Archbishop Lori and the misinterpretation of religious freedom

I am a 71 year old grandmother who grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, learning from the Baltimore Catechism, and who graduated from a Catholic college. I am, however, growing ever more concerned that some clerics ("Outspoken bishop to lead Baltimore Archdiocese," March 21) and politicians alike seem to be misusing the concept of religious freedom and minimizing or ignoring the concept of separation of church and state.

These concepts are two of the most important principles on which our country was founded — and for good reasons, I might add. Putting aside all of the rhetoric, I think these principles are not so complicated.

Religious freedom means every citizen of our country has the right to practice his or her religion. It does not mean that any one of us can force the tenets of our particular religion on any one else, no matter how much we might feel compelled to do so.

Separation of church and state means just that. The state cannot mandate any religious practices or beliefs for its citizens. The church (synagogue, mosque, etc.) cannot mandate any practices or beliefs for any citizens outside of its own membership.

I think sometimes Catholics and other Christians forget that there are adherents of other religions in our country who have the same rights that Christians have. For example, how would Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals and other Christians feel if Muslim religious leaders lobbied our political leaders to pass a law requiring all women to cover their heads and bodies with clothing in public? How would they feel if Seventh Day Adventist (one Christian group) or Jewish religious leaders lobbied for a law to make Saturday the Sabbath and to limit commerce on that day? How would they feel if Mormon church leaders or the leaders of any other religious group in our country lobbied for laws that would impact everyone regardless of their conflicting religious beliefs?

I believe it is time for religious leaders to respect separation of church and state and tend to their flocks. There should be plenty to keep them busy in a world where many people are struggling just to keep their heads above water.

It is also time for candidates and elected officials to respect the separation of church and state and turn their attention to the many critical challenges (foreclosures, federal, state and local budgets, education, environment, energy, you name it) facing all of us.

Barbara L. Russell, Columbia

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