Archive for Saturday, February 16, 2013

Faith Forum: Do United States residents truly have freedom of religion?

February 16, 2013


Moussa Elbayoumy, community outreach coordinator, Islamic Center of Lawrence, 1917 Naismith Drive:

From the beginning of our history, religious freedom has been at the heart of the American vision of a democratic society. Within the framework of our constitution, religion always played an important role in American life.

Religious freedom continues to be one of America’s most fundamental liberties, and the main principle upon which our nation was founded. Unfortunately, throughout American history, every religious group has been the target of discrimination at one point or another. Tolerance and fairness have generally prevailed, but only after principled voices have transcended prejudice and hatred.

Although economic opportunity and advancement have been the primary concern for most immigrants, including Muslims, the social and political benefits of religious freedom have also played a major role in the American Muslim experience. Muslims have become comfortable with political participation and integrated the American values of democracy and religious freedom into their traditional Islamic values.

During the past decade, acts of violence by extremists claiming to act in the name of Islam have raised fears about Islam. Some individuals and groups have attempted to associate all of Islam with extremist violence by disseminating misinformation and distortions about Islam and American Muslims. This led to a rise in discrimination against American Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims. Muslim communities in the United States have faced a disturbing wave of bigotry and hostility. From religious discrimination and attacks on existing and proposed Islamic centers to misguided congressional hearings, Muslims in America are being unfairly targeted simply for exercising their basic constitutional right to religious liberty.

I am confident that once again, principled voices shall prevail over prejudice and hatred, and all of us must always — especially in times of controversy — vigilantly uphold our core values. When we violate one group’s freedom, everyone’s liberty is at stake.

— Send email to Moussa Elbayoumy at

The Rev. Josh Longbottom, associate pastor, Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vermont St.:

There is a hubbub as of late about government infringing on the freedom of religion. Most of these concerns come from religious institutions that do not want to pay for insurance that covers contraception, and, I believe, from some churches that fear they would be required to perform gay marriages if gay marriage becomes legal. Being both in favor of wide access to birth control as well as an advocate of gay marriage, I find it difficult to get worked up about policies I fully support.

I am generally against war, however. It is my religion, too, that leads me to these convictions. In Matthew 5:39, Jesus said “turn the other cheek,” and in Matthew 5:49, he said “love your enemies.” And I ask myself, how can I take these teachings seriously and at the same time support war?

My question back to the world is this. Since supporting war is against my religion, should I be exempted from the taxes that go to support wars I do not approve of? Is it a violation of my freedom when the government makes any public policy that differs from my private conscience or the teachings of Christ?

I don’t know if it is possible to live in a world where we can have complete freedom to act out our religious ideals. It is a little bit like the debate about free speech. Of course we all support free speech, until we consider the example of the person who wants to yell “fire” in a crowded theater.

We Americans do not have an absolute right to act out our religious opinions. But we are not told what we need to believe either. And, for now at least, I think that we have a pretty good compromise between the two.

— Send email to Josh Longbottom at


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