Why America’s Tradition of Religious Freedom Must be Protected for Society to Prosper

When it comes to the influence of religion in everyday lives, Americans have among the world’s most positive feelings. A recently released WIN/Gallup International global survey found that 62 percent of those who responded to the survey in the United States said religion plays a positive role in the nation, with 29 percent saying it did not. That equates to a net positive of 43 percent.

In much of Europe, by comparison, the feelings equate to a net negative. Denmark led the way with a net negative of 36 percent, with Belgium, France and Spain close behind.

The difference probably has as much to do with the value each nation has placed on religious freedom and tolerance historically. Much of Europe still carries the baggage of old religious wars and official state-sanctioned religions, just as it also struggles to assimilate religiously passionate immigrants, primarily from Muslim traditions, into a culture that has become largely secular.

Those are tough challenges to overcome, but their resolution becomes increasingly important in a world in which migration plays a significant role.

Few things incite passions as deeply as do spiritual beliefs, and these must be allowed free expression in the public square, while also allowing the same rights for people of all faiths, or of no faith. In this sense, the United States stands as a shining example to the world.

Twenty-six years ago, President Ronald Reagan articulated the value of religious freedom as part of a speech he gave to the people of the Soviet Union. He called religion a necessary counterweight to freedom’s tendency to make people “selfish and materialistic.”

That counterweight works best in a society in which all beliefs are treated equally and held in respect.

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SOURCE: Deseret News (editorial)

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