In America, land of the free, no freedom is more fundamental to our identity than freedom of religion. It is one of the most hopeful building blocks we have to ensure that we remain a global symbol of what rich and inclusive diversity looks like and what it adds to everyday modern life. I’m a pastor – that is why I value this piece of my American heritage so deeply.
Of course, we haven’t always lived up to our full promise of religious freedom. But the idea remains a perfect one and worthy of defending loudly and in the broadest sense, from all misuse and misinterpretation. It’s especially sad and ironic that this year we must use National Religious Freedom Day to hold President Trump and his administration accountable to their constitutional duty to protect this core value rather than not recklessly undermine it. Each year, since 1993, the President of the United States has celebrated this day and urged America to join with him. In 2020, it’s Americans who should ask the President to remember what religious freedom truly means.
A broad cross section of religious leaders from varied traditions are raising concern over recent thinly-veiled attempts to use religion to sanction legalized discrimination. This is exactly what the Trump administration quietly attempted with two 2019 efforts. One proposal would permit medical professionals to deny life-saving health care to LGBTQ people under cover of their personal religious beliefs. A second proposal would permit foster care and adoption agencies to deny their services to LGBTQ families also in the name of religion.
People of conscience need to remind elected leaders why it’s morally odious and flagrantly un-American to open the door to these kinds of proposals. Our Constitution lays out strict protections against public discrimination and has clearly defined separations in place to guard against sly attempts to bend the intent and the application of legal freedoms.
People around the world are dying because their religious freedom is not protected. The tenor of our times is grim with the rise of violence against women, people of color and increasing anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim attacks. We have to resist and reject all policies that heighten the potential for more widespread discrimination.
As a Christian growing up in the South, I used to hear about a place called Maurice’s BBQ. Maurice barred African Americans from his restaurant because he believed they weren’t created in the image of God. He believed he had the right to enforce that discrimination in his public establishment. I’m glad the Supreme Court decided he did not have that right.
I don’t want to go back to an era where people are discriminated against and those discriminating feel empowered by their religion. I want to protect the full meaning of the land of the free.
The only belief needed to join this fight is a shared commitment to that founding idea of a nation built to be free for everyone. Hate loses all power when people of every background exercise our freedom in love – the greatest freedom we have.