Freedom of religion

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Freedom of religion is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance; the concept is generally recognized also to include the freedom to change religion or not to follow any religion. The freedom to leave or discontinue membership in a religion or religious group —in religious terms called "apostasy" —is also a fundamental part of religious freedom, covered by Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Freedom of religion is considered by many people and nations to be a fundamental human right. In a country with a state religion, freedom of religion is generally considered to mean that the government permits religious practices of other sects besides the state religion, and does not persecute believers in other faiths.

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Each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion. ~ Constantine the Great
Every religion assumes that God loves men, since He establishes a religion for their happiness; and since He loves men we are certain of pleasing Him in loving them, too. ~ Introduction by John Davidson of the in 1721 published Persian Letters by Montesquieu
Religion is intended for man’s happiness; and that, in order to love it and fulfil its behests, it is not necessary to hate and persecute those who are opposed to our beliefs – not necessary even to attempt to convert them. [...] variety of belief is beneficial to the state. A new sect is always the surest means of correcting the abuses of an old faith; and those who profess tolerated creeds usually prove more useful to their country than those who profess the established religion, because, being excluded from all honours, their endeavour to distinguish themselves by becoming wealthy improves trade and commerce. ~ Introduction by John Davidson of the in 1721 published Persian Letters by Montesquieu
Zeal for the advancement of religion is different from a due attachment to it; and that in order to love it and fulfil its behests, it is not necessary to hate and persecute those who are opposed to it. ~ Montesquieu
People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, and the heart, and the soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive [...]. Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. ~ Barack Obama
Discrimination against the holder of one faith means retaliatory discrimination against men of other faiths. ~ Theodore Roosevelt
  • The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between Church and State'.
  • When we, Constantine and Licinius, emperors, had an interview at Milan, and conferred together with respect to the good and security of the commonweal, it seemed to us that, amongst those things that are profitable to mankind in general, the reverence paid to the Divinity merited our first and chief attention, and that it was proper that the Christians and all others should have liberty to follow that mode of religion which to each of them appeared best; so that that God, who is seated in heaven, might be benign and propitious to us, and to every one under our government. And therefore we judged it a salutary measure, and one highly consonant to right reason, that no man should be denied leave of attaching himself to the rites of the Christians, or to whatever other religion his mind directed him, that thus the supreme Divinity, to whose worship we freely devote ourselves, might continue to vouchsafe His favour and beneficence to us. And accordingly we give you to know that, without regard to any provisos in our former orders to you concerning the Christians, all who choose that religion are to be permitted, freely and absolutely, to remain in it, and not to be disturbed any ways, or molested. And we thought fit to be thus special in the things committed to your charge, that you might understand that the indulgence which we have granted in matters of religion to the Christians is ample and unconditional; and perceive at the same time that the open and free exercise of their respective religions is granted to all others, as well as to the Christians. For it befits the well-ordered state and the tranquillity of our times that each individual be allowed, according to his own choice, to worship the Divinity; and we mean not to derogate aught from the honour due to any religion or its votaries.
    • Constantine the Great, Edict of Milan proclaimed religious tolerance in the Roman Empire, issued by Constantine and Licinius - Online English translation - Latin text, As translated in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (1886) edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Vol. 7, p. 320
    • Variant translation: When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I Licinius Augustus fortunately met near Mediolanurn [Milan], and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought —, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule. And thus by this wholesome counsel and most upright provision we thought to arrange that no one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his heart to the observance of the Christian religion, or of that religion which he should think best for himself, so that the Supreme Deity, to whose worship we freely yield our hearts, may show in all things His usual favor and benevolence. Therefore, your Worship should know that it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever, which were in the rescripts formerly given to you officially, concerning the Christians and now any one of these who wishes to observe Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation. We thought it fit to commend these things most fully to your care that you may know that we have given to those Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship. When you see that this has been granted to them by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion.
  • They [the Pilgrims] believed in freedom of thought for themselves and for all other people who believed exactly as they did.
    • Will Cuppy, The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody (1950).
  • Usbek can be as brilliant and satirical on occasion as his younger companion, but his aim is to probe to the heart of things, and he knows that truth will only reveal itself to a reverent search. To him all religions are worthy of respect, and their ministers also, for “God has chosen for Himself, in every corner of the earth, souls purer than the rest, whom He has separated from the impious world that their mortification and their fervent prayers may suspend His wrath.” He thinks that the surest way to please God is to obey the laws of society, and to do our duty towards men. Every religion assumes that God loves men, since He establishes a religion for their happiness; and since He loves men we are certain of pleasing Him in loving them, too. Usbek’s prayer in Letter XLVI. Is not yet out of date. “Lord, I do not understand any of those discussions that are carried on without end regarding Thee: I would serve Thee according to Thy will; but each man whom I consult would have me serve Thee according to his.” He insists that religion is intended for man’s happiness; and that, in order to love it and fulfil its behests, it is not necessary to hate and persecute those who are opposed to our beliefs – not necessary even to attempt to convert them. Indeed, he holds that variety of belief is beneficial to the state. A new sect is always the surest means of correcting the abuses of an old faith; and those who profess tolerated creeds usually prove more useful to their country than those who profess the established religion, because, being excluded from all honours, their endeavour to distinguish themselves by becoming wealthy improves trade and commerce.
  • [T]he effect of the religious freedom Amendment to our Constitution was to take every form of propagation of religion out of the realm of things which could directly or indirectly be made public business, and thereby be supported in whole or in part at taxpayers' expense. That is a difference which the Constitution sets up between religion and almost every other subject matter of legislation, a difference which goes to the very root of religious freedom[...] This freedom was first in the Bill of Rights because it was first in the forefathers' minds; it was set forth in absolute terms, and its strength is its rigidity. It was intended not only to keep the states' hands out of religion, but to keep religion's hands off the state, and, above all, to keep bitter religious controversy out of public life by denying to every denomination any advantage from getting control of public policy or the public purse.
  • The day that this country ceases to be free for irreligion it will cease to be free for religion - except for the sect that can win political power.
  • Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens … are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion … No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.
    I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.
    • Thomas Jefferson. Inscription on the northwest quadrant of the Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C., selected by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission. The first portion is from "A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom", Julian P. Boyd, , Ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1950), vol. 2, p. 545–6 (1950). The inscription contains the ellipses above, but it omits other words without ellipses. The last line is from a letter to James Madison (August 28, 1789), Julian P. Boyd, , Ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1958), vol. 15, p. 367.
  • That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.
    • Thomas Jefferson, "A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom", Julian P. Boyd, , Ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1950), vol. 2, p. 545.
  • Constantine fostered an atmosphere of religious liberty ... Since it favored all religions equally, the edict expressed a policy of religious liberty, not toleration...All should try to share the benefits of their religious understanding with others, but no one should force his or her truth upon another. … (for according to Constantine)..."it is one thing acting with free will to enter into contest for immortality, another to compel others to do so by force through the fear of punishment. No one should greatly trouble another, rather, everyone should follow what his soul prefers...This edict is a paradigmatic statement of concord. … Since Constantine hopes that common fellowship and the persuasion "of those who believe" will lead everyone freely to choose (what he called) the straight path, he indicates his wish that religious unity will ultimately evolve.
    • Elizabeth DePalma Digeser, in The making of a Christian Empire: Lactantius & Rome
  • People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, and the heart, and the soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways. […] Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together.
  • The constitutional inhibition of legislation on the subject of religion has a double aspect. On the one hand, it forestalls compulsion by law of the acceptance of any creed or the practice of any form of worship. Freedom of conscience and freedom to adhere to such religious organization or form of worship as the individual may choose cannot be restricted by law. On the other hand, it safeguards the free exercise of the chosen form of religion. Thus the Amendment embraces two concepts,-freedom to believe and freedom to act. The first is absolute but, in the nature of things, the second cannot be. Conduct remains subject to regulation for the protection of society.
  • The demand for a statement of a candidate’s religious belief can have no meaning except that there may be discrimination for or against him because of that belief. Discrimination against the holder of one faith means retaliatory discrimination against men of other faiths. The inevitable result of entering upon such a practice would be an abandonment of our real freedom of conscience and a reversion to the dreadful conditions of religious dissension which in so many lands have proved fatal to true liberty, to true religion, and to all advance in civilization.
  • To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any church, is an outrage against that liberty of conscience which is one of the foundations of American life. You are entitled to know whether a man seeking your suffrages is a man of clean and upright life, honorable in all of his dealings with his fellows, and fit by qualification and purpose to do well in the great office for which he is a candidate; but you are not entitled to know matters which lie purely between himself and his Maker.
  • One of the most important things to secure for him is the right to hold and to express the religious views that best meet his own soul needs. Any political movement directed against anybody of our fellow- citizens because of their religious creed is a grave offense against American principles and American institutions. It is a wicked thing either to support or to oppose a man because of the creed he professes. This applies to Jew and Gentile, to Catholic and Protestant, and to the man who would be regarded as unorthodox by all of them alike. Political movements directed against men because of their religious belief, and intended to prevent men of that creed from holding office, have never accomplished anything but harm.
  • There should never be any union of Church and State; and such union is partially accomplished wherever a given creed is aided by the State or when any public servant is elected or defeated because of his creed. The Constitution explicitly forbids the requiring of any religious test as a qualification for holding office. To impose such a test by popular vote is as bad as to impose it by law. To vote either for or against a man because of his creed is to impose upon him a religious test and is a clear violation of the spirit of the Constitution.
  • Moreover, it is well to remember that these movements never achieve the end they nominally have in view. They do nothing whatsoever except to increase among the men of the various churches the spirit of sectarian intolerance which is base and unlovely in any civilization, but which is utterly revolting among a free people that profess the principles we profess. No such movement can ever permanently succeed here. All that it does is for a decade or so to greatly increase the spirit of theological animosity, both among the people to whom it appeals and among the people whom it assails. Furthermore, it has in the past invariably resulted, in so far as it was successful at all, in putting unworthy men into office; for there is nothing that a man of loose principles and of evil practices in public life so desires as the chance to distract attention from his own shortcomings and misdeeds by exciting and inflaming theological and sectarian prejudice.
  • I hold that in this country there must be complete severance of Church and State; that public moneys shall not be used for the purpose of advancing any particular creed; and therefore that the public schools shall be non-sectarian. As a necessary corollary to this, not only the pupils but the members of the teaching force and the school officials of all kinds must be treated exactly on a par, no matter what their creed; and there must be no more discrimination against Jew or Catholic or Protestant than discrimination in favor of Jew, Catholic or Protestant. Whoever makes such discrimination is an enemy of the public schools.
  • The line of cleavage drawn on principle and conduct in public affairs is never in any healthy community identical with the line of cleavage between creed and creed or between class and class. On the contrary, where the community life is healthy, these lines of cleavage almost always run nearly at right angles to one another. It is eminently necessary to all of us that we should have able and honest public officials in the nation, in the city, in the state. If we make a serious and resolute effort to get such officials of the right kind, men who shall not only be honest but shall be able and shall take the right view of public questions, we will find as a matter of fact that he men we thus choose will be drawn from the professors of every creed and from among men who do not adhere to any creed.
  • The proposition that the several States have no greater power to restrain the individual freedoms protected by the First Amendment than does Congress is firmly embedded in constitutional jurisprudence. The First Amendment was adopted to curtail Congress' power to interfere with the individual's freedom to believe, to worship, and to express himself in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience, and the Fourteenth Amendment imposed the same substantive limitations on the States' power to legislate. The individual's freedom to choose his own creed is the counterpart of his right to refrain from accepting the creed established by the majority. Moreover, the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all.
  • For happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support…. May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.
    • George Washington, letter to the Hebrew congregation of Newport, Rhode Island (August 17, 1790); reported in John C. Fitzpatrick, Ed., The Writings of George Washington (1939), vol. 31, p. 93
  • A genuinely democratic society requires a secular ethos: one that does not equate morality with religion, stigmatize atheists, defer to religious interests and aims over others or make religious belief an informal qualification for public office. Of course, secularism in the latter sense is not mandated by the First Amendment. It's a matter of sensibility, not law.
  • If believers feel that their faith is trivialized and their true selves compromised by a society that will not give religious imperatives special weight, their problem is not that secularists are antidemocratic but that democracy is antiabsolutist.
    • Ellen Willis, "Freedom from Religion," The Nation (February 19, 2001)
  • For democrats, it's as crucial to defend secular culture as to preserve secular law. And in fact the two projects are inseparable: When religion defines morality, the wall between church and state comes to be seen as immoral.
    • Ellen Willis, "Freedom from Religion," The Nation (February 19, 2001)

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