(Religious) Liberty And Justice For All

Some are calling it the election that will never end. Others consider it the most important election of their lifetime. This includes many who support him. As well as those who say, "I'm with her." How can both sides be right about the best person to address the many critical issues facing the United States not just here at home, but also abroad?

I mean, I get it. We're all tired and ready to move on with the election already. And we all have a five-point plan to convince everyone else about why it is that we're right and they're wrong!

But today, on International Religious Liberty Day, I want to encourage all of us to guard against election fatigue, because some of those critical issues I mention relate to religious liberty (a significantly under-appreciated subject) and require great vigilance. Specifically, there are two burning issues on my mind as we approach the impending election:

  1. The continued protection of our inviolable right here in the United States to continue practicing our faith (or lack thereof) as our conscience dictates; and
  2. The continued deterioration of religious liberty in too many other societies; the persecution and abuse of believers endemic to too many countries.

On the first point, the public conversation about religious liberty these days seems to follow an all-too-familiar script.

The Supreme Court issues a ruling in a high-profile religious liberty-themed case with the "losing side" immediately issuing a statement calling the decision, "short-sighted, a break with precedent and completely at odds with the spirit of the Constitution."

Months later, there's a case that pundits will agree "went the other way." This time, the anger is palpable but on the opposite side of the political spectrum, with declarations denouncing this "ill-informed decision that is sure to disenfranchise thousands of Americans in the future, unhelpfully impeding their ability to follow their conscience in the practice of their faith."

This is not to minimize anyone's view about the significance of one ruling or another from the high court. But the fact that we are able to respond freely with our keyboards, rather than be forced to defend our views by a terrorist waving a firearm, captures how truly blessed we Americans are.

So when, predictably, the next Supreme Court decision goes "the wrong way," let the mud-slinging begin, my fellow Americans. And to that I say, Bravo!

Because we who are fortunate enough to live in the United States of America too often take our ability to dissent peacefully (or somewhat-peacefully, depending on where you are in the comments thread!) for granted. By bloody contrast, there are many dark corners of the world where dissent is greeted with prison, severing of limbs, kidnapping, or the all-too-common beheadings and death to which we're sadly becoming almost numb.

As I mentioned, this all is weighing on my mind today because of International Religious Liberty Day. Also, the fact that we are less than two weeks away from electing a new leader of the free world. And while we still have the freedom to vent anger representing a full spectrum of views about religious liberty in this great country, we cannot lose sight of the gross injustices elsewhere on this planet that prevent many from crying out.

I want to stress that concern about the terrible injustices inflicted on many believers around the world is not strictly altruistic. Far from it; serving as "our brother's keeper" also happens to be in America's own self-interest.

This is a fact acknowledged by both of the major presidential candidates. Knowing how important religious liberty is to the world today, a non-partisan delegation representing top groups and individual experts in the field met with both of the major presidential campaigns earlier this month to highlight some of the key issues of international religious freedom that will confront the next President.

Part of the discussion covered why international religious freedom is important to America. As laid out in the group's formal recommendations: international religious freedom "is an international security issue. Its absence is associated with religious terrorism and instability. Its presence is necessary for stable democracy, including civil society, economic growth, and social harmony."

Further, as noted in the document, "where there is more religious freedom--as consistent with the Golden Rule found in every faith and culture--there is more political stability, more economic development, more women's empowerment, and less violent religious extremism, precisely because people and communities of faith are free to contribute to the common good (from caring for the orphan and widow to standing against corruption and extremism in their own ranks)."

Ready or not, the 45th President of the United States will face some significant challenges abroad, many that have a connection to religious liberty. I, and my peers who work in this arena day in and day out, exhort our soon-to-be-elected new President to invest significant human capital in showing the world how serious we are about leading on these critically important issues.

There aren't easy answers when it comes to ending persecution, abuse and terror aimed at those who believe differently. But without deliberate effort on the part of the leader of the free world, the questions will only keep getting harder, and bloodier.