Religious freedom is the freedom to practice our faith in peace. This is the freedom protected by international law and by the laws of many nations. Without this legal protection, minorities may be oppressed by the majority population or by their government. In the section on law I explain how "freedom of religion or belief," the international human rights standard, differs from the religious freedom protected by the First Amendment in the US Constitution.
By religious freedom I also mean freedom within religious each community. I do not embrace all beliefs or practices described as "religious," but only those which respect the fundamental human rights of persons. I see religious freedom within a religious community or tradition as one of the social conditions necessary for human dignity, a right that cannot be separated from other fundamental human rights. Beliefs that denigrate other human beings, because of their race or ethnicity, culture, gender, or religious convictions, should be challenged, and practices based on these beliefs may need to be prohibited by law. This is the ethical meaning of religious freedom.
By religious freedom I mean as well the search together for truth. To affirm religious freedom is to admit we have changed our minds about our religious convictions by learning from our experience, and have been insipired by others with religious backgrounds unlike our own. We will come closer to what is true by opening our hearts to the experience and understanding of others. This is the spiritual meaning of religious freedom.
I affirm religious freedom as a legal, ethical, and spiritual quest. None of us, either individually or in our religious communities, can rightfully claim that we are the model for all others to follow. We all fall short of our highest aspirations, and we all have much to learn. Perhaps together, in humility, we may realize more fully the visions of truth and justice in our diverse and compelling traditions of faith.
May 26, 2016