Religious Freedom

Two recent articles caught my attention; the first was about Iran, and the second about China, and both were about restrictions on the free practice of religion. In Iran, a pastor and two of his congregation were arrested for unspecified crimes, probably having to do with evangelizing non-Christians. In China, facial recognition and other phone-related technologies are being used to track where people go and what they say, and there have been many arrests pertaining to religious practices that are considered to be crimes against the state. This kind of autocratic behavior is not happening just in these two countries; persecution against religious minorities is happening everywhere, and there’s little we can do to stop it.

Disturbing as this news is, it is a good reminder of just how much freedom we have in America to practice faith without repercussions. Mostly. Sure, there are limits: for example, Mormons can’t legally practice polygamy, and until just a few years ago, same-sex marriage was illegal based on our interpretation of Christian marriage. There are still people spouting nonsense (like retired General Michael Flynn) about America needing to be a one religion country (that religion being Christian – his version, not mine). And there are religiously based hate crimes happening all over the country. People will do bad things regardless of the law, but our Constitution offers tremendous latitude and protection when it comes to religion. In fact, the only mention of religion in the original document is there to protect non-religious people from being kept from holding elected political office. The only other time it is mentioned is in the First Amendment, once again protecting people who want – or don’t want – to practice the religion of their choice.

Of course, there will always be pressure on politicians to at least pretend that they are religious (ie, Christian) when they want to be elected to office, and that is on them. One of the absolute greatest aspects of living in America is that we are all free to practice the faith we choose; that might mean we worship in a church, synagogue, or mosque, or on a soccer field cheering our kids on to victory. It might mean meditating in a Buddhist temple or soulfully sipping a latte in the local coffee shop. I think, personally, that a person who says they believe in God should prioritize being part of a faith community, but that is my opinion, and nobody is subject to that opinion except for me. After all, this is just me doing my job, but I am not the boss of you!

The religious values that were part of making this country an amazing place to live will continue to do so as long as people of faith are committed to serving God and neighbor. As with all freedoms, the ability to practice the religion of our choice should not be taken for granted, but needs to be protected and nurtured. If it isn’t; if we allow the rhetoric of division and hate to erode our First Amendment rights to religion, expression, peaceful assembly, and petitioning the government, we will find ourselves on the road to the same dangerous fascism that controls so many lives around the world. That would be tragic; that would be un-American. Practice your faith and respect others who practice theirs. That is what freedom means.

Prayer – Help us to keep this nation, God of all people, as a place where You are lifted up in many different voices and many different ways. May Your work be done for the good of all people. Amen.

Today’s art is called “Waiting” by Ablikim Ghini, a Uighur (pronounced “we-gur”) artist. The Uighurs are an oppressed Muslim minority who live mostly in northern China.