"Humanity before religion." Paris rally in support of the victims of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting."Humanity before religion." Paris rally in support of the victims of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, which at that time meant freedom from state-sponsored religion that was common in Europe. A portion of your taxes could be involuntarily applied to pay the expenses of the state religion. You could not belong to another church, and if you wanted to express your beliefs that didn’t follow church doctrine, you had to buy a dissenter’s permit. When the state dictates religion, it is called a theocracy. They still exist today.

Iran is infamous, but the radical right is trying to create one in the United States. A small sect of religious extremists has threatened lawmakers into passing discriminatory laws. These laws dictate what you can and cannot do, even in the most personal situations. The radicals say they hate big government, but they use the government to take away your rights. You lose the freedom of speech when they dictate what you can publish and what you can read. We’ve even lost the freedom of assembly in that we cannot demonstrate against unjust laws.

The world has seen the damage that is done when the church is given unlimited authority and has no accountability. We experienced those abuses in the Inquisition and witches’ trials.

How have we come to such a low situation where hate and lies rule, and love is considered a sign of weakness? The radical right is voting for suppression of all minorities in this country. Under the law, immigrants, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people are second-class citizens. The White Supremacy movement is still alive 150 years after the Civil War, and they claim that it is all in the name of God.

The so-called culture wars are dividing our nation. When we cooperate and compromise, our differences can strengthen the nation. I am reminded of the anarchists of 1914 and the trouble they started. At what point can we turn and avoid another War?

The continuing religious debates have caused most Americans to refuse to affiliate with any organized religion. They will practice their own beliefs, but they refuse to join in any group to share their beliefs. Critics say that churches have become corrupted and can’t be trusted. This is particularly true in the LGBTQ+ community.

How do we regain people’s trust? Simply by practicing what we preach. Love, service, and justice are the essence of religion. It doesn’t matter whether you are Christian, Moslem, Jewish, or Buddhist. We have different ways to describe and practice those principles.

I believe that Evil exists in the world, and some evil people will use religion to advance their selfish ends. Is the goal of life to get rich? Some people preach that. I think that is a debasement of religion. Everyone has different goals and purposes, but hopefully none of those should be to hurt others.

If religion is a system of faith and beliefs, that implies there are more than one. When we dictate that our beliefs are the only viable ones, we demean the beliefs of others. History records the long search for God and how civilizations have tried to define those searches. These differences often led to protracted conflicts. We must allow the freedom to choose which religion we will practice.

by John Suddath This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.