Religious Freedom Day, observed nationally on Jan. 16, comes and goes without much fanfare despite its relevant message. It commemorates the passage in 1786 of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, considered a forerunner of the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. This week’s clergy discuss those enduring principles.
Isma H. Chaudhry
Board of trustees chair, Islamic Center of Long Island, Westbury
“O mankind We created you from a single pair of male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other not that ye may despise each other.” (Quran 49:13) Religious doctrines are created for the sole purpose of bringing people together.
The freedom of religion is as important to protect as the freedom of speech. The heterogeneity of religious practices brings forth a just, ethical and humanitarian society. It brings individual sanctions to expressions of faith and morality. Religious freedom affirms the projection of a society where an individual’s choice to practice their faith is endorsed with respect and dignity. It encompasses the freedom to think and act according to one’s ethical convictions, and religious diversity encourages communities to learn not just to coexist but thrive together for the common good.
In societies where religious freedom is withheld, there is violence, discord and conflict. Religious freedom promotes advocating civil and human rights. Lack of religious freedom threatens the principals of democracy. Without religious freedom, political institutions become authoritarian and dictatorial. The United States from its inception has been home to diverse religions and religious practices. Religious pluralism revitalizes a just society and discourages religious persecution and societal prejudice.
The Rev. Demetrios Calogredes
Protopresbyter, Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption, Port Jefferson
Many centuries ago, Europe’s people did not have the privilege of worshipping their faith or religion freely and openly. They tried worshipping privately or in secret places. They were humiliated and persecuted. Finally, a new land was discovered — America — and they set sail on a long and dangerous journey in search of a place where they would have a new beginning and the promise of a better life.
The Pilgrims and others came in droves to the new land and found religious freedom in a land of opportunity, where everyone can enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, with the aid of the 21st century’s flourishing technology, bigotry and hatred are being spread to degrade people with different religious convictions. Mankind must learn to respect all religious beliefs, traditions, cultures and ways of life. There should exist understanding and compassion among all peoples.
In Christianity, there is a saying by Jesus Christ: "A New Commandment I give to you — that you love one another as I have loved You." St. John, the beloved disciple of Jesus and evangelist also writes in his 1st Epistle: "God is Love" (1 John 4:16). Where Love abounds, there is no violence, no killings, no persecution.
Rabbi Mendy Goldberg
Lubavitch of the East End
The founding fathers clearly saw the need to make religious liberty a fundamental principle in the new land of opportunity. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the creator with certain unalienable rights.” Furthermore, newly elected President George Washington, in a 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, wrote that the U.S. government “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
Washington reassured those who had fled religious tyranny that “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine or fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Why was religious liberty so important to the founders of this country? Because it protects the freedoms of the individual, and only a country in which one’s religious beliefs are not under scrutiny do they have the ability to fully capitalize on their true sense of being and to prosper.
God shines through all of us in unique ways. God wants us to make this world a better place, to be better people and make this country the best it can be. The founding fathers saw this nearly 250 years ago, the Torah stated this 3,000 years ago, and it’s about time we realize it, appreciate it and act on it.