Ironically I see the sign every time I go to church. Just outside my neighborhood on the side of the road it stands appropriately enough next to a statue of the Virgin Mary. In red, white, and blue it says “Preserve Religious Freedom”. I smile as I drive by wondering why they’ve felt the need to place this 18 inch piece of plastic in their lawn. Is it there as a testimony of their faith and belief in a God? Or is it there as a symbol that no secularist is going to stop them from having prayer in schools? Have they really thought through the ramifications of the statement? Do they realize freedom of religion means freedom for Muslims, Buddhists, Hindu’s, and Wiccan’s as well as Christians?
In my brief existence on this planet I’ve found that the most staunch supporters of Religious Freedom are typically those with the most narrow view of religious tolerance. Even within their own church they stifle any religious expression that doesn’t fit their mold. I’m sure I could pull over, pick up the sign, take it to church, and every single person there would agree with the statement. “People should be able to worship freely in this country!” they’d say. But the moment I ask to put a drum kit and Marshall stack on stage religious freedom meets an untimely demise.
There’s a delicate balance in Freedom of Religion vs. Freedom from Religion. Freedom OF Religion is too often observed as the ability to express your religious views in an “in your face” manner. Those individuals want their religious beliefs to be incorporated into political agendas that permeate every aspect of life for both themselves and for others (wanted or not). The opposite would be those seeking Freedom FROM Religion. They’re tired of the religious beliefs of another affecting how they should live, when they may believe something entirely different.
But what about Freedom FOR Religion? A stance where religion is neither dominionistic nor impotent. A place where secularists can appreciate the benefits of religious influence without religion overshadowing what is best for society as a whole. Can such a view exist?
The founding fathers of our country saw the same people who came to this country for religious freedom quickly become equally intolerant and persecute those “Savages”. When crafting the documents that laid the country’s foundation they saw both the benefits of religion while having the foresight to see it’s detriments as well. They wisely set boundaries to respect both the religious and the secular. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.
Religious Freedom is a bigger concept than just being able to pray at school board meetings. It’s no more about establishing a single dominant faith (Christianity) any more than it’s the complete elimination of all religious thought from public society. Preserving religious freedom is about individuals, not denominations. It’s about recognizing the benefits brought by all those cultures, beliefs, and opinions that make up society. Religious freedom is about respect.
There is room for religion in society and preserving religious freedom should be on every person’s agenda whether religious or Atheistic. Because freedom is what our country is about and when you start restricting one freedom, you begin a slow decline to restricting many more. That should especially go for the religious who feel their religion is the only one worth protecting.