Aim for healthy dialogue on freedom of religion
As the weather warms and blossoms promise the arrival of spring, it’s hard to imagine the cold and early fall of 1620 that William Bradford and his humble congregation of Pilgrims faced.
As they boarded the Mayflower to sail on that treacherous voyage to an unknown land, they must have felt scared, inadequate and unprepared. They would have realized that not everyone would live to see the new land. They must have wondered if the sacrifices they were about to make would be worth it.
And still, they made that journey.
Like so many of our forefathers, William Bradford and his group of humble Pilgrims understood that the freedom they sought, while undoubtedly not free, was worth the cost.
Four hundred years after those humble beginnings, the Pilgrims’ respect for the freedom of religion remains central to the American mythos. We see our faith stamped on every coin in the words, “In God, we trust.” Our country’s Bill of Rights begins with the freedom of religion listed first.
Today millions of Americans celebrate Easter. But with stay-at-home directives and pandemic fears, today the holiday takes on a more quiet, thoughtful meaning. While the family gatherings and Easter egg hunts are scaled back, we can see how strongly rooted in the culture of this country these religious traditions are.
When it comes to prayer, America stands out as an anomaly among other nations. Pew Research Center found that as nations become richer they become significantly less likely to pray. However, 49% of Americans pray every day. In other similarly wealthy nations, only around 20% of citizens pray daily.
We owe this vibrant and diverse religious presence in our country to the unprecedented religious freedom we were given. Guaranteeing this religious freedom was no small task. Both the Pilgrims and our nation’s founders worked hard and sacrificed much in order to preserve that right.
Today, like our forefathers, we face treacherous threats to religious freedom. The stigma around religion has become just as dangerous as the laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion our Constitution protects us against. Our culture has persuaded us to hide the light of religious freedom under a proverbial bushel.
In another poll by Pew Research Center, 40% of Millennials identified themselves as religiously unaffiliated. The United States is becoming a less religious country, particularly among younger generations.
Just as persecution and hatred drove the Pilgrims out of Europe to seek religious freedom across the ocean, today we see that social stigma is driving religion out of the town square, out of dinner table conversations, and now, out of the hearts of the rising generation.
Over the internet or in person, society has become vicious about ideas. A quick glance at headlines or even watching presidential debates makes it easy to see just how brutal our public discussion has become. While keyboard warriors, political activists and internet trolls are comfortable sticking their necks out to join in this discussion, most of us quietly sit back and watch the barbaric banter.
In an environment where many of us aren’t comfortable sharing our political beliefs, let alone sharing our religious beliefs, under the guise of being polite, we stay silent.
While I’m still in high school and nowhere near the likes of William Bradford, I’m asking you to join me on a journey. A quest for religious freedom. If we stand together, we can create a more respectful and healthier public discourse.
Dallin Christensen is a junior at Leadership Academy of Utah. Email him firstname.lastname@example.org.