by Chalea Marker

Religious freedom is meaningful in my life. The right to decide what I believe and act according to those beliefs has helped me to become the person that I am today. It has helped me learn how to be a productive and contributing member of society. It has also taught me to respect other’s choices because I know that everyone’s rights are interconnected. I have also seen the flip side of this. One of my friends was born in China. He could not practice a religion there. When he moved to the United States, he was excited to learn about religious concepts and join a church where he could live according to his moral conscience.

Sadly, this right to live our religion is under fire and scrutiny. According to a recent study, there has been a 15% increase in attacks on religious freedom in the past year alone. The assaults on religious freedom in the past five years have increased 133%, and those are just the ones that have been reported. The attacks can be grouped into four different areas: suppressing religious expression in the public square, deterring religious expression in schools and universities, censuring viewpoints about sexuality, and suppressing religious expression using nondiscrimination laws.

There are many recent examples of how religious expression has been suppressed in the public square. Such an incident occurred in a school in Oklahoma. This June, East Central University received a letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State stating that the university was in “violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution” for displaying religious iconography. The university initially removed the icons, but later decided to keep them after receiving encouragement from local politicians and religious leaders.

            The freedom of religious expression is also being suppressed in other ways at schools and universities. In June 2017, a high school senior was asked to prepare some remarks to share with her graduating class. When she turned in her remarks for approval, the district stated that her comments were “unlawful, unconstitutional, and therefore, impermissible” because she mentioned the Lord in her address.

A fundamental part of religious expression is the freedom to share one’s opinion about topics effecting our nation, in the light of religion. An 18-year-old Australian woman was fired for advocating against same-sex marriage on her personal social media page. Along with having her job terminated, she was publicly ridiculed by her employer, who said that she was a homophobe and a risk to the company. The woman was saddened by the loss of her job and was disappointed that she was unable to share her beliefs in a nonconfrontational way.

            Another example of a person defending his religious beliefs in a nonconfrontational way is Jack Phillips, who is a Colorado baker. Mr. Phillips is heading to the Supreme Court on December 5 to defend his right to live his religion in one of the most anticipated Supreme Court cases of the year. He was charged with discrimination for refusing to bake a personalized cake for a gay couple due to his religious beliefs. When the issue went to state courts, Phillips was informed that that if he would not do custom cakes for same-sex couples, he would not be allowed to do them for anyone. Phillips appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling.

Many people think, “My religion is not being persecuted”, or “I am not religious, so why does this matter?” One of the beautiful things about religious freedom is that it protects the rights of all people, religious and irreligious, to believe as they wish and act according to those beliefs, so long as no one is harmed by them. This is a right that everyone wants for themselves, but in order to have it for ourselves, we also need to defend it for others.

We also need to consider is how much power the government has in our lives. If it is trying to dictate our most personal and deeply-held beliefs now, how much more can it change our lives? We can already see that the government is trying to dictate other important aspects of life, and while it is essential to protecting our rights, the government has no place overstepping its bounds. After all, if basic rights are not respected for one group, they are non-existent for all of us.

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