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COLUMN: Religious freedom is a right that must be protected

By Andy Pierucci
On February 27, 2014

Freedom empowers individuals to do as they wish, become what they want and live how they would like. It is one of the most valued principles in the world.

Freedom of religion is not usually the first item that comes to mind when making a list of freedoms, but in recent years, it has become a hot topic. Religious freedom is not just the right to worship or to believe how one chooses, although these are important characteristics of religious freedom. It is the right to think, act upon and express what one believes.

Freedom of religion benefits the believers and nonbelievers alike. Society is better when freedom of religion is protected. Wherever there are high levels of religious freedom in the world, there is more economic prosperity, lower income inequality, lower levels of conflict and an increased level in other civil and human rights.

Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. Many came to the U.S. fleeing from persecution for their religious beliefs. The founders of this country recognized the importance of establishing a constitution that allowed individuals to participate in any religion without fear of persecution. In a letter to Baptists from Danbury, Conn., in 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” Jefferson was referring to the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Somewhere between 1802 and now, people have misconstrued Jefferson’s words. A few argue “separation of church and state” means religion must take a back seat in the public square. I’m not sure how they come to that conclusion. In fact, I question whether those who espouse that interpretation have even read Jefferson’s letter.

Freedom of religion is not only an American issue. The Vatican estimates nearly 100,000 Christians are killed annually because of their faith. The numbers are rising in North Africa and the Middle East. In Nigeria, religious tension is at an all-time high. It is not uncommon for religious leaders to be assassinated by those of another faith.

This is not just a Christian issue either.

The Cham people are Muslims who live in Vietnam. Local police stormed into a mosque in the village of Chau Giang in 2012 and took away a generator that provided electricity to more than 40 Muslim families. Shortly after their brutal assault they returned to the village, kidnapped a number of young girls and raped them. The police committed these awful acts of brutality because the villagers were Muslim.

These stories paint a grim picture of the world, but there is hope. Many remember seeing photos of Muslim protesters in Egypt protecting Christians as they pray, and then the Christians returning the favor by encircling their Muslim friends as they knelt in prayer. There is still much good in this world. We must stand with others around the globe to promote and protect freedom of religion. This can be done as we elect those who will promote religious freedom in the U.S. and abroad. Religious freedom empowers individuals and promotes peace. Empowered individuals strengthen their communities and stronger communities bring prosperity. Now is the time for us to act.

Andy is a senior majoring in political science. He is currently the vice president of USU Pi Sigma Alpha, a member of the GRC, the Secretary of the Utah Federation of College Republicans and president of USU College Republicans.

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