The Fourth of July is a day in the United States for celebrating the freedoms we enjoy, not the least of which is freedom of religion. The US is frequently noted not only for the diversity of the religious practice of its citizens, but for the importance those citizens give to their faith and practice. Without an established national religion, people are challenged to choose for themselves what tradition they will practice (or not).
The picture is not so good in other parts of the world. The International Religious Freedom Report for 2012 released recently by the US Department of State, an annual report on the state of religious freedom around the globe, finds that governments limit and harass religious groups within their borders. Anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish statements and actions are increasing, and the report notes a correlation between religious repression and social unrest:
“Governments that repress freedom of religion and freedom of expression typically create a climate of intolerance and impunity that emboldens those who foment hatred and violence within society. Government policy that denies citizens the freedom to discuss, debate, practice, and pass on their faith as they see fit also undercuts society’s ability to counter and combat the biased and warped interpretations of religion that violent extremists propagate.”
As we celebrate our freedoms this Fourth, let’s be thankful for the religious freedoms we enjoy, and commit ourselves using that freedom for the benefit of all.