All the international students I had previously met were in the United States because they had family here or they had received a scholarship. Why was his response different and so specific?
I learned later the realities he faced back home made him approach religious freedom uniquely. He had been denied the choice to further search out different religious beliefs and live according to truths he learned for himself.
Religious freedom is not just for those who believe in a God or some other source of higher power. It is for every one of us. Religious freedom gives people the opportunity to seek out personal truths and base their opinions, values and lifestyle according to those truths. Without it, we would not be able to live our life the way we think it best.
Like my friend from Saudi Arabia, many of our forefathers came to America because they had been living in a place that prevented them from learning new religions and practicing personally held beliefs. The fact that these forefathers – and even my friend, to an extent – left everything familiar behind to obtain religious freedom shows me it is a precious gift we cannot forget.
This Thanksgiving, let’s not forget to feel gratitude for religious freedom. Each of us should feel grateful to live in a country that allows us to discover truth for ourselves and to live according to it. (See accompanying graphic for examples of countries that don’t allow such freedom.)
As Lactantius, an early Christian scholar, wrote: “It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that every man should worship according to his own convictions” – and this is made possible to us through religious freedom.
Lacey Johnson is a policy intern with Sutherland Institute.