Understanding What it Means to Have Freedom of Religion


By Victor Ochieng

The American constitution, of many things, protects citizens’ rights to freedom of religion. No one is to be discriminated upon based upon religion, whether a Christian, Hindu, or Muslim. That’s a beautiful thing to have in a country; everyone has the freedom to gather in the name of their God and express themselves without fear of discrimination or persecution.

The First Amendment has experienced a bit of push and pull in the land of the free, due in large part to Muslim extremist groups such as ISIS wreaking terror across the globe. There are millions who think that America should be a Christian nation, despite its claim of religious freedom.

John Traphagan of Huffington Post wrote, “It is possible that many on the religious right do not believe in freedom of religion and instead want America to be a Christian nation [by which they mean their particular brand of Christianity] that is intolerant of beliefs of others.”

In America, there are also those who don’t believe in any form of religion, but acknowledge that there is a greater power that exists. This group believes that there is God in each one of us and he speaks with us without a need for any external intervention. This group doesn’t use any icons, symbols, or rituals, and has no pastors at all. They are called Quakers, officially referred to as Religious Society of Friends.

Some people, on the other hand, appear very religious, but their actions don’t conform to what they teach. However, God is more focused on our daily deeds that we don’t advertise or promote. According to Howard Thurman, the fundamentals are to “find the lost, heal the broken, feed the hungry, release the prisoner, rebuild the nations, bring peace among brothers, make music in the heart.”

Another religious grouping is doing their best to make a difference. They play their roles as activists, social entrepreneurs, makers, technologists, donors, advocates, and educators. This group is called New Economies. These people dedicate their time to the service of the society, doing their best to make the world a better place.

Karen Armstrong, a religious historian, observes that “When people of all different persuasions come together, working side by side for a common goal, differences melt away. And we learn amity. And we learn to live together and to get to know one another.” This brings us to individuals who apply the Golden Rule, the core to the world’s biggest religious groupings. This rule is simple, but also the most challenging. The tenet is: “o unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This doesn’t involve simple talk, but is about deeds.