Religious freedom and the Constitution

Freedom of religion includes the right to be free from religion.

What many people forget is that the framers of our Constitution, through the First Amendment, sought to guarantee both freedom of religion and freedom from religion ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof").

Any government law that places an undue burden to either establish a religion, or prevent an individual from exercising his freedom of religion, is what is at stake. Our founders knew all too well the tyranny without these checks and balances.

How about balancing liberties for all sides, within the Constitutional First Amendment framework of what our founders intended?

Personally, I would rather not come between anyone and their God. My daughter, for example, has a Muslim friend who is clearly uncomfortable with dogs. Whenever she comes to visit, we put the dog away, as her religion dictates the saliva of dogs to be unclean.

Further, one Saturday at the last minute, the little girl's mother asked that the girl could stay with us over the dinner hour, as her mom suddenly had to drive out of town and her dad works the night shift.

We had planned to make Lentil Soup that evening, and add turkey sausage to make it more palatable to our younger daughter. Suddenly, I was in a bind. Were I to add turkey sausage, I would be violating the religious beliefs of our Muslim guest. Were I to leave out the turkey sausage, I would be throwing my younger daughter under the bus.

My decision? I left out the turkey sausage in honor of our Muslim guest. How could I, in good conscience, do something that would violate her religion and therefore cause her to compromise herself with her God? My younger daughter was left to fend for herself in the dinner category.

Is it not consistent within our democracy, further, to allow Muslim cabbies their day in court to deny service to the blind traveling with service dogs, as they consider the saliva of dogs unclean? Or, how about a Muslim cabby in the news recently denying service to those traveling with alcohol, as drinking alcohol according to their religion, is a sin? By not allowing a Muslim cabby his day in court, are we not setting ourselves up to a litigious minefield, in which the rights and religious freedoms of one group trump another? Why not have a consistent framework in which all groups' freedom of religion and religious beliefs are tolerated?

The Christian pizza restaurant owner in Indiana has not denied service to homosexual patrons, but rather, has hypothetically requested not to be forced to cater a homosexual wedding, as the sacrament of marriage, according to Christian beliefs, is between a man and a woman. According to that individual's religious beliefs, were the pizza owner to cater the gay wedding, that individual would be complicit in sanctioning a sacrament opposed to a deeply held religious belief. The government has no compelling interest as to whether this business caters the wedding or not. The homosexual patron has many other vendors from which to choose.

Similarly, if an Indian wants to smoke peyote, according to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act 1993, a sacred ritual activity closely tied to their religious beliefs, they should be able to do so.

Why can't we, as a melting pot, multi-cultural country, learn to balance religious liberties? It seems odd to me that liberties are granted to one group's freedom of religion, example given, Muslim cabbies and Peyote smoking Indians, and not to another. Christian beliefs have been cast aside as bigoted, mean-spirited, and even unlawful. One could argue the Muslim cabby's religious beliefs discriminate against the blind, or canines as a group. (PETA, want to step up?) However arbitrary or odd some beliefs may seem to those of other faiths (I kiss my dog regularly), there is a growing lack of tolerance in our nation. Freedom of religion is one of the tenets our nation was built upon, a tenet which limits government, therefore protecting citizens against the very tyranny our founders fled. It is not hypocritical, therefore, to grant one group preferential understanding and leeway and not another?

Christians' very livelihoods and lives have been threatened. The media and our government is one-sided and biased, stepping over individual citizens' Constitutional rights of freedom of and from religion, and capriciously granting freedom of religion to certain groups and not others.

Sadly, nothing is new, really. It is all recycled. It seems fitting that Christians are being so unfairly maligned, persecuted, and misunderstood during Holy Week, just as Jesus was in his day.

Sarah Hoff

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