Our country is a society built on freedom . While all our freedoms are spectacular, I believe that the greatest of them is freedom of religion. As stated in the first Amendment to the United States Constitution, freedom of religion prevents our govenunent from forcing citizens to practice any single kind of religion. Thanks to this wonderful Amendment, all sorts of religious practices have taken root and spread in our beloved country, from Catholicism to Hinduism . In fact, as reported in the New York Times and Staten Island Advance, my local newspapers, the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, proclaimed his interpretation of our Amendment in his recent Philadelphia speech, fittingly delivered near Independence Hall. We witnessed history unfold before our eyes, as the Pope moved people with his words, announcing that religious freedom is a "fundamental right" for all citizens. Freedom of religion definitely makes the lives of citizens of the United States better. As a citizen myself, I can say with resounding truth that freedom of religion has made life on Staten Island better. No person has to worry about being punished wrongly or being ridiculed for his or her beliefs. For instance, I can freely attend a Catholic school and Sunday mass. One of my mother's closest friends is Jewish, but my family is Catholic. Thanks to freedom of religion, we can be very close with one another (I even refer to her as my "aunt"), despite the fact that we celebrate different holidays and believe different things. Most importantly, religious freedom means respecting the beliefs of others, and, in the words of Pope Francis, renouncing the use of "religion ... for hatred and brutality". All in all, religious freedom is a special privilege; it should bring all people together and encourage "peace, tolerance, and respect".
The freedom of expressing oneself seems to be extremely important for us
Americans. Yet, because I have not had to fight for my freedom as the generations before me, I often take my freedoms for granted. Now as I think of how a democracy is so open and accepting of a person s right to expression, I realize how thankful I am for all of my freedoms, especially for my freedom of religion.
Freedom of religion is the right to believe in and to practice the faith of one's choice. It also includes the right to have no religion at all. The United States of America was originally founded in order to provide religious freedom to the Puritans, who were being persecuted for their beliefs in England. Since they did not agree with the Church of
England and could not worship the way they wanted, they felt that their only escape would be to go somewhere where they could have religious freedom. Here in America, they based the Constitution upon freedoms that they felt were important, especially the freedom of religion.
Today, freedom of religion remains an active issue in the United States. Various court rulings have interpreted the First Amendment to mean that the government may not promote or give special treatment to any religion. Judges have struck down plans that call for the government not to give financial aid to religious schools. The courts have also
ruled unconstitutional a number of programs to teach the Bible or to recite prayers in public schools. These rulings are highly controversial because religion touches the deepest feelings of many people.
Freedom of religion is a political principle that forbids government constraint on people in their choice of beliefs. Religious freedom requires also that one be free to act upon those beliefs. It therefore includes the freedom to worship, to print instructional materials, to train teachers, and to organize societies for their employment. Thus, freedom of religion is closely associated with other freedoms, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. It is recognized, as are the other freedoms, in a provision of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
However, since prayer and worship are often banned from public schools as a measure of protecting the rights of those to whom it might offend, these measures are taking away my rights of expressing my religion and beliefs. True, the way that some may want to express their religious beliefs might be offensive to people. But what in our society is not taken as an offense? One thing may offend one person, another will offend another. I have come to the conclusion that nothing can be done to please everybody. All people are different, and each is entitled to his or her differences. After all, isn t that why the United States of America was established? Doesn t the Pledge of Allegiance state, One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?
Liberty is our right to expression. I do not have a solution for deciding what should or should not be allowed. Aside from our nation s laws--and in my life, the Commandments in the Bible--it depends upon the person and that person s relationship with God to decide what kind of expression is right, and what kind is wrong.