Sunday, July 3, 2016

As we celebrated the 4th, let us also celebrate our freedom of religion, too.

On this 4th of July week, as we celebrated the independence of our country, let us also celebrate our founders of independence who later put into our constitution an amendment to protect the freedom to practice one's religion. It should be a reminder to those who would discriminate against believers in a religion and for us to condemn those who use hatred, ignorance and fear as a way to rise to political power. Unfortunately we are seeing much of this in Donald Trump's rhetoric and in his promotion of a Muslim ban. Even more unfortunate, many of his supporters agree. Somewhere along the way they missed or forgot that chapter about the First Amendment in their civics/social studies/American history classes but it is an element that makes this country the exceptional experiment in democracy that it is.

The First Amendment “prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion…”We have had waves of religious hatred in our past, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, even in my lifetime and sadly now, but our ship of democracy rights itself because of the provisions in the Constitution and the reminders of the values our founders set in it. We have seen discrimination in institutions that refuse to let practitioners of certain religions become members and we turned away boatloads of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. I remember the slurs uttered when John F Kennedy was a candidate for president, the first Catholic to be elected.

Churches, mosques, and temples are still being desecrated and burned and practitioners have been targets of mass shootings.  There are those who argue their freedom means they can discriminate against those of a different religion and impose by law elements of their religion’s belief on others who do not share their doctrines. Ironically, those who irrationally fear the imposition of Sharia law in the United States as part of their fear of Muslims are also protected by the First Amendment’s forbidding the establishment of a state religion.(though banning Sharia law courts ruled is discriminatory). Fortunately court rulings have upheld the original meaning of the amendment and hate crimes have special penalties in our statute books.

I was interviewed by chance, waiting for a ride home outside the Denver Center for Performing Arts in Denver this  winter after a breathtaking performance by Shen Yun, .a New York based
Chinese performing dance company. The interview landed in a New York international newspaper focusing on uncensored Chinese news, the Epoch Times. It accurately portrayed my remarks about freedom of religion and explained my passion about that right. For the full interview, go to

Here is an excerpt:
“I’ve been through an awful lot, I’ve seen an awful lot,” said the 78-year-old journalist. Ms. Muftic had lived through the Cold War, married an Eastern European in Berlin at the time, and seen many people persecuted for their faiths under totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe during her career.
So learning that New York-based Shen Yun was reviving a divinely inspired culture lost under China’s communist regime, and seeing those events played out in the dance, was hopeful to Ms. Muftic.
“I understand the persecution of that. I’ve seen it myself, I’ve felt it myself, I know what it is about. The hope of that to me is wonderful. And I don’t think we can lose that hope.”

Note: An attempt to ban Sharia law by Oklahoma was also unconstitutional, per a court ruling, because it would be discriminatory.  This is not the same as establishing a state religion, however.

One of the controversies regarding freedom of religion has also been whether a merchant who disagrees with the beliefs of a customer can refuse to serve them.  Is permitting that impeding a person's freedom of religion? Or is it impeding the right of the customer to practice their religion?  The issue is not freedom of relgion. It is an attempt to use religion to rationalize practicing discrimination in a public accommodation. That violates  another amendment to the Constitution forbidding discrimination. In my mind, as a business person serving someone with whom I disagree is not the same as a government keeping me from going to church and praying to my God  nor in my private life does it keep me from chosing my friends based on their beliefs.

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