Religious discrimination is real. Sometimes religious people exasperate the problem by insisting that non-religious people conform to their understanding of God. People resist being told what to do so people leverage their power to stop the imposition of religion on themselves and others. They may pass restrictive laws like forbidding people to wear a hijab. They may say that only Christians or Muslims or Jews are allowed in certain parts of a city. This is enforced in some places by placing the person’s religious affiliation on an identity card or embedding it in the license number on their car. Sometimes vigilantes take matters into their own hands. Churches are burned in Pakistan and Nigeria while mosques are burned in India and the US. In some places around the world, people are afraid to let their religious identity be known, but no one should be afraid because of the way they choose to pray.
Religious Freedom means having the right to worship God, or not, in the way that you choose. The principle of “do no harm,” implies your religious practice should not harm other people. When religious beliefs are imposed on others without their consent, problems always arise. Even if you want to change religions, you should feel free within a society to do so, without fear of being harmed for doing so. You should not be thrown off a plane for invoking God’s blessing in another language. You should not be fired or your family ostracized because of your choice to honor God. A particular religion should not be forced on anyone.
Sometimes our religious choices are not aligned with the dominant population. Christians are in a minority in many countries. Muslims are in a minority in many other countries. Religious freedom means having the ability and freedom to build places of worship and to change religions… anywhere. It means the majority protects the minority’s right to convert and worship as they choose. Building permits should not be difficult to get. Because a person covers their head to pray or wears a cross around their neck should not invoke fear or persecution… anywhere.
This is the position of Peace Catalyst. We advocate for religious freedom for everyone and everywhere. God looks at the heart, not the outward practices of religion. One can pray five times a day or be baptized in a church and still be defiant to the ways of God. People must be free to choose.
When I was a child, my parents took me to church. As an adult, I choose to follow the teachings and example of Jesus. If others choose not to do so, I should not use my power to force compliance. Again, God looks at the heart. If I think others should follow the ways of Jesus, I should lead by teaching and example. Others can look at the “fruit” of my life and decide if it has merit. They can choose, freely, to follow or walk away. This is freedom of religion.