoke about the unavoidable influence of religion on society and the nation. He stated that:

“Religion [cannot] be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life.”

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website:

“If religious liberty is not respected, all people suffer and are deprived of the essential contribution to the common good, be it in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that the Church and other people of faith make every day, both here at home and overseas.”

In 2015, Pope Francis also spoke about religious freedom in front of the historic building in Philadelphia, PA where the Declaration of Independence was signed. He declared the right to religious freedom:

“is a fundamental right which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbors whose religious views differ from our own.”

Several Baptist men in history have staunchly fought for religious freedom, suffering persecution and even sacrificing their own lives. For example, Thomas Helwys questioned the King’s overarching authority on religious matters which caused him to be thrown in prison, where he died. Baptists believe that integral to religious freedom are biblical truths that include: the freedom to follow Christ, the freedom to read and interpret the Bible, the freedom to be baptized, the freedom to choose and support a church, the freedom to govern a church and the freedom to witness and minister. Baptists also believe that we must guard religious freedom, uphold the separation of church and state and use freedom for the benefits of others.

According to Rabbi Alderstein, the Jewish attitude towards religious freedom is inevitably intertwined with consistency with what the Jewish law prescribes. The rabbi points out two parts of Jewish law that shape the discussion of religious freedom. First is exclusivity, in that Jewish law proscribes that the righteous nations of the world will be a part of heaven.

“Any religion that claims exclusivity in holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven has difficulty in making room for The Other.”

The second is responsibility for the misdeeds of others, which comes in two forms – punishing the sinner (that Jews have no jurisdiction over the lives of non-Jews and therefore do not feel compelled to “root out the infidel”) and dissociating from the sins of others.

Buddhism also does not preach exclusivity in that it deems its followers free to learn the teachings of other religions. Buddha himself encouraged his followers to learn from other religions and view their teachings comparatively with that of Buddhist teachings. Buddha taught that if one can garner reasonable and rational teachings in other religions, Buddhists have the freedom to respect them; and the choice of religion depends upon free choice.

The Church of Scientology is a strong defender of the ideals of religious freedom. In the Creed of the Church of Scientology, it is written:

“We of the Church believe: that all men of whatever race, color or creed were created with equal rights. That all men have inalienable rights to their own religious practices and their performance.”

In the Code of a Scientologist, Scientologists also pledge to support the freedom of religion. In addition, Scientologists pray “A Prayer For Total Freedom,” which states:

“We think of those whose liberty is threatened; of those who have suffered imprisonment for their beliefs; of those who are enslaved or martyred, and for all those who are brutalized, trapped or attacked. We pray that human rights will be preserved so that all people may believe and worship freely, so that freedom will once again be seen in our land.”

Hinduism considers itself a religion of freedom.

“Hinduism allows absolute freedom to the rational mind of man. Hinduism never demands any undue restraint upon the freedom of human reason, the freedom of thought, feeling and will of man…It allows the widest freedom in matters of faith and worship. It allows absolute freedom to the human reason and heart with regard to questions such as the nature of God, soul, creation, form of worship, and goal of life. It does not force anybody to accept particular dogmas or forms of worship. It allows everybody to reflect, investigate, enquire and cogitate.”

The Quran in the Islam faith teaches that religious belief is up to the person’s choice. Accepting the truth is for his own good and rejecting it is to his own detriment. Some quotations in the text show this:

“The Truth is from your Lord; so let him who please believe and let him who please disbelieve.” — 18:29

“Clear proofs have indeed come to you from your Lord: so whoever sees, it is for his own good; and whoever is blind, it is to his own harm. And I am not a keeper over you.” — 6:104

Abdul-Baha, son of Baha’u’llah and appointed head of the Bahai faith in 1892, had this to say about religious liberty:

“In the religion of God, there is no practice of declaring believers to be morally corrupt or of declaring them not believers, nor is debasing or showing contempt for others permitted.”

“The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions” and “The conscience of man is sacred and to be respected.”

The Satanic Temple teaches:

“The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forego your own.”

In 1999, the Circle Sanctuary, one of America’s oldest Wiccan churches, defended the right of Wiccans in the Military to practice their religion. The Wiccans freedom to practice their faith was attacked by several federal government officials. Anti-Wiccan legislation was not passed in Congress and did not succeed. Another positive outcome of the Wiccans’ battle to practice their religion was that people came to better understand the Wiccan religion and paganism, because of the extensive media coverage that ensued as a result of the controversy.

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