Reflecting On Religious Freedom This Independence Day

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The Muslim Times has the best collection of articles on the theme of interfaith tolerance and secularism

Source: Huffington Post

By Whitney Buchanan, who is an American analyst and commentator on MENA affairs. She is also the founder of Middle East Collective. Whitney is currently based between Istanbul and Berlin

Just two days ago, Donald Trump vowed to defend and support religious freedom. As he spoke to a a group of Evangelical Christians during the “Celebrate Freedom” concert at the Kennedy Center, he said, “We don’t want to see God forced out of our public square…No one is going to stop you from practicing your faith or saying what’s in your heart.“

However, on this Independence Day, numerous Americans can’t help but wonder whether Trump’s support of religious freedom extends to those who worship Islam. At the concert in Washington, Trump mentioned that “radical Islamic terrorism” is one of religious liberty’s largest threats.

Trump added, “We love our families, we love our freedom and we love our God.” Can we truly say that Trump’s America loves it’s Muslim families and offers them equal access to religious freedom?

You might be wondering, “What is religious freedom, or freedom of belief, exactly?”

ACLU elaborates on religious freedom, “The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that everyone in the United States has the right to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all.

Our country’s founders — who were of different religious backgrounds themselves — knew the best way to protect religious liberty was to keep the government out of religion. This fundamental freedom is a major reason why the U.S. has managed to avoid a lot of the religious conflicts that have torn so many other nations apart.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits government from encouraging or promoting (“establishing”) religion in any way.

That’s why we don’t have an official religion of the United States. This means that the government may not give financial support to any religion. That’s why many school voucher programs violate the Establishment Clause — because they give taxpayers’ money to schools that promote religion.

The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment gives you the right to worship or not as you choose. The government can’t penalize you because of your religious beliefs.“

Though Vice President Pence declared global religious freedom a priority, as well as a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration, are Muslims in America being dramatically violated because of their religious beliefs and practices?

I asked Americans in the U.S. and abroad, “What does religious freedom mean to you on this Independence Day?” You can find some of their responses below:

“To me, religious freedom means not giving into fear and not passing fear down to your children. It means raising free thinkers who make their own choices about where, how, and whether or not to worship any god. It’s being able to replace the word “god” in the first commandment with the word “truth” and everyone being okay with that.” — Meriwether F. in Kuwait City, Kuwait

Denise B. in Houston, Texas said:

I will not be celebrating Independence Day as long as Trump is in office. If there is hatred and a Muslim ban in the United States then there is no freedom of religion. This is no longer the country I grew up remembering.

“It means being able to worship what and who I please, how I please, without having to worry about persecution of any sort. I don’t believe that for only my religion, but I believe everyone should have the same right regardless of their beliefs.” — Kendra B. in Madisonville, Tennessee

“Religious freedom does not exist for Muslims or minority religions in America. If it did exist, my extended family from Iran would be able to visit me. I would be able to pray under a tree, on a carpet, in the park without fear of someone throwing something at me or spitting on me. I only feel free, religiously, when I am speaking to Allah; maybe this lack of freedom has made my relationship with Allah stronger.” — Nima D. in Chicago, Illinois

Emily. R shared her thoughts from Berlin, Germany, “Religious freedom means to me not merely passive tolerance, but cultivating understanding and respect for the various faiths present in our societies.” She continued,

It means empowering religious minorities to participate in societal institutions, enabling communities to open themselves to people of different faiths, and providing a safe and accessible public space to all, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Nouran T. from Orlando, Florida said, “I’m not sure how well religious freedom and America go together these days. Since the elections, my best friends and I have felt scared when we’re not together–we are Muslim and we wear hijab. I was born and raised here, America is my home.” Nouran added, I just want to be able to go out on the 4th of July to watch the fireworks, without worrying about what people might think because of my hijab. Maybe I should wear a scarf that’s red, white, and blue?

Do you want to learn more about religious freedom? Take a look at these sources:

Cornerstone Religious Freedom Project Religious Freedom – Department of StateReligious Freedom – Freedom House SSRC – The Politics of Religious Freedom Human Rights Without Frontiers – Freedom of Religion or Belief

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