Celebrate Our Freedom of Conscience on Independence Day

By Robert Brutell, Chairman, and Raman Singh, President, InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit

First_amendment_engraving,_Washington_DC
 

Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net). [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

As a nation and a metropolitan Detroit community we are facing some very serious challenges as we celebrate this Fourth of July Holiday.

The news is too painful to watch for some and too worrisome to avoid for others. Yet the news imposes itself on us in the crawls on our screens and in our psyches. We cannot avoid knowing about the issues and their challenges whether we watch or not.

Our communities locally and nationally have given themselves permission to be rowdy, boisterous and dangerously impolite when we express our differences. The trolls who used to only live in the dark under the bridge are now in the bright lights and unrepentant. Rationalized by our fears, society seems willing to eschew the respect for one another that is required if we believe, as the founders of this nation insisted on the first Fourth of July, that “All people are created equal.”

Most worrisome are the challenges to our cherished freedoms of expression and conscience that are foundational to religion and politics. Both are protected and yet both are at risk in today’s charged atmosphere. People are angrily and loudly insisting on their right to be heard while denying others the same right. Partisanship has become more like belonging to a gang. A scorched earth policy is directed toward those with whom we disagree.

We should be shocked. We should be mortified. We should be shaken to our toes when those sharp differences turn to violence, yet we are not nearly as upset as we ought to be.

Frankly, it should scare us because anarchy and violence follow from distrust and malevolence.

Some of us will eat kosher or hallal hot dogs this 4th. Others will find a vegan dog more to their liking. It is not what we eat but that we eat together and share our concerns for society in friendship and goodwill that count. Friendship and seeking common purpose are the antidotes to what challenges America today.

This is not easy right now. Nevertheless this is not the time to give up or give in. At the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, we contend that freedom of conscience and religious freedom will thrive if we believe that these values are at the heart of what it means to be an American and are willing to take actions to protect and defend those values. We believe that we must:

  • Seek education and understanding—Too often, statements about various religions and religious beliefs are not grounded in knowledge. Immerse yourself in what you can know about each other. Learn what each of us is doing to make America thrive.
  • Be resilient—Be courageous and forthright as a person of goodwill.
  • Insist on civility–We need to listen in a respectful, open-minded manner while acknowledging our differences. This requires an assertive effort to understand another point of view, however unfamiliar or wrong it may seem.
  • Honor the religious expression of others—Honor those who choose to wear traditional religious or ethnic clothing, such as hijab, turbans, yamulke and so on.
  • Stand with the vulnerable in our society such as immigrants and minorities.
  • Stand against bigotry and for forming new friendships.

During this Fourth of July weekend we should stop to honor the noble and difficult task that America has undertaken. Living up to American values–that people are created equal, that their rights of conscience must be protected, that there can be no religious tests—has been difficult since the beginning.  Nevertheless, on this Fourth of July and on all other days let us all do our part as a model to others to make sure our American values do not perish from the earth.