THE SISTER'S PERSPECTIVE ON What is Religious Freedom?

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

I recently watched a YouTube video from the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute, “Disrupt the Narrative: Centering African American Perspectives on Religious Freedom.” It was a meeting of theologians gathering to talk about religious freedom. A gentleman asked the question “how do we know that we do not have religious freedom.” Well, an answer I may provide is this: One could say true religious freedom is being denied when public policy lacks in providing the same brand and quality of liberty to religious minorities that would be provided to the majority. This would hold true in this country to religious conservatives in particular. An “eye opening” example for me was the discovery of the way southern Christian conservatives and their counterparts in the north theologized the notion of segregation! I am continuously amazed at what I am being exposed to as I move through this phase of the Sister’s Perspective. This contentious relationship between politics and religion literally leaves me speechless at time. The biggest thing that amazes me are the revelations of ways that certain factions/cultures will leverage the First Amendment on Religious freedom to advance their agenda.

In reading Tisa Wenger’s Christian Century essay, Americans Have Never Agreed on What Religious Freedom Means. It took time for me to reframe a true meaning of the “Separation of church and state” as an issue that relates to religious freedom and the recognition of God in public space. In 1962, the Supreme Court ruled in Engel v. Vitale in which a group of families of public-school students in the Herricks Union Free School District of New York City sued school board president. The argument stemmed from the voluntary prayer written by the state board of regents to "Almighty God" and how it contradicted their religious beliefs. Ive never considered a flip side to the argument, but by giving many the choice not to pray, it simultaneously denied the opportunity of others to engage God in dialogue. Then there was the ruling in the Bob Jones vs. The United States case. In this decision, the US Supreme Court held that the 1st Amendment provision did not prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from revoking the tax exempt status of religious organizations whose practices are contrary to compelling government laws. It would seem this decision provided a rational for religious institutions to engage in discriminatory policies against minorities.

Will there ever be a middle ground on religious freedom that creates a balance for both religious minorities and Christian conservatives? Perhaps not, but the challenge we face as believers or whatever being we choose to worship is, is to strive to be balanced individually and collectively. So maybe we should just be obedient to the struggle and keep striving to reach that middle ground.