This is especially true in a society with a variety of religious beliefs. Thomas Jefferson said, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
The attitude of the third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence may have more significance today than when it was written. Why? Just look around you. We are surrounded by diversity. The world of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and other faiths has crowded into the smallest communities.
These diverse people with many creeds and cultures make up our neighbors. They greet us daily. They are our workmates, classmates and business associates who love their families and value their freedom as we do. They also share the same economic, environmental and health concerns as we do. But like us, they also want to worship in their own way.
Historian Henry Steele Commager said, “The Americans who framed our Constitution felt that without freedom of religion no other freedom counted.”
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes said, “When we lose the right to be different we lose the privilege to be free.” Do you agree? What about your freedom to switch religious faiths?
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations, states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship or observance.”
Even Pope John Paul II said, “Religious freedom constitutes the very heart of human rights. Its inviolability is such that individuals must be recognized as having the right even to change their religion, if their consciences so demands.”
I asked myself if this is a freedom I truly respect, and if so, do I show it by the way I treat others regardless of their personal beliefs. The parable of The Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37 gives us God’s perspective on what in means to be a true neighbor regardless of one’s race, creed or color. The best example, however, is set for us by our Heavenly Father at Matthew 5:44-48.
Jesus said, “But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong. If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors love their friends. If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about that? Don’t even unbelievers do that? But you must always act like your Father in heaven.” — Contemporary English Version.
Because the Almighty chooses to treat everyone the same, regardless of their conduct or beliefs, we are given His superlative example of how and why we should treat others with dignity and respect. Why? It proves we are genuine servants of God and disciples of Christ.
So, if we profess to reverence God, shouldn’t we imitate Him by the way we treat others? I mean, will people have to believe the same way we believe in order to carry on a decent conversation with them? If given time, perhaps others will ask us about our faith, and we can gladly share it. If they choose to listen and believe — fine. If not, fine. That is their choice. Respect it.
Everyone from our next door neighbor to famous celebrities are exercising their freedom to reexamine their beliefs and change religions if they so desire. Allowing people the freedom to choose — to change their faith or not — and still love them, not only shows respect for the Constitution, but respect for God’s Word, which is called at James 1:25, “the perfect law that belongs to freedom.” — New World Translation.
So I ask: Should all people be treated with the highest respect and dignity even if they never see eye-to-eye on matters of faith? I believe they should. In the end, God will judge us all. It is He who ultimately allows freedom of religion.
Did Jesus try to force people to serve God or listen to His Word if they were not interested? No. Still, he was kind to people, regardless of their age, race, sex or faith. Is that the balance we seek?
While Jesus was quick to condemn falsehood and injustice no matter who was behind it, he always welcomed change in the people he preached to and exercised patience in dealing with others. He promoted truth over religion, and looked to God’s truth to set people free.
Yet, he always respected their choice. Do we? With all the freedoms we cherish — freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of expression — it is this freedom of religion that allows us the most. It is a gift from God who is the only One with the authority to take it away. May we never deny anyone this God-given right, supported in the U.S. Constitution.