This week, American leaders of several different faiths met to sign the American Charter of Freedom of Religion and Conscious– an important agreement to renew our country’s commitment to human rights and the First Amendment.
The project, in the workings for quite some time, is a collaborative initiative developed in a time of polarization. American politics is seen as targeting and dividing people of faiths on both sides of the aisle, when instead, we should be uniting together despite our difference in beliefs.
According to the American Charter of Freedom of Religion and Conscious’ website, the goals of the project include: ‘restoring civility to public discourse on religion,’ ‘exploring the meaning and value of freedom of religion both in America and internationally’, and ‘building a nonpartisan, multi-faith coalition.’
In an Op-Ed in USA Today, Charles C. Haynes, Director of the Religious Freedom Center in the Freedom Forum Institute (Washington, D.C.) and Oliver Thomas, co-author of the ACLU handbook, “The Right to Religious Liberty” describe some of the necessary steps leading up to this initiative and their future vision for religious freedom around the world. They say, “Protecting religious freedom in a diverse society isn’t easy – and it often stirs debate.”
There are many pieces and parts to the centuries-old phrase in the U.S. Constitution. Today, this debate extends to public school actions such as school prayer and dress codes. It extends to the healthcare field and public health issues like religious exemptions from vaccines. It even extends to the business world, where vendor rights overlap with discrimination cases against same-sex couples. We see many disputes today and are often unsure how to define what constitutes religious freedom and whether or not there are limits to those actions. Our lawmakers struggle with this, and our religious leaders often push their own agendas, dividing people of faith all across the country.
The project hopes to unite people of faith around these issues and create an environment of tolerance and respect for all. Their goals are grounded in the clause of the First Amendment: “Government shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.” It also draws upon the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights for people all around the world: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.”
Signers include: Leith Anderson of the National Assoc. of Evangelicals, Syyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America, Suhug Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation, and Rabbi Jack Moline of the Interfaith Alliance. The two authors further say, “The signers of the charter have differing views on how these disputes should resolved, but we do agree that all parties should have the right to participate in these debates on the basis of full equality.”
In a time of constant attacks on religious freedom and division between people of faith, groups like this one are creating a positive change by renewing their commitment to religious freedom.
Visit the Charter’s website to learn more about the project and religious leaders involved.