Can Atheists and Muslims Support Freedom of Conscience Together?

Source: Politics & Religion, by Qasim Rashid and Chris Stedman.

Let’s look at atheists and Muslims. Or, in this case, one atheist and one Muslim. As members of minority communities in the United States, the two of us recognize that true freedom can only exist when it is rooted in mutual respect. Likewise, oppression thrives in its absence. It is crucial, however, to recognize that true civility cannot be dictated, but can only exist through personal accountability. President Truman once wrote, “Those who want the government to regulate matters of the mind and spirit are like men who are so afraid of being murdered that they commit suicide to avoid assassination.” The only agent that can truly regulate matters of mind and spirit is the individual. Another’s religious beliefs, or lack thereof, should not threaten an individual’s sense of self.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote: “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

For many of us, it’s easy to appreciate Jefferson’s eloquently stated advocacy of religious freedom of conscience, as well as the idea that all individuals should be able to express religious or nonreligious positions independent of others’ beliefs. Likewise, at the United Nations, both the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantee “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” to all individuals. But, in spite of international agreements and Jefferson’s beautiful words, the reality is that these tenets are often forgotten.


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