By Kristen Johnson
On this day in history, 1683, the first Mennonites arrived in America. They were among the first Germans to settle in the Americas, and they were enticed by an offer from William Penn of 5,000 acres and the freedom to practice their religion.They had been widely persecuted in Europe. (History.com).
Flash forward to the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The Declaration of Independence states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Notice that the Declaration doesn’t say anything about which “creator” they are referencing (the Christian creator or otherwise). And, the Constitution only states that the law of the land cannot respect a particular religion over another, and that we are free to exercise the religion of our choice. Again, no mention of a “Christian” religion or any other religion for that matter.
Are we really respecting everyone’s rights to practice the religion of their own choosing, or no religion at all? Obviously not, given the rhetoric in politics today against Muslims. Jews are even more discriminated against than Muslims in the U.S.:
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports: Hate Crime Statistics, 2014, there were 1,140 victims of anti-religious hate crimes in the U.S. in 2014. “Of the 1,140 victims of anti-religious hate crimes: 56.8 percent [56.8%] were victims of crimes motivated by their offenders’ anti-Jewish bias.” That amounts to approximately 647.52 instances where Jewish individuals, businesses or institutions were targeted. (CNS.com).
There are also reports of anti-Muslim bias, anti-Christian bias, and even anti-Atheist/anti-Agnostic bias. (CNS.com).
Clearly, in a nation that cherishes the Constitution, we have a lot of work to be done to support the notion of having the freedom to choose one’s religion, and the freedom not to choose one at all.
I read over and over again comments that the U.S. is a “Christian nation” (not true) or that we “shouldn’t have to change” to accommodate others (not true – read the Constitution.) I prefer to live in a nation where I am able to choose to be a Christian, and not one in which I am forced to be one, or in one that discriminates against my neighbors who practice another faith.
1 Peter 2:16 (NRSV): As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.
Stand up for what is right.Stand up for religious freedom. Stand up for your neighbor.
Serve all with love.
Photo courtesy of: gratisography.com