Religious freedom must be lived out

Written by The Likely Voter

October 19, 2023

Since our nation’s founding, the principle of religious freedom, through the First Amendment, has been enshrined in the American way of life. 

Ensuring that this principle remains protected and honored is no small feat, says Bill Duncan, Sutherland Institute’s constitutional law and religious freedom policy fellow. 

“If we are committed to the principle that we would never persecute someone for their religious beliefs, but the aspiration remains on paper and not in action, then we’ve weakened our nation’s commitment, not just on paper but in fact,” said Duncan. 

In March 2023, the Anti-Defamation League released a report following their audit of antisemitic incidents in the United States over recent years. 

The report shows that despite efforts to embrace religious freedom and respect the core beliefs of every American, 2022 saw the highest number of antisemitic incidents since the ADL began tracking the metric in 1979, with a 36% increase compared to 2021. 

Duncan, in Sutherland’s publication, “Religious Freedom 101,” wrote: 

“The First Amendment…codified an aspiration that governments should not limit the ability of people of faith and their religious organizations to act on their beliefs, even if those actions appeared to be at odds with government policies or majority preferences.” 

Eboo Patel, a University of Utah impact scholar and founder and president of Interfaith America, on a recent episode of Sutherland’s podcast, Defending Ideas, said that America’s religious diversity is unique and new to the world, but has worked. 

“The first thing you should do is identify something you admire about the other person’s tradition,” Patel said about coming together with people of other faiths. “What inevitably happens [is] that person turns to you and points out something that they admire about you.” 

In times of conflict and religious tension, Bill Duncan said that’s when Americans need to act, rather than solely rely on the words written in the Constitution. 

“If we’re not speaking up for anyone who’s being threatened, then to that degree we’ve weakened our nation’s commitment to [religious freedom],” Duncan explained. “We must respect the humanity of other people.” 

As stories of religious persecution make their way into the news cycle, it’s important to remember the commitment that America made to religious practice and diverse theologies. 

“If we don’t stand up and act when another faith faces persecution,” Duncan said, “then how can we expect others to stand up when our traditions are under attack?”  

For a more in-depth perspective on this article, read our Insights piece here.

Takeaways: the most important things voters need to know. For civically engaged citizens.  

  • Protecting religious freedom requires constant vigilance and action.
  • America’s commitment to religious freedom is what makes America so unique.
  • We must stand up for other faiths during times of religious persecution if we hope to have the same support during attacks on our own traditions.

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