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Religious freedom: use it or lose it


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Do you assume America is a free country? Do you assume religious freedom is guaranteed in America? Most of us learned that in school and have taken it for granted ever since. In other countries people might have to worry about whether and how they can practice their religion. Not here. This is America, after all.

Why do we think this way? It partly has to do with our law.

Not by accident did the First Amendment begin with religious freedom, protecting it from infringement in two ways: 1) by prohibiting an official, governmentally-sponsored religion ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion') and 2) by protecting the people in their free exercise of religion ("or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.").

What does this mean? It doesn't mean that in this country you have just the right to believe whatever you want to believe. Even in North Korea they have that right, because as a practical matter no one can force you to believe or not believe something. The free exercise of religion means the ability to act on those beliefs. To practice your religion in private or in public. To proclaim your religion to others, if you wish. To spend your money in furtherance of your own religion, and not in furtherance of anyone else's. To promote what you think is moral, and to not promote anything you think is immoral. These are all necessary consequences of the idea of religious freedom.

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