It was eye-opening to me when I read an interview with the Dalai Lama years ago where he said that secular means all religions.
The more I thought about it, I realized that being secular actually meant both all religions and no religion.
Allow me to explain.
The First Amendment
The secular movement is related to the First Amendment of the Constitution, especially as it pertains to the freedom of religion. It simply claims that no religion should be given preferential treatment in the public sphere, that all religions should be treated equally under the law.
A secular society gives people permission to believe or not believe, as they see fit.
This should not be a novel idea. It has been embedded in the Constitution for more than two hundred years.
As apparent as that seems, I realized, as I studied the history of my adopted country in preparation to become a full-fledged citizen, that, for the longest time, freedom of religion meant the freedom to practice any form of Christianity that one wanted to practice, which meant that Christianity did get special treatment in the public sphere while other religions were viewed with suspicion.
This is changing for the better in modern society, although we still find remnants of this special treatment on all levels of government, including, but not limited to, prayer before public meetings, especially prevalent in local governing bodies, such as city councils.
When I see such disparities, I remind myself that the principles espoused by the Founding Fathers were aspirational in nature and have still not been fully realized.
Living Together in Harmony
Today, we are a country of many religions, and a growing number of people claim no religious affiliation at all, either declaring spirituality as their primary focus or outright atheism.
They have that right under the Constitution.
One of the primary principles of the interfaith movement is to affirm that, despite our many different beliefs, we should attempt to live together in harmony. Of course, this is easier said than done, which is why it requires work, but the central message is a secular one.
Being secular simply means that one wants the public sphere to remain neutral, not giving preferential treatment to one religion or group above another, allowing all citizens to practice or not practice religion as they see fit.
As I see it, secularism is the freedom of religion in action.
Author & Interfaith Minister
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