Friday, July 25, 2014

Religious Liberty and Iraq

My father grew up in a Christian community in northern Iraq (Chaldean).  My family - aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins have called Iraq home.

So as I read the wires from the Middle East, I am particularly disheartened about the news of the insurgency spreading through my father's former homeland. The stories emerging from the area report of death, persecution and flight of the Christian community in the wake of the Sunni army (ISIS) moving south.  Some are even using the word "genocide."

ISIS terrorists continue to target Christians and destroy churches. There are stories of forced taxes, rape, kidnapping, murder, and much worse. One of the goals of ISIS, according to some experts, is to destroy the existence of Middle Eastern Christians.

Recently, a Christian city in Syria (as a result of ISIS) was forced to either to convert to Islam, pledge submission to Islam, or face the sword. Christians were told they could no longer practice their religion in public. In the Middle East, religious liberty is a principle that is foreign to most.

We are blessed to live in a country with religious liberty protections. Last month, Kim Colby, the director of CLS' Center for Law & Religious Freedom, testified before a congressional subcommittee about the importance of religious liberty. She aptly stated that religious liberty is one of the most important things that America has given to the world.

However, some voices, especially in the light of the Hobby Lobby decision last month, are questioning the validity of religious liberty.  But the idea isn't new.  Just a few years ago, religious liberty scholar Professor Douglas Laycock stated, “For the first time in nearly 300 years, important forces in American society are questioning the free exercise of religion in principle – suggesting that free exercise of religion may be a bad idea, or at least, a right to be minimized.”  (Sex, Atheism, and the Free Exercise of Religion, 88 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 407 (2011)) 

Religious liberty is a First Amendment right - as is free speech. They are rights to practice, say or do something that might be offensive to others - but are protected just the same. It is the basis of a pluralistic and tolerant society.  Religious liberty would change the landscape in the Middle East - for the better.  But conversely, removing or chipping away at religious liberty would change the landscape in America - for the worse.

As the intolerance for religious liberty grows in America, we head in a direction where we lose one of the pillars that makes this country great. It is why CLS began the fight for religious liberty in the 70s and continues to fight for it today.

I pray for the protection of my relatives, Christians, and others in the Middle East, who are persecuted for their faith.  Thankfully, many of my family members came to these shores to flee such ignorance and hatred.  As well, I pray for the continued and robust religious liberty protections here. So people can continue to seek the freedom that makes this country great.

Time will tell where the winds of religious liberty will blow in America.  We should be leading the world in our example of religious freedom. But if the public and policymakers continue to push against it, and all we have is one justice ensuring somewhat robust religious liberties, our future is indeed bleak. 

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