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As an American and a follower of Jesus, I am shocked and embarrassed by the ongoing attacks on freedom of religion in our country.
Our forefathers were committed to making this a country where freedom of religion was guaranteed, so much so that it is covered the first sentence in the First Amendment to our Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Clearly it was their intention to be sure that in America everyone had the freedom to worship as they chose.
There seems to be some confusion in America today about exactly what this means. For generations of Americans in the past, freedom of religion meant they had the right to choose whether to be Baptists or Methodists or Catholics, or some other Christian denomination.
But freedom of religion also means that people have a right to be a part of other religious traditions — Buddhist, Hindu, Bahai, or even Muslim. Our constitution guarantees all these groups the same religious freedom as it does to protestants, Catholics, or Jews.
It stands to reason that because people have freedom to worship as they choose, they will build places to do so.
Christians construct church buildings, Jewish believers gather in synagogues, Buddhists worship in temples and Muslims build mosques. And the very Constitution we so proudly claim to uphold, guarantees them the right to do so.
When we start denying people the right to freedom of worship, not only are we undermining a premise on which our country was built, we also become just like those other nations we condemn for not allowing their citizens religious freedom.
And if all the controversy about building mosques was not enough of a show of intolerance and prejudice, we now have a group who claims to be followers of Jesus, planning to burn the Koran.
Regardless of how they attempt to justify it, to burn the sacred writings of another religion is a hate crime — a hate crime that could not conceivably be any further removed from the spirit of the One who taught us to love even our enemies.
This kind of behavior should be condemned by people of faith everywhere, especially Christians. Is this the way we want our faith to be demonstrated to the rest of the world?
If we are going to stand by our Constitution and the freedoms it protects, we must support and defend the rights of all people of faith in America to worship freely, including Muslims.
And all Americans, especially Christians, will be careful to see that their faith is treated with the same justice and equality we offer all other religious traditions, and that includes the right to build places of worship just like other religious groups and to have their faith and its symbols treated with the same respect and courtesy we would want for our own.
How can we call ourselves a free people or even pretend to be a nation influenced by Christian morals and values and do any less?