January 16th is National Religious Freedom Day in the US. The day commemorates the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786. Today we have many issues with religious freedom. One issue is that some people in this country want religious freedom to be for their religion only. Religious freedom should be for all of us.
Meghan Hamilton writes in The Humanist:
When it comes to the unalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” religious freedom is vital. While various supernatural and religious beliefs have historically served as the root of many of the world’s conflicts, since 2013 there has been a surge in violent retaliation to any opposition or criticism of religious or philosophical views. Recent events throughout the world have shown the necessity of religious freedom protections. For the past three years we have seen instances of atheist writers in Bangladesh attacked or murdered simply for their atheist viewpoints. On January 7, 2015, the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked for publishing cartoon depictions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, leaving twelve dead. Just last month a twenty-year-old woman in Arizona was murdered for not believing in God. And the ongoing debate about immigration and the Syrian refugee crisis is a constant reminder of how dangerous religious bigotry can be.
I won’t deny that American politicians believe in religious freedom. They do. The only condition is that the religion must be theirs. How do you explain that all religious people and nonreligious people deserve the same protections when our politicians believe theirs is the only true religion? How can different religions coexist under the same laws when those laws are formulated by politicians who unabashedly believe their own religion is superior? Until politicians are called out for their favoritism and actions that are inconsistent with the principle of religious liberty, we are dangerously far from the secular values our founding fathers knew to be vital to a democratic system.
I agree that we need to apply religious freedom principles that led Jefferson to write his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
Some religious conservatives in this country have a funny idea what religious freedom really means. To them it means forcing their beliefs on others like being exempted from the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Some even believe it’s religious freedom to bully LGBT kids in school.
A better world exists when religious freedom applies to all of us.