Editorial Board, Editorial: Religious freedom means freedom for all, Chicago Tribune

The Puritans came to America with the goal of gaining religious freedom — and denying it to anyone whose beliefs differed. Centuries later, many Americans still have contradictory impulses on the subject. What is good for me is not necessarily good for thee.

The latest evidence comes from a new poll by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. It found overwhelming support for preserving freedom of religion — up to a point. While 82 percent of those surveyed think it’s important to respect the religious liberty of Christians, a smaller share, 71 percent, want to preserve it for Jews. When it comes to Mormons, the figure is 67 percent, and for Muslims, it falls to 61 percent.

These numbers may come as no surprise to adherents of these latter faiths. When Mitt Romney was running for president in 2012, 18 percent of Americans said they would not vote for a Mormon. Donald Trump has raised the repugnant idea of making Muslims register with the federal government.

Defining religious freedom, of course, is always a work in progress. Americans are far from unanimous, for example, on whether it obligates retailers who oppose same-sex marriage to sell a wedding cake or flowers to a gay couple.

After the Supreme Court ruled that members of the Native American Church are not entitled to an exemption from drug laws to use peyote in sacred rites, Congress disagreed. It passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says the federal government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”

The Obama administration’s mandate that employers provide contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance provoked a lawsuit from Hobby Lobby, whose owners objected on religious grounds — and prevailed in the Supreme Court. Applying the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion to an ever-changing world is a job that will never be fully done.

But on its equal protection for everyone, there should be no disagreement. The nature of freedom in America is that what applies to one group applies to all. You can’t demand the right to build a church and then deny the right to erect a mosque. You can’t say prisons may forbid Protestant crosses to inmates but not Catholic rosaries. You can’t insist that the military provide Christian chaplains but reject Wiccan ones.

Most Americans understand all this—which is why a majority endorses religious freedom for all faiths. But the support gap for different faiths is evidence that not everyone understands or supports true religious liberty. The willingness of some presidential candidates to pander to anti-Muslim sentiment is proof that dual standards not only exist but pose a threat to the welfare of real people.

“While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the conscience of others,” wrote George Washington. What was true at the founding of the nation is no less true today.

 

Full article here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-religious-freedom-poll-muslim-0109-20160108-story.html