First Person, First Freedom

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Prayers, Devotions, and Meditations on
Religious Freedom

Religious freedom is at the center of a national conversation receiving more attention than has been given to it in many years.  Unfortunately, religious freedom’s centrality in discussion has been prompted by controversial questions about its definition.

Our colleagues in the Roman Catholic Church like many in the more evangelical traditions are seeking to reframe the meaning of this fundamental constitutional guarantee in a manner that provides religious freedom for some at the expense of providing religious freedom for all.  The Catholic Bishops of the United States launched a multi-faceted initiative on religious freedom to run from June 21st to July 4th. Our understanding of religious freedom is different from the bishops, but we do not shy away from a focus on this historic liberty. Under the title of Interfaith Alliance’s program First Person, First Freedom, we engage in our own effort to look more closely at the meaning of our “first freedom” and to share prayers, devotions, meditations, and thoughts from leaders in several of the diverse religious traditions that call this land “home.”  While I understand that not every reading we will offer over the next two weeks will speak to all of our supporters, I hope they will at least serve as a model for civility, a source of discussion and an enhancement of your appreciation for pluralism and religious freedom personally and nationally.


Donna Red Wing
June 25, 2012

Rev. Linda Olson Peebles
June 23, 2012

Rabbi Jack Moline
June 22, 2012

Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
June 21, 2012

My Prayer
Donna Red Wing

My prayer is offered in the traditions of my grandmothers, from Swedish Lutheran supper tables to the New England wooded sanctuaries of the Wampanoag and Nipmuc people. From the God of the Old and New Testaments to Mother Earth and all of her bounty. I find refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. And add another offering to those who question or may have no tradition at all.
I pray for the children. Those who are loved and cared for. And those who have been abandoned or abused. I pray for the little girl who dreams of becoming a doctor. And I pray for the little boy who simply dreams of a safe place to sleep tonight.
I pray for those in the first blush of love; gay and straight. And pray for equality in life, in love and in marriage. I pray for the safety of the child who is bullied and forgiveness for the one who bullies.
I pray for those who do not know love and hope that they will.
I pray for those who are ill and for a nation that must decide whether or not it has the capacity for compassion and choice in its healthcare policies.
I pray for the nuns, those old gals who came into the church in Vatican Two, and hope that the Sister Harolds and Sister Betrils and all of the others with names and habits that made us smile, will be treated with the dignity that they deserve. And I pray that their stories will be told and their voices will be heard with reverence and respect.
I pray for, and with, my Muslim and my Sikh friends, for a nation that will open its heart to them.
I pray for working people, for those who labor and live in the cities and towns they built with their sweat.
I pray for the immigrant and the inmate and for the jailer, all pawns in a political game for gain. I pray for the hunted and the hunter; the powerless and the powerful.
I pray for our politicians, from school boards to the presidency, with a prayer that cries out for intelligence, humility and grace.
And I pray for forgiveness towards a Vatican leadership with the hope that they will begin to understand and value the real narrative around religious freedom. That there is room for the inherent worth of women, feminist and liberation theology, comprehensive healthcare, the right to make choices and a celebration of lives lived in the richness of our collective humanity.
I pray that we will remember Thomas Jefferson who said, “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 pray that our nation will learn to walk in love. I pray for our nation.

Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy

Creator of Life and Source of Freedom,

Enable us to cherish and protect both with a level of energy in us proportionate to the works of goodness through which we know you.

You modeled for us the essence of freedom by providing us the liberty to choose to reject or to accept what you want most for us, making it possible for us to reject as well as to accept the gifts of your love.

God, reprimand us when we choose to exercise our freedom to compromise or erode in anyway the freedom of others.
God, challenge us when we hoard freedom for our beliefs, rituals, and ways of worship but deny the same freedom for all people.
God, help us move away from such insecurity in faith that causes us to turn to civil legislation to help our religion accomplish what it cannot get done through spiritual persuasion.

I give thanks for the pioneers and models of freedom in my Baptist heritage:
     Roger Williams, advocate for religious freedom, who recognized the hypocrisy of a persecuted minority in another land becoming a persecuting majority in this land,
     Countless scores of colonial Baptist preachers who were thrown behind bars into crude jails up and down the Eastern Seaboard because of their refusal to pay taxes to the ruling church in the Colonies so they could proclaim their gospel,
     Isaac Backus, advocate for religious freedom, who wanted a Christian nation but warned that such a goal was inappropriate for the work of government, and
     James Leland, an advocate for freedom, who helpfully persuaded James Madison to assure religious freedom for all people in the First Amendment that became a part of the Bill of Rights amended to the Constitution.

Holy One, forgive us for our efforts to use the government to do the work of houses of worship in providing all freedom for religion but none freedom from religion. Inscribe into our psyches the reality that unless all are free in this nation, nobody is really free in this nation.

Now help us, translate our prayer into actions so that our petitions to you may be sustained as the realities of our lives individually and corporately. Amen.

Throughout the current campaign season, we have seen an increasing number of religious and political leaders try to redefine religious freedom…not with an eye on the rights of all Americans and the myriad of faiths practiced in our country, but with a bias toward their own theology and ideology. They are hoping to redefine this fundamental freedom to encompass only their personal beliefs…and by doing so, they are disregarding the rights given to each and every citizen of our nation by our founders.

What religious freedom means to the staff at Interfaith Alliance:

“Religious freedom means I can choose to practice and express my religious beliefs – or embrace no religion at all – without being coerced or compelled to adopt a particular practice or viewpoint regarding religion, and without fear of the government denying me any of the rights and freedoms promised to all Americans. It also means that the government may not favor one religion or religious belief over another – including non-belief. But religious freedom does not mean that I am free to do whatever I like in the name of religion; my religious freedom extends only to the point at which my neighbor’s freedom begins.”

We are seeing attempts to redefine religious freedom from predictable voices on the far right, and – much to our great disappointment – even from some we have considered allies in our efforts to protect religious freedom in the past…most notably ecclesiastical leaders in the Catholic Church.

It is unacceptable for anyone to try to redefine religious freedom in a way that would exclude millions of Americans for not adhering to what someone else thinks they “should” believe. To see politicians – and worse yet, clergy – use religion as a way to divide and attack is shameful.

That’s why Interfaith Alliance launched a new campaign in April called First Person, First Freedom to remind Americans of the significance of the First Amendment and the meaning of religious freedom. We have been collecting videos from Americans nationwide about what religious freedom means to them and why it’s important. Take a look and you might recognize a few faces! You can also upload your own video and share what religious freedom means to you.

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