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By Ronald A. Lindsay
Religious liberty is under attack. A number of presidential candidates have made this claim, and it was one of the key issues in Thursday night’s Republican debate. One of the moderators, Hugh Hewitt of Salem Radio, even asserted that his worries about religious liberty keep him up at night.
There is no question that religious liberty is under attack — outside the United States. The U.S. State Department prepares an annual report on the status of religious freedom around the world and it can make for grim reading. Religious-based violence is widespread in many countries and in a number of countries this persecution is tolerated and, in some cases, even supported by the government. In addition, all too many countries continue to have laws punishing “blasphemy,” which serve as vehicles for suppressing religious minorities and preventing them from expressing their beliefs.
And then there is the Islamic State, which through its campaign of murder and mayhem is effectively carrying out genocide against various religious minorities, such as Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. In fact, the nonprofit organization of which I am president, the Center for Inquiry, joined with some other nonprofit organizations to urge President Obama to formally declare the destruction of these religious communities by the Islamic State an act of genocide.
One curious thing about this letter is that it resulted in an article in a Christian publication that appeared to express astonishment that the Center for Inquiry — most of whose supporters are nonreligious — would express such strong support for Christians and other religious groups. Actually, almost all atheists, agnostics, and humanists in the United States are vigorous supporters of freedom of conscience — for everyone. The nonreligious are all too aware of how religious bigotry has adversely affected them. Although outright persecution of nonbelievers is now rare in most Western countries, in many other countries open atheism continues to be a virtual death sentence. So most of the nonreligious recognize the importance and value of freedom of conscience and will do what they can to ensure everyone enjoys this fundamental freedom.
The essence of religious liberty is, of course, the freedom to believe what one wants to believe about gods and to express that belief, whether in writing, speaking, or in worship services. No one should be punished for exercising that freedom.
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