Our nation is quite advanced in terms of religious freedoms it affords its citizens. Often billed as the melting pot of religions and cultures, the nation exhibits a truly cosmopolitan ethos. Yet, religious tolerance, prejudice and discrimination do crop up in public affairs. Christianity being the religion followed by a majority of the population, there is a perceived negative bias toward minority religions and their adherents. Jews were historically much ostracized and distrusted in American society, although their acceptance and assimilation into mainstream society has increased over the years. (Gaustad, 2004, p.15) Since 9/11 terror attacks on American soil, Islam and its followers have been unfairly targeted on grounds of security for all. Hence, a glance at the history of religious freedom in the United States suggests both successes and failures.
In this context, in order for our country to fulfill its constitutional promise of religious freedom, greater tolerance and awareness about other religions will have to be inculcated in our youth. The country’s youth will have to be exposed to alternate perspectives of faith. This way they will gain awareness and understanding of distant faiths. They will come to see that there is much in common between apparently distinct faiths. Freedom of religion also means a strict adherence to the separation of Church and State (as mandated by our constitution). (Murphy, 2001, p.45) This principle is especially relevant since a major recent controversy was about the installation of Ten Commandments within spaces in public institutions. Religions freedom would also entail keep religious practice strictly in the private domain. In other words, citizens should be free to practice their religion as they see fit, without infringing on civil law. Conversely, public spaces should be devoid of religious symbolism.
In my own community, religion plays a social and cultural role. In other words, religion is serves as a uniting institution through with social interactions are maintained and cultural activities are carried out. Hence, I come from a background where religion is viewed liberally. Perhaps as a product of my upbringing, religious tolerance comes naturally to me. There are members of my community who follow an orthodox religious code, but they do not impose it on others. To this extent, they too exhibit tolerance and acceptance toward different lifestyles. The religious leaders in our community are likewise broad and generous in terms of extending their compassion. So much so that they treat all human beings are expressions of divine grace. In this context, censorship is very uncommon and is only invoked in the face of fundamentalist or extremist religious beliefs/actions.
Gaustad, Edwin S. (2004, 2nd ed.) Faith of the Founders: Religion and the New Nation, 1776–1826 (Waco: Baylor University Press)
Murphy, Andrew R. (July 2001). Conscience and Community: Revisiting Toleration and Religious Dissent in Early Modern England and America. Pennsylvania State University Press