Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Freedom of and freedom from

    A significant part of the American ex-periment is that we allow both freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
    At this time of year, the Jewish com-munity—which has made a significant difference in the civic, cultural and relig-ious life of our nation—is celebrating its high holidays for the year 5775 in the He-brew calendar. Christmas, a Christian holiday, is approaching. In between, we have the uniquely American and relig-iously generic holiday of Thanksgiving. Tolerance of the diversity of all of these is a major part of our national historical tra-dition.
    The rise of murderous religious fanatic groups like ISIS has clearly demonstrated that not allowing religious traditions to flourish kills the ability of citizens to rea-son together. America’s founding fathers made a brilliant decision not to impose religion on the American people. Wash-ington, Jefferson, Hamilton and Franklin knew the disastrous consequences of the endless European religious wars of the 16th century.
    Ironically, intolerance of differing opin-ions is highly evident these days in the internal conflicts of religious institutions themselves. One prominent Catholic fund-raiser has warned that he and his friends might withhold millions from that church and its charities unless Pope Francis stops preaching against the excesses and cruelty of unbridled capitalism. Jewish congre-gants bristle if rabbis discuss Israel and Palestine. Among the 217 Protestant de-nominations in the United States, some find value in multiple opinions, but others are unwilling to even discuss belief, whether conservative or liberal.
    Constitutional protections mean relig-ious wars are unlikely to rip the fabric of American society, but the stridency with which opposing voices are shut down within churches, synagogues and mosques is exactly the kind of intolerance the founding fathers feared.
    The value of debate and of multiple viewpoints is the reason for protection for freedom of speech and against state-mandated religion. As long as religious disputes do not involve the government, the nation will remain strong and healthy.

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