Today’s Talking Points
• What is America’s Religious Freedom Day?
• What is Religious Freedom?
• Working Towards Greater Tolerance
Who am I?
• Protestant Christian
• American
• Graduated magna cum laude from George Mason
University with a dual-major Bachelor of Arts in
History and Religious Studies
• I am not a policy or government expert, I am not
an established religious leader or priest, nor am I
an expert in Montenegrin society
• Have lived and traveled abroad extensively
Theology vs. Religious Studies
• Theology is the study of religious truths within
the parameters of a religion
• Religious studies is the study of religion as a
liberal art, “the academic field of multidisciplinary, secular study of religious beliefs,
behaviors, and institutions. It describes,
compares, interprets, and explains religion,
emphasizing systematic, historically based, and
cross-cultural perspectives.”
– Study/observation without ‘buy-in’
– I majored in religious studies as a tool to better
understand history, the human condition, and the
human experience
What is Religion?
• This is a complex question with many possible answers; according to
Judge Adams of the US Third Circuit court:
A religion deals with issues of ultimate concern; with what makes life
worth living; with basic attitudes toward fundamental problems of
human existence.
A religion presents a comprehensive set of ideas--usually as "truth,"
not just theory.
A religion generally has surface signs (such as clergy, observed
holidays, and ritual) that can be analogized to well-recognized
• Noted anthropologist Clifford Geertz defined religion as:
– “A system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and
long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating
conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these
conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and
motivations seem uniquely realistic.”
• Is either definition useful when considering “Religious Freedom?”
Pilgrims, the Forming of America,
and Tolerance
• The first European settlers in America were
were part of a religious minority who were
suffering civil punishment, sometimes
culminating in public execution for exercising
their religious beliefs
• Instead of rising up in arms to change
England’s religious landscape, they removed
themselves from society and reformed their
society in order to allow for universal religious
What is Religious Freedom Day?
Every year, the President of the United States
declares January 16th to be Religious Freedom
Day, and calls upon Americans to "observe this
day through appropriate events and activities in
homes, schools, and places of worship." The day
is the anniversary of the adoption, in 1786, of
the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom
Written in 1777, Enacted into Law in 1786
3rd President of the United States of America
Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the
Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.
First Amendment of the US
Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people
peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
Government for a redress of grievances.
• Two parts: the Establishment Clause and Free
Exercise Clause
“Compulsion in religion is distinguished peculiarly
from compulsion in every other thing. I may grow
rich by art I am compelled to follow, I may recover
health by medicines I am compelled to take against
my own judgment, but I cannot be saved by a
worship I disbelieve & abhor.”
“the opinions of men are not the object of civil
government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to
suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into
the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or
propagation of principles on supposition of their ill
tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once
destroys all religious liberty”
-Thomas Jefferson
The Establishment Clause
“At an absolute minimum, the Establishment
Clause was intended to prohibit the federal
government from declaring and financially
supporting a national religion, such as existed in
many other countries at the time of the nation's
founding. It is far less clear whether the
Establishment Clause was also intended to
prevent the federal government from
supporting Christianity in general. ”
The Free Expression Clause
• It states that the government shall make no law
prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
• Although the text is absolute, the courts place some
limits on the exercise of religion. According to the
interpretations of the Supreme Court, the freedom to
believe is absolute, but the ability to act on those
beliefs is not.
• “Congress cannot pass a law for the government of the
Territory which shall prohibit the free exercise of
religion…Laws are made for the government of actions,
and while they cannot interfere with mere religious
beliefs and opinions, they may with practices.” – From
Reynolds vs. United States, 1878
Believing in the Great Green Sky
• As an example…suppose you founded a religion
that believes that the sky is green. Your holy
book states that the sky is green and admonishes
you to help it to be so.
• You can put green stained glass in your house,
walk under a translucent green umbrella, etc.
• But you can’t try and replace someone else’s
windows or spew green chemicals into the air
• More seriously, if your religion allows polygamy
(for example), you still cannot legally practice it in
the US
The American Religious Landscape
Approximate 2012
Values in Millions
2012 : 228 million
2012 : 18.8 million
2012 : 61.35 million
2012 : 6.26 million
2012 US Population: 313 million
An Example of Pluralism
• ~73% of Americans Christian
• A large public university includes: 2 Muslim
student groups, 2 Jewish, 1 Coptic Orthodox, 1
Sikh, 1 Mormon, 1 Buddhist, 1 Lutheran, 16
non-denominational Protestant, 2
philosophical, and 1 Catholic student group.
– 74% Christian groups…America’s statistical
diversity evidenced in a typical university
What is Religious Freedom?
• ARTICLE 9 of the European Convention on Human
– Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience
and religion; this right includes freedom to change his
religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in
community with others and in public or private, to
manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching,
practice and observance.
– Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be
subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law
and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests
of public safety, for the protection of public order, health
or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of
The Non-Religious and Religious
• The beliefs of Atheists, Agnostics, and Skeptics
are in many ways similar to a religion, save
only for their lack of rite and clergy
• Societal discussions of religious freedom must
include these groups of individuals
• These groups of individuals must be held to
the same standards as religious persons
• Non-religion can be ‘pushed’ just as religion
can, and it is just as intolerable
It Starts With You
• “States are not moral agents, people are, and can
impose moral standards on powerful
institutions.” – Noam Chomsky
• Religious freedom begins with the premise of
religious tolerance
• An intolerant society is incapable of having true
religious freedom, even if religious freedoms are
written into its laws
• Societal tolerance is the sum of individual
• Tolerance does not require capitulation of deeplyheld religious beliefs!
Importance of Tolerance
• “If we don't believe in freedom of expression for
people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.”
• Religious intolerance is an excuse or motivation
for the improper treatment of others
• Religious differences often focused on in the
actions, not beliefs, of others
– More true in societies where ethno-religious violence
is minimal
• Behaviors often seen in decisions made when
raising children
• Religious tolerance, and by extension, religious
freedom, are means to achieve an end – lives
lived peaceably and without fear
Interfaith Dialogue
• Communication between members of multiple
different faith groups
• Its goal is understanding the other and finding
common ground; proselytizing is a byproduct, not
the objective
• 2 levels:
– First, focus on common ground
• “most of we time we are satisfied with mouthing a few
noble, often-repeated sentiments”
– Second, explore differences
• More contentious and difficult, but potentially more
– If you don't like what someone has to say, have a
constructive debate with them!
Who to Talk to
• Friends: may be the most comfortable at first,
but challenging discussions can alienate them;
their knowledge can be variable
• Scholars/Professors: usually possess a
‘detached’ viewpoint, find one whose
specialty matches your interests
• Priests, Pastors, Imams, etc.: usually very
knowledgeable about their religious tradition
• Remember your source’s perspective! What is
their background, sect, training, etc.
How to Talk to Them
• Friends
– Be clear about what you want
– Don’t casually bring up in social call (or expect proselytization)
– Outline questions/expectations clearly
– Be polite and prepared to listen
– Don’t try to tell them what their beliefs are
• Professionals
– Do homework
– Start/end time
– Outline questions/expectations clearly
– Be polite and prepared to listen
– Don’t try to tell them what their beliefs are
Independent Research
• Above all, consider the source!
• Diversify your sources of information
• Ensure you research a webpage’s source, or a
book’s author and not just its content
• Use Wikipedia or webpages without specific
authors only as a starting point
• Notes on Religion (October 1776), published in The Works of
Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes, Federal Edition, Paul
Leicester Ford, ed., New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904, Vol. 2.

Religious Freedom Day Presentation